U.S. embassies find that establishing a social media presence in their host countries is a labor-intensive and sometimes pitfall-ridden practice, according to a February State Department inspector general report posted online March 4.
Embassies view social media as a way to reach a younger audience. But, successful U.S. mission social media sites that have original content and audience interaction 'require a serious commitment of staff time,' the report says--resources that embassies may lack, the report says.
Of 57 missions examined by the inspector general, 42 had active public Facebook sites. Public affairs sections have found it difficult to get other sections to contribute, 'a necessity for serious discussion of consular or policy issues,' the report states. About a quarter of the 42 missions updated their Facebook page daily, half did so every day, while a quarter did so less than once a week, State auditors found.
In addition, embassies have had to deal with users adding questionable material to U.S. social media sites--the bane of open forums everywhere--such as postings from terrorist group supporters or U.S. partisan political screeds. Embassy staff were uncertain how to handle comments severely critical of U.S. society or policies, the report adds.
U.S. mission Facebook pages themselves sometimes crossed the line between posting informational versus promotional links, the report says. When linking to a non-federal webpage, an official U.S. site must have a disclaimer eschewing endorsement. But, of the 14 or so embassy Facebook pages that had linked to non U.S.-governmental organization or event webpages, few had disclaimers.
Embassies evaluate how effective their social media efforts are by counting followers or interactivity, often as measured by Facebook Insights. But, if the goal is to change attitudes abroad, then additional metrics are needed, the report states.
- download the report, OIG ISP-1-11-10 (.pdf)
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