Fresh Diplomatic Meat on Tumblr

New cadets have arrived at the Foreign Ministry for their intense 6 month training program  and they plan to blog about it on Tumblr.

digital diplomacy

The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s 30th cadet training course seems pretty unique. Not because it is comprised by an equal number of men and women or because of its cultural diversity, but because of the fact that many of these people have chosen to dump promising careers in journalism, law, high-tech and finance to join a neglected government agency that as a result suffers from strikes and public campaigns in protest of low pay.

A country brand that is on the rise but has so many issues to resolve cannot afford to recruit un-to-under-qualified personnel but until this  issue between the Treasury and the MFA is resolved, they will have to continue to rely on people’s good will and sense of mission.

I was never a cadet and a few of them might be older than me, but if I were to dispense any advice vis-à-vis this blog it would be:

1. WRITE IN ENGLISH (or else the only people reading this blog would be your families and your supervisors, plus it’s a good opportunity to practice your English writing skills).

2. Use tags that will help people who are interested in diplomacy find you.

In other words, be apart of the conversation beyond your office walls and fulfill this blog’s potential.

Let’s all wish them the best of luck on their challenging journey!

Advertisements

“Ask Peres” Facebook Campaign

In recent years, Shimon Peres has branded himself as an innovation evangelist, promoting his country’s creativity and backing ideas and technological solutions geared to make the world a better place.

The 90 year old statesman is somehow always ahead of his time. Quite an impressive achievement since his time spans over an almost 70 year political career during which most of the population of the world was born.

Image

After his massive “Be My Friend on Facebook” campaign, that successfully danced around the presidency’s marketing laws and ethics, President Peres is now encouraging people to ask him questions in a special Facebook tab, promissing that the most “liked” questions will be answered via Youtube.

The campaign was launched yesterday (October 14), and has so far reached 150 comments, 160 shares and some media attention.

Wanna have a go at asking Peres some questions? Click here and let me know if he actually answered you back!

The campaign will run until October 31.

Having an APPtitude

I’ve noticed that recently, governments on both local and national levels have entered the marvelous mobile world by developing apps designed to provide citizens, tourists and expats with relevant information serving their needs.

Such initiatives are important tools in providing service and increasing visibility.

It also helps governments on any level position themselves as progressive, in tuned with the public, moving with the times, and well-organized. Especially in an era when people’s patience is wearing thin and bureaucracy, well bureaucracy never goes anywhere.

Going back to some of my previous posts, those who may be seeking this information are already engaged with your country one way or another and though it helps you strengthen their appreciation of you more, it doesn’t do enough for making new friends.

Encouraging tourism or foreign investments starts by raising awareness to what your country has to offer. In addition to campaigns, conferences and other forms of targeted engagement, I propose a slightly less likely utilization of apps:

Wait for it…: Gaming.

Before you raise your brow or go back to checking your emails, hear me out.

Gaming is not just a lifestyle of junk food and avatars. We’ve all resorted to games conveniently available on our phones at least once while attending a boring meeting or lecture or even on the train or flight on some business trip.

According to an article published on Mashable.com,  In September 2012, 251 million people played games on Facebook, up from 226 million in September of 2011. Beyond the growth rate, the scary part is that those number refer only to  Facebook!

Every game we play, whether on an old-school board game or on a savvy flashy mobile phone have one thing in common: A Background.

A background can be a storyline and or a location in which the game takes place. Why not make the background your own?

Now, obviously if your aim is to improve your country’s image and to increase tourism and foreign investments you wouldn’t want to design a bloody war quest set in your land. But if business capital is what you seek, why not complement your efforts by producing a rollercoaster or runner game set in the downtown business quarter of your financial and commercial capital? Or if tourism is your goal, why not use the beautiful landscapes of your country as a background even for an angry birds style game? Sounds silly? Maybe…but you have an opportunity to make your country visible and attractive without an obvious direct affiliation and positioning one or more of your cities with an already well-known and strong place brand that you aspire to become like or even surpass.

Think about it for a moment. If the game you designed allows the gamer to choose a layout setting or even simply advance to different levels using the same group of cities, the long-term effect of associating the place you are promoting, is that it is in the same league as the other cities in the group.

If your game takes place in Tokyo, London, New York and a city in your country, what does it imply about its economic importance or its fashion industry?

This is not a new concept and is found mainly in track racing games, but it is applicable to almost any genre. The better the game, the more people download the app, the more people consume you regardless of their existing perception of you.

All you have to do is decide what aspect of your country you what to amplify in conjunction with your branding efforts, invest a small amount of money or even have an intern do it for you for free and use your contacts to launch the game.

As far as promoting the game goes – the sky s the limit. You might find it effective to promoting the app by giving people who share their high scores on your Facebook page or a game fan page prizes that support your message.

There is really no need to reinvent the wheel. Move with the times, and give people what they love.

6 Ways to Use Quora in the Service of Digital Diplomacy

A while back, I came across a tweet that promised to tell me what are the next up and coming social media sites I should be keeping an eye out for. Given my bombastic job title, I figured I have to read it, just to be in the know and just in case someone decides to challenge my knowledge. I clicked on the link and scrolled down until I reached Quora. What can I say, I fell in love.

Recognizing the potential, I immediately created an account for my consulate. I named it after my consul general, gave a short description of our mission and started following topics, people and questions.

About a week later, I was proud to receive and message from a Quora admin, telling me that we are the first and only diplomatic mission on the site and that he is looking forward to see how we choose to use it for our purposes.

Though the natural inclination is to answer questions related directly to my country’s political issues and foreign policy, I decided to answer question about topics I knew my country had something to offer to the world. My Consul General was surprised and happy to learn that he is an expert on water desalination, solar power, surfing, stem cell research, desertification prevention, innovative education methods, location-based apps, autism research and so much more.

The best part about it all is that the amount of followers the account has pales in comparison to the actual reach, since the questions and topics have so many followers from across the globe.

The most satisfaction I got was not from the “vote ups” but rather the messages reading “I would have never thought of that, I’ll look into it” and other comments of that nature.

The people I managed to reach via Quora would have never been exposed to this information if I had resorted to post it strictly on the mission’s website, Facebook page or Twitter.

Quora truly enables you to reach an audience based on niche interests, most of who are professionals in those fields and appreciate interesting and informative content that has professional value to them.

 Here are a few tips using Quora:

  1. Beware and be prepared. It is highly addicting.
  2. Follow topics and questions you want your country or government agency to be associated with or that are related to your branding strategy.
  3. Answer questions that can help you promote companies, startups, ideas, academic institutions, artists, technologies all located, invented, developed or heavily used in your country.
  4. Write answers, not articles, but include links to articles, especially if they were published in a source you have an interested in driving traffic to.
  5. If you are asked to answer a question regarding current events or a political issue, treat it as an official statement and abide by your guidelines and directives.
  6. If you are fortunate enough to employ interns, let them research and compose answers according to their personal fields of interest. That will motivate them and help them learn more about your country. For the most part, they are younger than you, and being out of this organic line of work, they will find topics that you would never think about. Don’t forget to go over it before they hit post. You know, just in case.

Preaching to the Choir

The Russian embassy in London tweeted me an article they posted. A few things caught my eye and I will be writing about them in posts to come, but one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was that according to the article, the Russian (600) Embassy’s following is the 3rd largest in the UK after the USA (21,000) and Israel (7,200). I find that interesting, especially due to the size of the countries, Diasporas, trade ties and of course relations and interests.

But how accurate is that? Do we measure only pages that state that their belong to the embassy or consulate? What about pages created for niche markets, festivals or other events?

With this thought in mind, I took a brief look at many of its affiliated pages and I realized that while it is remarkably active in social media, Israel doesn’t fulfill its potential, and stays preaching to its own choir.

After successfully establishing Facebook pages for the embassies and consulates around the world, the Israel foreign ministry and staff, as well as affiliated advocacy groups have turned to setting up unique pages focusing on specific aspects they want to amplify in an attempt to reach out to a broader audience through what would be their own fields of interests such as art, fashion, technology etc. The pages are filled with colorful images, messaging and useful information.

After the initial fan drive effect wears off, their fan base remains pretty much stagnant and they find it very hard to expand. Why? I believe it is rooted first and foremost in their very first step: naming the page. The names they choose are almost always directly indicative of Israel – either including the word Israel or a Hebrew word in English lettering.

The content too, is restricted to Israel, and thought there might be abundance and variety of content the country has to offer, it is very limited and consequentially limiting. The direct affiliation with the country, as well as the lack of local content, deters, to my belief, many potential fans.

I bet that if we take 5 of those pages, averaging in 1,500 fans, and cross them, we will find a 70% overlap in both fans and content, leaving only a few of the fans following purely out of niche interest.

Excluding a few, only people who are actually looking for information about Israel will end up finding and possibly liking those pages and will be exposed to the information the country is trying to share with the world in order to broaden the conversation about it and improve its overall image. That leaves the true target audience – the unaware, the unconvinced unengaged.

Understanding this very basic point can easily give them more for their money, which is invested less in Facebook ads and more in the people who are paid to maintain the pages. By the way, those people have many other responsibilities and are not fully minded and geared towards this task. Most of the time, it is a task they picked up on the way, and they don’t all have marketing or PR backgrounds. In many cases, the job is left to interns who do their thing and leave after 3 months; therefore the very important strategic element, tone and continuity are left behind.

This is of course not restricted to Facebook.

I think that breaking out of the paradigm of Facebook + Twitter = social media is imperative. But I’ll get to that in later posts on this blog. But as I said, first things first. If you have an image problem, why the hell would you name a page that is supposed to attract those who wouldn’t normally flock to you, after yourself?