26th June 2013
“Could you tweet my blog please?” Did I really say that to one of my staff? What on earth is this new language I’m using? No-one knew of “tweeting” and “blogging” 20 years ago.
I’ve been using Twitter now for 2 years. It can become infectious, but is it useful? Should diplomats shed their quill pens and elegant wordy despatches for the discipline of the 140-character tweet?
The cold fact is that we have to play the latest game. Old methods of communications don’t work. Press releases, staged interviews and even the official op-ed don’t make the impact they used to. Social media: Facebook, Twitter and blogs are now the more effective way of communicating.
Some of the old disciplines are still valid. One of the most basic is that you have to tailor your message to your audience. But you also have to repeat your message to be heard. So a TV, radio newspaper interview might be appropriate. But you can’t do it every day. With Twitter and Facebook you can be heard more frequently and build up a consistent set of key messages over time.
Another cold fact is that, with an overload of information, people’s attention span is short. The luxury of having time to read long, complex articles is rare. A short tweet or Facebook message can make instant impact.
Being on Twitter also gives you access to up-to-date information. The use of Twitter at Tahrir square and, more recently in Istanbul was a powerful tool in the hands of the demonstrators. Anyone interested in following events had a useful measure of opinion on the street.
But there are risks. As with anything a diplomat says, we have to avoid becoming part of the story. There is no such thing as a “personal opinion”: anything you say is recorded and can be held against you – and the government you represent.
Embassies have been criticised when their host government disliked what they were saying on the social media. Just as some commercial companies have lost sales when they tried to exploit tragedies, such as those that used Hurricane Sandy to promote their products.
As an official “tweep” you have to avoid simply repeating the official line. Engaging in dialogue is valuable. The default mode should be to interact, not just to transmit. That was the motivation behind the Twitter Q+A session I did earlier this month, answering questions about the UK’s support for economic growth and job creation in Jordan.
I answered 27 questions in an hour covering topics like tourism, education and projects in the regions.
As in all communications, your voice must be authentic. Expressing yourself in 140 characters means the style has to be raw, but full of impact. Finding the right style and tone can be tricky, but if your followers don’t regard it as genuine, they will switch off. An occasional touch of humour or a photograph also help to show that there is a real person behind the tweets.
So whether you picked up this blog in the newspaper, on a website, through Facebook or Twitter, your feed back is always welcome on: @PeterMillett1