State Department focuses on social media outreach

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

America.gov is no more as the State Department allocates resources from the site towards new social media endeavors.

As of March 31st, America.gov displayed a message informing visitors that the site is no longer being updated and that they should instead visit State.gov.

America.gov, once run by the folks at the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), have redirected their attention towards the department’s "social media assets," including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

All will be utilized to create what Assistant Secretary Duncan MacInnes calls a "more proactive" approach to online engagement.

MacInnes feels a "static website" like America.gov is no longer the best way to approach individuals and promote policy understanding.

“The new paradigm, particularly for reaching youth, is you have to go to where people already are on the Web. People don’t visit you, you have to go to them," said MacInnes.

"The material we produced for the America.gov centralized site is now pushed out to the embassy sites."

The role social media played in the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia somewhat "validated" its importance and helped prompt the shift in strategy following a major review that took place from September to January 2010. 

"It was a moment of revelation for many people," MacInnes added.

"The government is not particularly entrepreneurial as an organization, generally, but we need to be because things change every year, every six months. We will continually look for new ways to get things out."

As such, the IIP is sponsoring training webinars on social media "best practices."

"We’re teaching people to write shorter... Chunky; chunk the information down."

According to the IIP Bureau, 80 percent of the nearly 155,000 Facebook users following the Democracy Is page are younger than 24, making tools like Facebook and Twitter that much more important to the IIP’s strategy.

"Half the world is now under the age of 30,” explained MacInnes. "We’ve also discovered … that the Web has gone from 75 percent English three or four years ago to 70 percent foreign languages now."

This has also prompted the IIP to "ramp up" its translation efforts, according to MacInnes.

"We’ll produce an article, we’ll reduce that to a 200 word piece that can be used for a Facebook page and three or four tweets that can be used on a Twitter feed and instant messaging."

In the past, the attitude towards social media has been that of disregard. Most old school minds think social media is a tool used to alert people of what type of sandwich you enjoyed for lunch, rather than having any real engagement value.

As more and more companies adopt social media strategies, it's becoming clear that social media can be used to reach and engage with people never before possible. It’s like taking the power of the Internet and combining it with the intimacy of word of mouth suggestion of a particular thing.

Although slow to adopt, politicians are finally understanding the power that social media wields. It achieves exactly what these people want to do on a regular basis: interact with a widespread group of people and engage them with the politician or message, whatever it may be. No doubt there will be opposition within the government and from the general public and the government pumps more funds into tools like Facebook and Twitter.

The mentality seems to be "why spend money on social media when we could be spending money on more important things like education or homeland security or [insert hot button issue here]?"

We don’t see the same type of opposition when it comes to creating web pages, mostly because it is an accepted form of education. Social media, is redefining online consumption, which indicates it’s only a matter of time until people accept social media as an acceptable way to spend funds to educate the public on the Internet.  

(Via The Hill