Tuesday, March 8, 2011

OIG reviews social media in 22 embassies -- says use extensive, but labor-intensive

State's OIG recently released its review of social media use by the State Department, however, the report only examined the use by US embassies in its FY 2010 inspection cycle and excluded use in its domestic operation. The stated focus of the inspection was more general such as a) extent to which embas­sies were using social media, b) the chief challenges they faced, c) the degree to which the use of social media was connected to the Mission Strategic and Resource Plan (MSRP), d) methods of measurement, and e) the quality of technical support. 

Some not/not so surprising highlights below:

  • In reports on social media at 22 missions in 2009-10, OIG inspectors found that the use of social media is extensive, but labor-intensive. Many embassies required additional staff or had to reprogram an existing position in order to use social media in an active way—for example, to generate original content for the social media site, update it daily, and respond to users. Those who primarily relied on Web site content for their social media sites generally cited lack of sufficient staff as an impediment to creating fresh content. At a number of embassies, American and local staff said they needed more training to use social media effectively. Depending on the country, a more active use of social media would require more content in the local language, which would greatly increase the need for translation resources. Public affairs sections generally took primary responsibility for mission social media sites and sometimes found it difficult to get other sections involved—a necessity for serious discussion of consular or policy issues.
  • With regard to site content, public diplomacy staff members are engaging in a balancing act. They know they are supposed to focus on the MSRP, but they fear that too great an emphasis on serious issues will make the site heavy, boring, and unable to attract an audience. Some have developed lighter, more creative content, reasoning that if their MSRP goal is to reach a younger audience, anything they do to achieve this automatically falls under the MSRP.
  • Some embassies have had problems with users posting questionable material on their social media sites, such as postings by supporters of a terrorist group and U.S. partisan political screeds. Others were uncertain about how to handle postings that were severely critical of U.S. society or policies. Embassy staff would welcome more discussion and guidance on this issue.
  • In view of local conditions, some embassies have avoided putting a lot of resources into social media. Others have gone ahead with it anyway, either because they think it is what Washington expects, or because they believe that the limited numbers of people they do reach still represent a key audience: educated youth.
  • [I]f the goal is to change attitudes, then additional measuring tools are needed. The Office of Policy, Planning and Resources of the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs is sponsoring a study (now in its initial stage) to measure the Department’s public diplomacy social media efforts and assess attitudinal and behavioral changes.
  • 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.

The report is surprisingly thin and although it provided some recommendations, it did not identify the missions reviewed, nor broke it down according to regional bureaus. It also provided no insight on social media funding sources. 

The review covered only 22 missions which are a small fraction of embassies/consulates/American corners with social media presence. A May 2010 survey by the Office of eDiplomacy cited by the report found that over half the U.S. missions had Facebook accounts, and a quarter had Twitter accounts. There are, in fact, over 220 State Department Facebook pages which includes not only embassies/consulates but also American Corners, IRCs, and others.  Some missions also have Flickr, YouTube and blogs.

The report says that the on-the-ground inspections took place before the issuance of the new social media FAM subchapter, so inspectors could not measure embassies against the new regula­tions. 

Read it in full below:      

OIG_Social Media Use Review Feb 2011

I hope the subsequent reviews will give us more things to chew than what we have here.

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