Watch your tweets... the Inspector General is inspecting
In recent years the lines between official government
communication and social sharing have become increasingly blurred, with platforms
such as Twitter and Facebook emerging as legitimate (and even preferred) ways
for government agencies to interact with both their employees and private citizens.
A recently released report
from the State Department's Office of Inspector General shows that
while social media may have finally "arrived" on the federal communications
scene, it still has a long way to go before it reaches its full potential.
report, which carries the fairly to-the-point title "Review of the Use of
Social Media by the Department of State," enumerates several findings regarding
the effectiveness of State's social media presence, as well as suggestions for
What did the OIG conclude about State's social media use at overseas embassies?
• Embassies are actively involved
in social media, but successful sites with original content and strong interaction
with their audience require a serious commitment of staff time.
• The new Foreign Affairs
Manual (FAM) subchapter on social media provides useful and needed guidance on
social media, but missions will need additional reminders of requirements.
• Some portions of the new FAM
subchapter are complex or not easily interpreted, and missions will need further
guidance and advice
A Balancing Act
The Inspector General's office, which studied the social media programs of 22 U.S. embassies, then goes on to define social media as an "important public
diplomacy tool," and notes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's embrace of this
technology as a means to communicate with a worldwide audience. The primary goal of embassies that use social media is to
reach a younger audience more familiar with Facebook and Twitter than with, say, the American Consulate to Bangkok.
The OIG acknowledges that State employees in charge of
social media for their respective embassies face the delicate balancing act of
maintaining their Mission Strategic and Resource Plan (MSRP) while keeping
their social media presence fresh and accessible. After all, your average 19
year old checking out an embassy Facebook page in Cairo
most likely isn't going to want to be bludgeoned with obscure State Department
jargon. Heck, most State Department employees don't want to be similarly
The OIG's report makes some fairly obvious recommendations
(embassy websites should link to their official Facebook or Twitter pages,
some more insightful ones, such as the need for embassies to begin keeping a
digital archive of their social media output for future reference. The report
acknowledges that having a legitimate social media presence will require staff
and a commitment to the mission of using such media as an outreach tool, something OMG has been saying for a while.
The next natural question is, just how much staff will be required to effectively manage social media and at what cost to the public? Without concrete numbers, some will have no choice but to assume the cost may become burdensome. In times of federal budget trimming, social media advocates will have to make a compelling case.
If there were any doubt before regarding the important role
social media will play going forward in the dissemination of government
information, the OIG's report confirms that the federal establishment is not
only aware of the power of social media but is actively working towards
harnessing it for future use. Now, someone please tell the Ambassador to Malaysia
to stop sending out so many Farmville requests.
Three Unanswered Questions:
1. What percentage of embassies still lack a social media presence on either Twitter or Facebook? Are there
any plans to move these embassies into the 21st century by getting
them onto social media?
2. What is the ultimate cost benefit
of embassies going all-in on social media? Will the "paperless" nature of
social media and its relatively low cost be beneficial to the bottom line of
3. Will the U.S. government's social presence overseas seek to actively engage citizens, or will it merely be an endless stream of press releases and