This semester, I’m taking a Social Media in Strategic Communications course with Prof. Hyunjin Seo. We have several projects for the semester, including a mini-project with the Spencer Museum of Art on the University of Kansas campus. Our major project, however, is with the United Nations. We are to create a social media campaign to bring awareness to one of several key areas of United Nations’ interest. My particular group has the topic of education.
To help us prepare for our projects, Prof. Seo arranged for the class to meet with several key players in the United Nations’ communications department. Last week, we were visited virtually by Martin Nesirky, Spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and had a face-to-face meeting with Nancy Groves, New Media Focal Point for the United Nations, respectively—shed light on how the United Nations views communications and social media.
Mr. Nesirky spoke in more general terms about what he does for the Secretary-General, and how he uses social media to communicate with reporters via his @UN_Spokesperson Twitter account, and how he views the role of social media in terms of informing and engaging a global audience with what the SG is doing. He also discussed the logistical complications that can surround social media, such as lack of access to technology in remote parts of the world, or political sensitivities that must be considered before speaking.
Ms. Groves spoke more about the social aspect of her job, and what she is looking for in our projects. There were, however, a few key points that both speakers touched on consistently when discussing the organization and social media.
- Appropriate tone is paramount. Funny, witty Facebook and Twitter posts generate buzz, but aren’t appropriate for the subjects like famine or genital mutilation. Stay respectful to the audience and to the subjects covered. Much of what the U.N. deals with isn’t happy news, Ms. Groves said, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. “Light” posts for the U.N. include photos and stories from people who have been helped. Jokes do not have a place on United Nations SM.
- It’s more than social—it’s social marketing. Nesirky said, “It’s not just about telling a story. It’s about getting things done.” By helping the world community better understand what the U.N. does, the hope is to change attitudes and behaviors among those who hear the message, not just to get the message out. This makes the job much more important—but also more difficult.
- Saying “bonjour” via SM to a global audience is complicated. The U.N. has SIX official languages, and to translate every SM post into those languages (and perhaps a few more) would be expensive. And, not all nations use Facebook or Twitter (see last infographic). The U.N. has to manage multiple platforms to reach its global audience, and because of time zones and limited departmental resources, there is also the issue of getting the message out fast to everyone, even if it’s 3 a.m. in New York and 4 p.m. in Hong Kong. While the organization has 62 information centers across the globe, getting everyone up-to-speed on social media, and making social media a priority when those agencies have other duties, can be difficult. Reaching more people in more languages is a major goal for new media in the coming months and years, Groves said, so brush up on that high school French!
- Social media takes planning. We like to think that social media just happens. You video someone talking and poof! you have a post. Not true. Both Mr. Nesirky and Ms. Groves referred to a seven-minute video showing a day in the life of Secretary-General Ban Kai-moon during the September 2010 United Nations session. The video is seven minutes. The shooting and production took nine months.When staging social media posts to Facebook, Twitter and the other platforms the U.N. uses, Ms. Groves plans ahead using Google Docs and spreadsheets to time out certain entries that can be planned ahead (like notices about World AIDS Day or other standing events.) I hadn’t thought about using a spreadsheet to organize the day’s (or in the case of my job at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, week’s) posts, but I think this is a great organizational tool I’ll put into motion this week.