Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Social media and cultural relations: some reflections from a practitioner . Part two.

Four case studies of how social media can be used for cultural relations

In the first part of this post, I talked about the necessity and the difficulties of cultural relations practitioners getting to grips with social media. Now by taking you through four case studies I have personally been involved in, I will try to show exactly how social media can be used to build new partnerships, enable the participation of fresh voices and make an unambiguous statement about a culture’s openness and desire for dialogue.

First a bit about Yoosk (which is derived from ‘you ask’). Yoosk gathers questions from the public for named political, business and civil society leaders, arranges for the interviews to be conducted by a member of the target community and then publishes the answers. We use a set of web tools and associated methodology to help clients conduct domestic and international engagement exercises and this latter activity falls into the sphere of cultural relations.

Yoosk FCO: public diplomacy through direct conversations with political leaders

The website has been used to gather questions from the UK’s Muslim community and from the Jordanian public around visits by the UK’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. The fact that the questions are unmoderated and openly displayed so that the public can vote on which they most want answered makes a clear statement that the UK are open for transparent dialogue. Furthermore, these questions are then delivered by people that the target audience recognise as not being part of the establishment, bringing fresh voices to media content that would normally be the preserve of established reporters. In Jordan, the questions were put by a young Jordanian female blogger and elsewhere on Yoosk interviews are conducted by community leaders, campaigners and even respected celebrities.

An extract from David Miliband’s interview in Jordan

The UK’s Ambassador to Vietnam talks about his job on Yoosk

A full case study of Yoosk FCO can be seen here.

Yoosk London Summit: open conversations with leaders around major themes

There can be no more global an issue and no problem more in need of a cross-cutting response from government than the current worldwide financial crisis. In the lead up to the G20 London Summit, the FCO and Cabinet Office commissioned Yoosk to build a platform dedicated to allowing people from all over the world to put questions directly to a wide variety of leaders from government, business and civil society.

Questions came from all over the world and the UK. Visitors can see open debate and dialogue in action and the exercise itself makes a statement about the UK’s values. But beyond that, it is a convenient place for overseas visitors to observe the plurality of views in the UK and perhaps might help them separate the attitudes and behaviours of the UK government from those of its wider population.

Highlights of the interviews are below and a full case study can be found here.

Yoosk Vietnam: cultural dialogue as media content

Yoosk Vietnam involved ten conversations between leading UK cultural, sporting, business and political leaders and the Vietnamese public. The project was run on behalf of the Embassy in cooperation with a leading Vietnamese news publication, Vietnam Net and involved an editorial team working in both the UK and Hanoi. This partnership was essential to the success of the project.

The online conversations that took place using social media did not just contribute to the FCO’s strategic themes, it made a statement in itself- that the UK and its leaders are open to talking to the public. As a media activity, it generated a lot of press attention about different aspects of UK culture that wouldn’t normally attract coverage.

A further outcome is that the openness demonstrated by the UK has raised interest among partners in Vietnam and Yoosk are now working with the National Assembly on an FCO funded citizen engagement project.

This demonstrates the value of innovation and openness, which are the hallmarks of social media. The fact that a government institution traditionally seen as being inaccessible to the public is so enthusiastically showcasing digital innovation, will I believe, have an effect beyond the already valuable benefits social media brings to cultural relations.

A full case study of how it worked can be seen here.

Managing difficult dialogue: Yoosk’s feature on Muslims in the UK

Bringing together a right wing Daily Mail commentator and the spokesperson for the radical Islamist Hizb ut Tarir organisation and offering the public the chance to put questions to them would not normally be an easy task. Yoosk’s Question Time-type panel interviews make this possible. This is just one example of how social media can push the boundaries of intercultural debate-in this case showing clearly that neither holds views as extreme as they are often represented to be. To see the feature, click here.

In conclusion

I hope these case studies will help clarify the important point that social media is not a technical issue and can lead to outcomes that are very much part of a traditional cultural relations manager’s stock-in-trade: increased trust and understanding gained through subtle processes that combine media with social interaction.

In other words, it’s a continuation of our job by new means and well worth the time needed to develop the understanding and knowledge required to do it well.

1 comment:

pixiemartin said...

Great to find this site, demonstrating how social media works as it offers us substantive content for interculturalists.