If Benjamin Franklin, the first diplomat to represent the US, were able to time-travel his way here, he might choose to paraphrase himself: “either tweet something worth reading, or do something worth tweeting.”
(Guest blog by Timor El-Dardiry, Policy Officer at the Strategy Advisory Unit, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
How essential are social media to diplomats? Over the past two days, this question bounced around in my head as I participated in a highly interesting course on “diplomatic reporting in the internet era” (an event of the Geneva Internet Platform). The answer may be obvious to many, especially those who are avid users of Twitter, Hootsuite, blogs and various other online media. The army of virtual diplomats welcomes new recruits every minute, or so it seems. At the same time, I also know of many colleagues who distrust social media or simply feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities that new technologies have to offer. With dozens of different social networks and new tools emerging on a daily basis, can you blame them for not keeping up?
The course made me realize the importance of writing clear and concise texts, regardless of the medium in which they are to be published. Perhaps this is the key lesson I draw from the past two days. As long as you are able to formulate your message in a short and simple matter, you’re good to go. Of course, tools such as Twitter take getting used to. But this seems mostly a matter of practice, practice and some more practice. Let me put it differently: most people can master the techniques of new tools. But if you do not know how to express your ideas in a clear manner, Twitter is still not going to help you.
So to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post, I’d say mastering social media can definitely be useful for diplomats, but will always serve as a complement to core diplomatic skills. Not all diplomats who write well are destined to become Twitter experts. But any diplomat who is bad at writing will be equally bad at tweeting – so let’s start with the basics.
[Timor tweets publicly as part of a team @NL_MFA_Strategy and also privately]
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