In the book, The Last Three Feet, various public diplomacy professionals came together to write short chapters about their experience working in some of the key U.S. countries – including Pakistan, Iraq and China. No one story in the book is the same, and no one lesson learned is the same for all writers based on their experiences working overseas. What is important about this book though is that through various perspectives and experiences, we as scholars of public diplomacy and hopeful professionals in the field can read the accounts of our predecessors to learn best practices- identify what works and what doesn’t work. For a student of international communication and intercultural relations I was extremely interested by the chapter Aaron Snipe who captures 1. The importance of social media but 2. The need to communicate with a human face for more high context cultures. Mr. Snipe and his fellow colleagues at the US Embassy in Iraq recognized that communication vehicles like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were popular means of communication with youth – especially following the Arab Spring. An important key lesson for all communications campaigns is to know your understand – and understand the way they want to be communicated with. Defining the appropriate communications strategy can be conducted through focus groups, surveys, random interviewing to determine the appropriate vehicles a given population will respond to effectively. Just building a strategy is not enough though – as can be seen by the Facebook Page that the US embassy launched in Iraq (which took a hit from 4,000 friends to 1,000 friends in less than 4 months). To respond to this dilemma the Embassy took on a few measures including:
- Increasing the frequency of the posts on Facebook page as well as ensuring the content was relevant to users
- Developing more messages in Arab to appeal to local population; but also including a English option
- Giving a name and face to the Facebook Page “Administrator”
In particular – I am impressed by the decision to humanize the Facebook Page. Many times we can all find ourselves frustrated when posted on a given company’s Facebook page but we don’t get a respond to our request or sometimes complaintJ The use of personnel names and photos on the US Embassy Facebook page helped the Iraqi population see the Embassy in a new light and made people feel that they can actually connect with someone who works at the Embassy.
Based on the analysis conducted by the Facebook Team, as a result of the measures that the Embassy took, the Facebook page generated nearly 100 new viewers a week, encouraged greater two-way communication between locals and the Facebook Team, and provided a platform to promote USG objectives through activities like the “The Question of the Day” initiative which increased insight into Iraqi society for the USG. In addition, according to Spine, after greater followers joined the Facebook page, the US Embassy also noticed an increase of applications for US Exchange programs; which were as a direct result from promotion by team members on the Facebook page.