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Twitter Is a Cocktail Party,

Not a Press Conference

(or, Social Media for Reporting O”cers)



hortly before I arrived at my

current post, I read a column

by AFSA President Robert

Silverman (“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

and audiences.”

In my experience, social media have

become some of the best tools we pos-

sess for exactly the sort of contact work

Silverman describes.

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

“traditionalist” diplomats

may find more familiar, is

closer to the mark.

A More



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