No tweet, no result; no picture, no meeting; no #hashtag, no professionalism. Blogging is hip, infographics are already mainstream and every respectable company has a CDO (Chief Digital Officer).
I turned ‘social’ some years ago; a colleague of another Consulate in Hong Kong urgently needed donors with a special blood type. He phoned around and I put out the request on twitter. Within two hours I had 10 reactions, including a few donors. It was the first time I personnally experienced the potential of social media.
As diplomats, through social media, we are reaching more people, strengthening impact, making my work more transparent and are enjoying twitter as a great source of information. My colleagues and I promote the Netherlands in Turkey this way and inform Dutch people about what is going on.
Social media constitute a brave new world with unchartered risks and rewards. We, cautious diplomats, tend to concentrate (too much unfortunately) on the risks: ‘one mistake and your career is finished’. Always a possibility indeed, but one does not need social media for this. Courtesy of social media the grace period for politicians is an hour before the first tweets appear questioning their actions. Whether one is an active social media user or abstains completely, social media have a major impact.
As we all know from our daily experiences communication is key to everything, in private and professional life. Over the years I came to the conclusion that it is a miracle that at times we get messages across at all. Perceptions, intentions, misunderstandings, linguistic interpretations, cultural background, they all play their confusing role.
Situation in Turkey
70% of the Turks connected to internet are also active on twitter, one of the highest percentages in the world. On average Turks spend 3 hours per day on social media, discussing sport, TV and of course politics. Social media in Turkey is, however, also about VPN, trolls, Gezi, blockades, verification tools, bandwidth and “delete requests”.
Does it make a difference for me, as a diplomat, to work in this dynamic environment? Not really. As a diplomat one is careful by nature being, sensitive to the bilateral interests and taking care of local sensitivities. Can you call this self-censorship? Perhaps, but I would prefer to call it self-restraint. The role of a diplomat is different from, for example, journalists, activists or politicians.
The greatest nuisances in daily practice in Turkey are the so called trolls and the varying bandwidth. Regularly internet is slower than the provider had promised me, including the uploading of tweets.
This being said, thanks to social media, my understanding of what is going on in Turkey has improved a lot and during crisis remains one of my main sources of information.
Freedom of expression and respect for rule of law remain corner stones of Dutch foreign policy. Social media play an increasingly important role. Via Linked-in and twitter many people contact me directly. They are welcome. Hos geldiniz.