Digital diplomacy in a Polish way

We have asked several foreign ministries to answer some questions about their #DigitalDiplomacy. Here’s a guest post from the Foreign Ministry of Poland.

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How big is your social media footprint?

Since October 2009, when Polish diplomacy started to tweet using the @PolandMFA account, we have radically developed our digital communication, including communication through social media. Today, we manage two official accounts of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs: in English (@PolandMFA) and Polish (@MSZ_RP). Since 2012 over 150 Polish embassies, consulates, permanent representations, Polish Institutes around the world (a detailed list is available here), almost all Polish deputy ministers of foreign affairs, the press spokesman, and a number of ambassadors and MFA officials have active Twitter accounts. We also have an official consular Twitter account @PolakZaGranica and an official account @Polska, that promotes Poland and provides news feeds from the Polska.pl website. This extensive social media network of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is overseen by the Digital Communication Division of the Press Office. The easiest way to learn about our digital diplomacy is to visit www.mfa.gov.pl/ediplomacy.

How big is your social media team?

Our digital team in the MFA headquarters consists of eight people at the Digital Communication Division and the Promotional Websites Unit. The team is supported by other staff members of the MFA Press Office (another six people from Media Relations Division) that tweet official information published by the MFA and live-tweet important events such as the annual policy address of the head of Polish diplomacy in the Polish parliament. Our digital diplomacy would not exist if it were not for local editors at each Polish diplomatic post, i.e. those responsible for digital communication—internet websites (340 in 45 languages) and social media. This area is, obviously, only one out of the many duties assigned to them. Our editors are trained by the Press Office’s digital team before leaving for diplomatic posts. Thus, a total of over 300 people are involved in Polish digital diplomacy, including local editors.

In 2015, we started to work closer with our group of a dozen or so digital leaders, i.e. the most active local editors from all over the world. We want to develop it mainly by training and joint projects so that our digital communication can keep up with the changes around us.

What are your main objectives and challenges?

Innovative projects are our biggest challenge and we always try to set aside some time for them. This enables us continued development of MFA websites (in December 2014 we launched a revamped www.polska.pl website; we are also working on a new website for Polish Institutes), as well as a presence on social media. Irrespective of the medium, effective digital communication is primarily based on the content that the audience finds attractive. It is our mission to create it. Diplomacy can tell fascinating stories using modern channels. A good example of that is the latest project—a multimedia online exhibition entitled Skopje. The Art of Solidarity, published on the Google Cultural Institute, it outlines a collection of art that was loaned to Macedonia after a tragic earthquake. We have other joint Twitter campaigns with our missions abroad scheduled for the coming months, and thanks to our digital leaders we will be scaling up our social networking activity.

What is the key achievement you are most proud of? 

We are proud to be able to provide useful information to the public at home and abroad. Our content is subject to an instant assessment on social media. If web users find it interesting, they share it, give likes, and pass it around. We take care to respond quickly in emergencies, when human life is at stake. We feel also proud when we can be the first to tell the world in English about Polish successes, important events and posts. We have pulled it off many times, with foreign affairs events and those of particular relevance to Poland’s promotion. Although we do not get tens of thousands of retweets, we are glad to see among those several hundred retweeters people who are important from our point of view. They are our main target group. We are also happy about social media campaigns held together with our diplomatic missions, such as the #MyPolska campaign to celebrate Independence Day on 11 November, a day when Poland regained its independence in 1918. It led to hundreds of fabulous selfies taken all over the world in places associated with Poland. We also spare no effort to develop iPolak, a consular app than enables Polish citizens to travel safely and, if necessary, contact Polish diplomatic posts. Those activities are making an impact. Our efforts have been recognised in competitions (Polska.pl recently won Mobile Trends Awards in the mobile website category) and international rankings. For a few years we have been leading the Twiplomacy ranking in the “Best Connected World Leaders” category.

Another important achievement is the creation of a vibrant social network comprising Polish diplomatic posts, and making digital diplomacy one of important tools employed by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We pay particular attention to the training of our diplomats in digital communication. Although it is a bit of an organisational feat for our digital team, since 2012 we have trained over 300 people in this field.

What advice would you give to other ministries and governments to make a lasting impact on Twitter?

1. Seize the moment and make plans

Nothing makes digital communication more effective than a fast reaction to an event. In order for a small team to cope with the task, it is crucial to make precise plans, and sometimes even anticipate events. During major sports, political or cultural events we work more like a newsroom than an office. Just like editorial staff, we often do text editing at nights or weekends, or take part in the editing work of video footage. Recently, to instantaneously update our readers with the hot news of an Oscar for the Polish movie Ida, we had six article versions prepared in advance for the Polska.pl website, as this was the number of possible Oscar scenarios that could unfold that night. Of course, tweets were ready beforehand as well.

2. Follow the market

As digital communication changes almost every day, we need to keep abreast of what’s up on the market. No matter the heavy workload, we take care to attend important digital industry events such as conferences and training events. We also try to work with the best, which doesn’t necessarily mean the largest, interactive agencies on the domestic market. Because our budgets are limited, we go for those who, as in the case of many projects for NGOs, can use their creativity and ingenuity to design interesting actions at a reasonable cost.

3. Rely on experts and train your people

Effective digital communication requires know-how and experience. These should be constantly upgraded. For our Digital Communication Division team we accordingly searched for employees with excellent communication and digital skills. We are aware of the fact that as far as government administration is concerned, they are trailblazers and leaders of mentality change. For we must remember that for ages diplomats were told not to disclose any details of talks, while nowadays they are being encouraged to share as much as they can with the public. A good team is all the more important because we transfer our knowledge to other members of Polish foreign service through regular training.

By Agnieszka Skieterska (@Skieterska), Head of Digital Communication Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland (@PolandMFA)

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