THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Twitter Is a Cocktail Party,
Not a Press Conference
(or, Social Media for Reporting Ocers)
BY WREN E LHA I
hortly before I arrived at my
current post, I read a column
by AFSA President RobertSilverman (“Are Social Media Overrated?” March FSJ ) in which he
cautions against an overreliance on
social media, especially if it reduces
time spent on the “proven, effective
work of direct outreach to key contacts
In my experience, social media have
become some of the best tools we pos-
sess for exactly the sort of contact work
While public diplomacy officers
have embraced Twitter and Facebook
around the world as outreach tools,
it’s time reporting officers learn to use
them in our own work.
I fear the word “media” may confuse
people who associate that word with
the world of journalism—and thus, with
press and public diplomacy work.
By that logic, Twitter, Facebook and
YouTube are the online equivalents of
newspapers, radio and television, and
our statements there are the digital
equivalent of press releases.
Wren Elhai is a Foreign Service o cer currently serving in the political-economic section of
Consulate General Karachi. He served previously at Embassy Moscow in the consular section.
Prior to joining the State Department, he worked at the Center for Global Development, a
D.C.-based thinktank, as a policy analyst. ere, he also ran the Center’s Twitter and Face-
book pages and helped senior research sta become more comfortable with Twitter. e views
expressed in this article are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the State Department
or the U.S. government.
I believe a differ-
ent metaphor, one that
may find more familiar, is
closer to the mark.
Think of these plat-
forms as the world’s larg-
est cocktail parties, where
everyone is invited and guests kindle
conversations and relationships, just as
in real life.
is metaphor should make it easy to
understand why, as a reporting o cer, I
consider my Twitter account essential to
doing my job. We’re paid to get to know
people, to build relationships with the
in uencers and information gatherers
who can help us become better informed.
Almost universally, these people are out
in force on social media.
Those on Twitter are by no means a
representative sample of any country’s
population. However, the universe of
people writing on Twitter is vastly more
diverse than the set of people who typi-
cally attend diplomatic receptions.
I’ve connected on Twitter and Face-
book with people I would never have
met otherwise. I’ve met youth activists,
journalists from cities in our consular
district too distant to visit and docu-
mentary filmmakers working on topics
relevant to our reporting work. And
like a good reception, the vibe online
is such that you can dive straight into
friendly conversation in a way that is
hard to do in a “cold” telephone call.
In most cases, I “meet” people
online by stumbling across interest-
ing things they’ve tweeted or articles
they’ve published. I follow them on
Twitter and may tweet something at
them—a question, comment or compli-
ment. In the cocktail party metaphor,
this is the equivalent of stepping into a
If the conversation is productive,
I’ll exchange contact information
over direct message, the equivalent of