The US Embassy in Jakarta built a fanbase on Facebook larger than the US State Department and larger than all US Embassies combined, according to the man behind the site. The effort has been driven by Tristram Perry and his team out of the Jakarta embassy, Surabaya and Medan. Tristram agreed to take a few questions on his team’s efforts.
First, the stats:
Total fans of the US Embassies and consulates in Indonesia: 161,000
Embassy Jakarta: 128,732
Consulate Surabaya (run by Andi DeArment): 30,800
Consulate Medan: 2,700
U.S. State Department: 36,000
All other consulates and embassies: 102,000
It is, however, not all about fan numbers, but more about engagement, with some postings on the page regularly getting one thousand “likes”.
For comparison on the Embassy front, according to Tristram: Most Embassies/Missions in the top FB-using countries (in order, of # of active users: US, UK, Turkey, France, Canada, Italy, Indonesia, Spain, Australia and Philippines, according to www.checkfacebook.com) have some kind of significant FB presence, but number of users (for example, UK’s 22 Million vs. Macedonia’s 418k) does not guarantee fan numbers (i.e. 914 vs. over 2k). There are 197 pages for U.S. Embassies, Mission and Consulates on FB, but only a few have made it above 1,000+ fans (see below). I find it fascinating. On the other hand, Embassy London has over 2,400 followers on Twitter and seems to be using it very effectively, tweeting several times per day. It goes to show that there is no cure-all and one size does not fit all when trying to market internationally. Also, hopefully these Social Media efforts are presumably not the only tool in the toolbox and compliment rather than supplant traditional Public Diplomacy campaigns.
When and how did you start?
We started our Facebook Fan Page in January of 2009. Basically, we established static beachheads on a number of social media platforms and developed them based on interest and time available. We use several different tools, but our efforts are driven by the fact that we are trying to find a way to connect to new audiences, in this case, an urban and suburban 18 to 34 year olds who do not get news and information from traditional news sources. That’s who is online in Indonesia. There’s only 10-12% internet penetration here, but that’s over 25 million people — roughly the equivalent of five Singapores. But the process was pretty organic — the more we worked on the page, the more fans we got, and it had a certain snowball effect.
What tactics did you use?
Social Media is a soft tool, one that does not force policy, especially because in Indonesia there is little market for hard international news. Instead, we seek to re-establish the U.S. cultural brand and show a more down-to-earth side of the Embassy and USG that appeals to our audience. We provide a space and a community for engagement and directed user-generated content and interaction.
Apart from our traditional “Web 1.0″ official Embassy Website, which gets 1,000-2,000 hits daily, we use four major Social Media tools:
Twitter, active blogger engagement, our Facebook Fan page, and our branded YouTube Channel, but have also experimented with others, like live-streaming video at special events, partnerships with online portals and even video webchats. Each one is different, and designed to compliment our traditional public diplomacy efforts, whenever possible.
How is Facebook different in Indonesia from elsewhere?
Facebook right now is king in Indonesia in terms of social media user. Of the 25 million people who can access the internet here, about half are on Facebook. The difference is the speed of increase in users — now at #7 in the world — and that is largely due to the leapfrogging of the PC by mobile devices that can browse the web in Indonesia. I believe Blackberry use is among the fastest it the world here, and with the improvement of mobile-device browsers on more basic phones, this will only increase.
Are you optimizing for mobile?
Not really, because FB is becoming so easily viewable/usable/updateable on so many mobile device browsers (like Opera Mobile) and also via SMS. In a way, the platforms are optimizing for us.
What are the most powerful social media platforms besides Facebook?
Twitter has about 1 million users and is really growing rapidly. The verdict is still out on Google Buzz, but these things change so rapidly, it is hard to tell what will be next. Three years ago it was Friendster. There are attempts at establishing local and regional social networking sites like Koprol.com and Koolred.com, but these do not have even an fraction of the following of Facebook in Indonesia. With less
than 1% of the population on Twitter here in Indonesia, this is basically for the most-connected, tech-savvy audiences. Although we have about 1,000+ followers, we generally don’t create new content but instead tailor our tweets for alerting people to existing press releases and other timely announcements and let our followers know about updates to our other social media platforms, as most people on Twitter have Facebook, watch YouTube, blog, etc., but not vice-versa. I’d like to change that, but it’s a staffing concern — we need to be following others and responding in real-time, and if we can’t staff that, it’s not worth trying and doing badly.
What advice would give to another embassy or gvt trying to repeat what you did?
That social media is not a second website, it’s a community. Make sure that the people who are assigned to work on it are users themselves. Spark discussion and a sense of community, and give people a reason to belong to it. Know your market and customize your information for your audience. Develop unique, engaging content. Distribute the work, so that it across a group of people and not just personality driven, but matches your institutional strategy and feel. Post regularly, but not too much. Set goals and reassess them periodically.
How do these efforts fit within the broader diplomatic efforts?
Again, everything we do is designed to compliment our traditional public
diplomacy and existing programs, whenever possible. There is a big push
in the State Department to use social media for public diplomacy. We
have an administration that was elected in part through their use of
social media is in our own democratic context. If social media can
affect a U.S. election, then logically it can be a force for democratic
reform worldwide and empower people to express themselves.
Who posts information? How often? What is it?
Right now there are four people doing it, but each on an occasional basis. One American officer and three local staff, who have other full-time jobs. We usually plan the week at the beginning and brainstorm
content/posting ideas. We check and moderate comments 2-3 times a day and try to post no more than 5 times a week, so as to avoid user fatigue. We are constantly on the lookout for unique or custom content and try to track what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes it is promoting our own programs, such as television or radio programs we produce, sometimes cultural events — we even posted pictures of the Embassy’s batik collection, which was a big hit. We frequently translate content from Americal.gov that we find relevant or resonant and repackage a bit, making it a quiz or putting it in an appropriate Indonesian context.
Also, we wrote to the tourism boards in all 50 states and asked for their promotional videos and the right to use them here. 17 responded and now we’re subtitling them in-house and posting these.
What has had the greatest reaction so far?
When posted about President Obama coming to Indonesia on Facebook several hours before we sent out an official press release and had over a thousand interactions, including comments and “likes” — and they were great comments. People inviting Obama to their homes, asking him which Indonesian foods he was going to eat here, where he would travel, etc. When we were running blogging workshop before Pesta Blogger these were hugely popular, and posting about them on Facebook had a role in that popularity. We try to appeal to different audiences on different topics, and spark discussion on all of them.
Do you block comments?
The U.S. supports freedom of expression online, as Secretary Clinton recently spoke about at the Newseum in Washington last month. We do not block or delete comments, unless they violate our rules, which are those of simple politeness. Comments that use profanity, are hateful towards others, promote violence, etc. or are just commercial postings will get deleted, but if someone is expressing a strong — or even critical — opinion we will respond. Sometimes our fans will too. My favorite posts are the ones that get our Indonesian fans talking to each other on an issue or topic. Also, since we don’t have the technical expertise on our team to address certain fairly topics (higher education advising or visas, for example), we try to help direct fans to the right place to get specific answers on these topics.
In social media, are there concerns about “losing control”?
For us, it’s not really about control so much as it is about direct, two-way interaction. Since, we are up front about the fact that we do set ground rules and enforce them fairly, I think our fans respect that.
People are going to talk about us online, criticize us, disagree with our policies and positions, with or without our efforts in social media. We can choose to join this conversation and give them a chance
to express themselves directly to us, or not. Listening to others’ views is also important, not just pushing our own side of the argument. That is the point of having a Facebook page or a Twitter account — the real strength of using social media for public diplomacy is the discussion happening on both sides.