The tasks of high commissions and embassies in foreign countries is usually to improve strategic ties with the host country, process messages in between governments and to look after consular services of its citizens based in the home country and visa services for people who wish to visit the consulates home nation.
Therefore consulates in foreign nations are literally outposts of good will and strategic development from respective governments and as such have to maintain communication links throughout the host countries various sections of civil society and strata. In the case of the british high commission in Pakistan this task is not an easy one because of the complex nature of Pakistan as well as the multitude of conspiracy theorists abound who typically love attributing anything they can to “foreign hands”
However I have in my capacity been observing some of the work done by the British high commission and in particular their social media stream (facebook) which is obviously more of my area of interest. Its quite a milestone to achieve a 100,000 followers in a period of 4 years since this stream was founded in september 2009 and these are some of the things i have noticed.
- It is extremely important for content generators to realize what sort of an environment and audience they are dealing with and tailor their content accordingly. Nothing permeates the national conscience faster then social media and anything offensive on it can be pretty damaging from a diplomatic point of view. The BHC facebook social stream has always kept in mind the sensibilities of Pakistan and congratulated its audience on their local holidays as well as spoken to them in a language they can easily adhere to or understand. The local flavour can be found in their updates, whether they speak of the beaches in Karachi or the food in Lahore or their ambassadors visit to a certain area its with a tone which is humble and relaxed.
- It is equally important to remember that there is a diverse nay a plethora of tools and messaging forms available out there today and it is heartening to therefore see that the BHC uses, updates, polls, contests (pictorial & academic) however they seem to be a little behind in the area of graphics, as the new display options ala memes and info graphics are lacking in this social stream. Obviously there is imagery but more of a photographic kind in which their excellence can be seen in the multitude of snaps from across England and pakistan as well as the necessary pictures of their events and dignitaries.
- The most telling statistic of a social media campaign for anyone is the engagement they can generate. Across the four years of its tenure the BHC facebook stream seems to have maintained a reasonable to good degree of engagement which I might tell you from personal experience managing social media campaigns is extremely difficult to do as the community increases. They have achieved this because as you scroll through their timelines it is pretty easy to see how they have interspersed questioning in their updates. Whether its a chance to win a momento gold coin from the olympics or simply to highlight an area of work the questions are always present and keeping the audience interactive.
- Obviously any social media campaign has always got space to grow and thus some of the following observations might be taken as suggestions upon improvement of this stream
- Use of local language - Throughout the stream I noticed one off attempts at using the urdu language but no continuity in this respect. With 10 million Pakistanis now on facebook the language used in a social media stream specially that by a foreign consulate should always be in a mix of the host and the home nation.
- Judging by the amount of Pakistanis which apply for uk visas for travel as well as business and studying purposes it was encouraging to see questions answered by the visa officer as well as updates on the process and feedback questions being put. As it may be a matter of policy to not entertain any personalised queries on social media, perhaps this social stream could benefit from a facebook application developed to track the visas and their case status via a reference number.
- Social media from the get go has been an enormous communication tool. While it is great to see that there is so much work being done by the british high commission in the area of commerce, education & disaster relief, a social stream with this many followers should be able to explore and come up with initiatives from within this 100k community. That would be an incredible boost not just to the work of the BHC but a provide a sense of entitlement to this online community as well. So perhaps instead of devising the next project of good will the BHC can throw the gauntlet to its community and see what they come up with?
- Obviously as the stream grows so does the responsibility to safeguard it from attacks and I have during the course of this stream seen malicious comments go unnoticed therefore would sincerely advice increasing the team of moderators for the social streams, we must not let so much great work become tainted by attempts to hijack and spread ill will.
All in all this social stream is a definite positive in the social media diaspora of pakistan and could serve as a role model for how to employ this new form of media to get ones message across. It would be obviously very interesting to read a case study on how this was developed and researched as well as implemented for students of social media in Pakistan.