When one explores the digital diplomacy activities of embassies, he is often surprised by the number of social media accounts embassies now maintain. For instance, embassies in Washington DC are often active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. The rationale for operating several accounts lies in the understanding that audiences use different social media platform for different needs. For instance, while Facebook may be used to maintain ties with friends, Twitter as a tool for information gathering and learning about world events.
This week I decided to explore the extent to which embassies in London use Facebook in order to converse with online followers. I have often maintained that such two-way interactions are the very essence of digital diplomacy activities. Indeed one is more likely to change his opinion of another country and its policies if he has had the opportunity to converse with people from that country. Two way interactions may also enable embassies to create online networks with individuals that can then be used to amplify the embassy’s online reach. Additionally, when an embassy converses online with its critics, it is sending a powerful message – that its country is confident enough in it’s polices to have them questioned and scrutinized by the public.
Online conversations can lead to relationships and relationships can lead to attitude and behavior change. That is the power of social media.
Although conversations can take place on any social media platform, most MFAs instruct diplomats to use Twitter for information dissemination and Facebook for community building. Given my desire to explore the dialogic (i.e., conversational) activities of London embassies, I analyzed 17 Facebook accounts. The sample was meant to include embassies from countries that have established a formidable online presence alongside embassies from countries that have just recently migrated online. The sample thus included the London embassies of:
Australia, Canada, Croatia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Kenya, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Uganda and the US.
As part of my analysis, I examined all posts published by these embassies over a two months period (August 25-October 25). The first parameter I evaluated was the number of posts published each embassy over the two months period. This is due to the fact that before one can engage with audiences, he must first attract them to his social media accounts. The best way to do so is to create a vibrant and useful social media profile. The graph below displays the results of my first analysis.
Graph 1: Number of Facebook Posts Published By Embassy Over Two Months Period
As can be seen, the average London embassy in my sample published some 60 Facebook posts over a 60 day period. This suggests that most embassies in my sample are less active on Facebook then they are on Twitter where embassies publish dozens of tweets a day. Notably, while Ethiopia is one of the most active embassies, Sweden is one of the least active. These results suggest that the digital divide may be narrowing in digital diplomacy as countries from the global south may be more active online than countries from the north. Additionally, embassy activity does not always mirror MFA activity given that the Swedish MFA is more active online than the Ethiopian ministry.
Next, I evaluated the number of Facebook followers each embassy in the sample attracts to its profile. The results of this analysis may be seen in the graph below.
Graph 2: Number of Facebook Followers
As can be seen, the embassy with the largest number of followers is the US which is “Liked” by nearly 100,000 Facebook users. Kenya is the least followed embassy attracting only 698 Facebook users. The average number of followers in the sample is 21,000 which is surprisingly high.
Notably, the Swedish, French, Estonian and Australian embassies attract very few followers. These embassies belong to MFAs that have created a formidable social media presence and as such these results suggest again that embassies do not always mirror their respective MFAs in terms of online activity and reach. In other words, digital diplomacy excellence at the MFA level does not guarantee excellence at the embassy level, and vice versa.
Next I evaluated the number of comments written by Facebook followers in response to embassy posts. Such comments represent an attempt by social media followers to engage with the embassy online. The graph below displays the results of this analysis.
Graph 3: Average Number of Comments per Post
As can be seen, the majority of embassies receive an average of 1 comment per Facebook post. The exceptions to this rule are the Israeli, Polish, Canadian, German and American embassies. The relatively low number of comments may be explained by the fact that comments require time and effort as opposed to Liking or Sharing a post.
My next evaluation included recording all all instances of embassy engagement with Facebook followers. This included all instances in which an embassy responded to a follower’s question, replied to a criticism, supplied information on demand or responded in any other way to a follower’s comment. The results of this analysis are displayed in the graph below.
Graph 4: Instances of Engagement with Facebook Followers over a Two Months Period
As can be seen, the majority of embassies in my sample did not engage at all with their followers during the sampling period. These results are not surprising and echo findings from other studies demonstrating that embassies, MFAs and diplomats mostly refrain from conversing with social media audiences.
Among the 7 embassies that did engage with followers, most did so on rare occasions (such as Israel, Australia, France and Germany). The only 3 embassies that seem to engage with followers on a regular basis are the American, Polish and Canadian missions. Notably, the Canadian embassy to London was by far the most conversational in my sample.
The results presented thus far suggest that Facebook followers seldom comment on embassy posts. In addition, embassies rarely engage with their followers. It is possible that these two findings are related- that embassies’ failure to engage with their followers has brought about apathy among these audiences.
In order to tests this hypothesis, I examined the average number of Likes and Shares garnered by embassy posts. My assumption was that embassies that engage with followers have built an online community that aids in information dissemination. The results of these two analyses are shown in the graphs below.
Graph 5: Average Number of Likes per Post
Graph 6: Average Number of Shares per Post
As can be seen in graphs 5 and 6, the embassies with the highest number of Shares and Likes per post are Canada, Israel, US, Germany and Poland. These are all the embassies that tend to engage with their Facebook followers. As such, it is possible that engagement and two-way conversations facilitate the creation of online relationships between embassies and social media users who are subsequently willing to aid the embassy in disseminating its online content.
In this post I attempted to explore the extent to which embassies in London engage with their Facebook followers. Such engagement may facilitate the creation of online relationships between diplomats and foreign publics. Results suggest that embassies are less active on Facebook than they are on Twitter. Moreover, London embassies seem to use Facebook for information dissemination rather than two-way engagement.
However, when embassies do engage with followers, they enjoy higher rates of Shares and Likes. Thus, it is possible that engagement leads followers to take an active part in disseminating embassy content online thereby extending the embassy’ reach and potential impact. Such aid is of crucial importance given that social media users exist in online bubbles produced and maintained by algorithms. Thus, the only way embassies can increase the reach of their content and impact is through Shares and Likes. This post therefor highlights but one additional benefit of social media engagement by diplomats- bursting algorithmic bubbles.