Saudi Embassy on Twitter, YouTube

twitter/Saudi Embassy USA

What's the latest social media-savvy organization to get on Twitter? The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Embassy to the United States!

Yowza! Okay, it's not quite Ashton or MTV, but that's kind of the point: if risk-averse diplomats (whose whole job is basically message and brand control) see value in Twitter, it would seem to suggest even the most conservative, publicity-shy brands can find a home on the burgeoning social communication site. 

The Saudi Embassy's first tweet appeared on March 8; since then, the Twitter account has been used for news updates, with links to articles about a speech by King Abdullah on the kingdom's future prospects, business analysts' views of current economic conditions there, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visiting Riyadh, and so on. Currently the Saudi Twitter feed has a relatively modest following of 47.

Still, the decision to get on Twitter is a big deal, in the diplomatic world at least: the Saudis place great importance on their relations with the United States -- traditionally close but tested over the last decade by issues like the war on terror and the high price of oil. Reflecting this importance, the position of Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. has usually been reserved for a member of the royal family or their inner circle.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Embassy has eagerly embraced the Web as a communications and public relations platform, but like other diplomatic organizations has been slower to adopt social media, with its potential for online blowback. Interestingly, the Saudi Embassy is now also on YouTube, with a number of videos posted, featuring speeches by King Abdullah and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Although the embassy has disabled comments on its own videos, it is still exposed to negative PR from YouTube's suggested "related videos" posted by other users, which cover many of the same events -- press conferences, U.N. addresses, and so on. A quick look at these videos reveals that there are indeed some hostile comments, including Islamists criticizing the Saudi royal family, but also people expressing counter-views -- in short, social media functioning like it's supposed to. 

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