State Department Winning at Social Media

Incredible as it may sound, an important part of the U.S. federal government may actually be, gasp, good at using social media -- or at least, better than the clueless traditional media. That’s according to a new study showing that the U.S. State Department is better at using social media to connect with the general public in strategic places like the Middle East and North Africa than are many traditional news outlets.

The study, titled “A Social Networks Approach to Public Relations on Twitter: Social Mediators and Mediated Public Relations” and published in the Journal of Public Relations Research, analyzed the State Department’s efforts to disseminate messages via both “formal” and “informal” social mediators -- for example, U.S. government agencies versus nongovernmental organizations and individuals -- and compared these with news media’s ability to reach the same audiences via social media.

The State Department excels at identifying “informal” social mediators, including influential bloggers with large followings, and engaging them in two-way communication, putting the diplomatic corps ahead of traditional news media outlets, who typically showed much lower engagement. Co-author Itai Himelboim, an associate professor of telecommunications in the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, explained: “News media tend to use social media in the old fashioned way. They send out their reports like it was a broadcast -- going one way. Communication on social media is a two-way street.”

Himelboim went on: “Communication via these social spaces, such as Twitter, depends more than ever upon the willingness of third parties to participate in content distribution in the form of retweets or content endorsement. Twitter is a hybrid between mass communication and personal communication.” On that note bloggers, Twitter users, and other influential figures might not always agree with a particular message -- but the message is still getting out, allowing their audience to make their own judgments.

Recent events -- most notably the rise of the Islamic State, abetted by social media recruitment and opinion-shaping strategies -- have shown the importance of social media as a key battleground for both terrorist organizations and those seeking to counter them. Earlier this year Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counter-terrorism coordinator, said that social media plays a “huge role” in recruiting aspiring jihadists from Europe to fight in Syria. And in July the BBC reported that prominent Shia and Sunni imams and clerics released a filmed urging urging young British Muslims not to join the fight in Iraq and Syria. They say the film was designed to be distributed via social media to counter “digital propaganda” put out by the Islamic State and other groups.

1 comment about "State Department Winning at Social Media".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, September 5, 2014 at 12:58 p.m.

    #Please no more beheadings.

Next story loading loading..