Peter Millett

Peter Millett

Ambassador to Libya, Tripoli

Part of FCO Outreach

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

3 comments on “Twiplomacy

  1. Dear Peter,
    you are right : “Tweeting” or “Blogging” might sound 20 yrs, ago a little strange. We just don ´t “spoke” it. But times have changed and meanwhile we all do understand the full and “real” meaning. But – for what use could it be ?In my opinion and as a 1st. answerto your question : NO . Excellent Diplomats like you should NOT shed their pens and elegant wordy despatches…for you can still play the latest game. Only by using a clever combination and mixture of “Tweeting” or “Blogging” and some of the old disciplines. For , and you said so too , for many (older) people – they are still “valid”.To me it ´s all a matter of use and abuse . I mean you can always use or abusing both: New socail media as well as the standard older ones like TV or print-papers. The old methods of communication.There is as always one key sentence in your articles from which I try to start to write. Here it ´s : ” Another cold fact is that, with an overload of infos, people ´s attention span is short.” These lines were meant as a pro “Twitter” and “Facebook” statement. But I would like to add: Being on Twitter and Facebook 24hrs. per day could also easily getting / becoming an overflow/overload of infos. Plus : I ´ve also made the experience that the Twitter and Facebook message quality is often half as good as those of the older medias for everyone can leave a message with 140 words – but no-one is gonna check the basic , qualified background knowledge. Some Stuttgarters use to say : “Einige bevorzugen heutzutage Quantität -andere Qualität, weil die Wahrheit am Ende siegt. ( “Today, some prefer quantity instead of quality. We choose quality for truth will win at the end.) By the way : I ´ve picked up this blog on the FCO-Website and it ´s nice to read that feedback is always welcome . Best wishes , Hawyl faur, liebe Grüßle, Ingo – Steven Wais, Stuttgart/Caerdydd

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About Peter Millett

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as Ambassador to Libya. Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015. He was High Commissioner to…

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as
Ambassador to Libya.
Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015.
He was High Commissioner to Cyprus from 2005 – 2010.
He was Director of Security in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
from 2002-2005, dealing with all aspects of security for British
diplomatic missions overseas.
From 1997-2001 he served as Deputy Head of Mission in Athens.
From 1993-96 Mr Millett was Head of Personnel Policy in the FCO.
From 1989-93 he held the post of First Secretary (Energy) in the UK
Representative Office to the European Union in Brussels, representing
the UK on all energy and nuclear issues.
From 1981-1985 he served as Second Secretary (Political) in Doha.
Peter was born in 1955 in London.  He is married to June Millett and
has three daughters, born in 1984, 1987 and 1991.  
His interests include his family, tennis and travel.

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