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Greg Dorey


Part of Digital Diplomacy

26th February 2016 London, England

Nation Shall Tweet Tweets Unto Nation….

It is pretty rare these days for a British Ambassador or equivalent not to engage in social media – something that sets us apart from the vast majority of other countries’ emissaries (with notable exceptions). But at a time when diplomacy has progressively less to do with government to government (G2G) interaction and more to do with engaging the media, NGOs, civil society, youth and other sectors of society, a failure to use social media sensibly and proactively can mean we are missing out on many of our key audiences. And sometimes it can even help with G2G business too.

When I arrived in Addis Ababa (where I was Ambassador from 20011-15), the Embassy had a website and had just started a Facebook page: a corporate Twitter account (@ukinethiopia) followed some time later. I had been blogging since being in Budapest (as Ambassador from 2007-11) which allowed me to discuss more complex issues than a 140 character soundbite permits. And I left Hungary having done several YouTube interviews (usually on consular themes) and an historical podcast (downloaded 1000 times in the first week). So I didn’t need convincing about the value of digital media to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and wasn’t starting with a blank page.

But I wanted to make much more coherent use of our digital assets and ensure they contributed to our wider goals in Ethiopia and the region. With some difficulty, we found the money for a web manager (who also ran projects) to ensure we updated our content regularly and that it was of a high quality. We still didn’t have as much resource as other similarly-sized British missions, but we did have an enthusiastic media team who found digital diplomacy fun as well as useful – which helped bridge the gap. And I started to chair a monthly communications meeting with our Department for International Development and British Council partners to look ahead at future digital and public diplomacy opportunities, and to produce work plans against which we held ourselves to account.

So a combination of good forward planning and evaluating our initiatives afterwards led to progressive improvement in our output (judged partly by external review). We became conscious of local news agencies and radio programmes using our website/Facebook material and we were able to use digital media to support our other projects e.g. increasing participation in an Education Conference and Exhibition we organised in 2013.

However, I was slightly sceptical when public diplomacy colleagues suggested I should consider launching my own Twitter account. I was very conscious that internet penetration in Ethiopia is extremely low (well under 5% though including most intellectuals and many urbanites) and felt that occasional interviews with radio and the local language media gave me wider personal reach in practice than Twitter was likely to achieve. I was also aware young people still tend to favour Facebook above Twitter. But since my colleagues were insistent, I thought I’d give it a go (with some helpful advice from the FCO Digital Transformation Unit).

The experience was an overall success. I started in October 2014 (see @GregDoreyFCO – and if you want to follow I shall be in your debt) and left Addis a little over a year later with 2,400 followers, which exceeded my target. Somewhat to my surprise the numbers are continuing to edge up, and stand at over 2,600 today, even if my current work isn’t very tweet-able. This number isn’t huge, when I compare it to some of my naked and even fully clothed Ambassadorial colleagues (e.g. @TFletcher), but it’s substantial in an Ethiopian context.

So who’s been reading my tweets? Direct feedback shows (as with my blog) that they include a number of key opinion formers and decision makers, among them some Ministers – not just in Ethiopia (and Hungary), but in other African countries. Addis covers Djibouti and the African Union too – and many of my colleagues, but not normally me, worked on Somaliland issues too – plus relevant diasporas (if that’s the plural), who often have far better access to IT. But looking beyond the headline figure of followers, it was clear that my retweet reach has been enormous, sometimes reaching 100,000s of tweeps.

And what have I tweeted about? The main themes were to do with our business priorities – development, commerce, regional security, climate change etc. But I didn’t want to duplicate what the excellent post Twitter account was covering and so focussed on what I personally was doing and why. If it required a lengthier blog to explain, I could cross-refer with a tweet or YouTube interview. I also had other diverse themes running through my posts: nature, history, Yeovil Town, humour (you need it if you support Yeovil Town) etc. – to draw other people in who might not otherwise read my output. Photographs (I used a lot) tend to engage people more. But all this absorbs considerable time if done properly, so it’s not something to be taken on lightly. (Not so frequent as recommended fruit intake, but at least once a day.)


I always felt I was getting somewhere if I could start a conversation going on policy issues. A couple of Q&A Twitter sessions (using the hashtag #AskGreg, which has unfortunately been hijacked by some other Gregs), advertised in advance (and with prizes for good questions) helped – these were hard work, so I was grateful for help from a couple of colleagues. (Yes, you – Saba and Iain.) Use of important wider events such as #WorldToiletDay also sparked off useful discussions.

I expected – and was not disappointed – to receive some mindless abuse and more deeply felt objections to what I was saying.  If I got this from both ends of the spectrum I reckoned I was in a good place. A blog on homophobia certainly raised a few hackles. But I also received some really encouraging and positive messages, not always from my natural supporters. On one occasion I invited some of my most active followers to lunch at the British Residence, where we had a great, lively debate about social media. And inspiring meaningful debate was, I felt, one of the most useful things we were doing in Ethiopia and the region.

I reckoned in the end all this was well worth doing – formal feedback said that our post account felt appropriately “official” and mine much more “personal”. We didn’t repeat each other. (Or, when we rarely did, it was deliberate and for a reason.) And the personal dimension meant people were perhaps more likely to trust and engage with me.

I probably didn’t though do enough to embed myself in other people’s Twitter conversations – but only because there aren’t enough hours in the day. We also didn’t do enough re-tweeting of my speeches, though occasionally that worked well. And I’m not sure my following of others was as well planned as it should be – Twitter is as much about monitoring as broadcasting. I found on several occasions I picked up on important developments much more quickly via Twitter than would have been possible from official sources. We didn’t in my time have to use Twitter for real-life crisis management (only exercises), but we might have done and it’s a really helpful tool in that context.

It’s been a great relief after all these 140 character encapsulations of wisdom to splurge out on something a bit wordier for a change!

3 comments on “Nation Shall Tweet Tweets Unto Nation….

  1. Hi Greg.
    To whom it may concern.
    I’m a Dubai based producer working on a Hollywood/ Dubai documentary which focuses on social media. I read one of your blogs on social media influencers in Ethiopia. Since part of the documentary will be filmed in Addis Ababa I would love to make contact with you and find out more about who you spoke to. I would appreciate it if you could mail me at jake@theconnectedgeneration.org.
    Thank you.

  2. Greg – I do wish I had followed this blog – what an erudite and interesting diary; where are you now? Best wishes to you, Helen.

  3. you know i always think of your effort, and ask my self this “what went well in this(your activity on twitter)?” then when i think of it there are these qualities which others think impossible or unworthy effort; to be patient toward people who are extremely conservative/aggressive/sensitive, to be respectful and blend in to the locality, show the direction how people can get to lead simplified life, and last but not the list to have fun and let others be part of it. well i guess this is a wake up call for others to get engaged and face the challenge and give answers even if they don’t have it. Thank you! Greg

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