Web 2.0 Roundup: US Embassy Jakarta Wows!

Kick-off Pesta Blogger 2009
and Blogshops announcement. One Spirit One Nation
Ambassador Hume is 3rd from the right

Tomorrow, October 24, the U.S. Embassy Jakarta is sponsoring Pesta Blogger 2009, Indonesia’s only national-level bloggers’ gathering. This is the second consecutive year that US Embassy Jakarta is sponsoring the event. Four U.S. bloggers will participate: Brian Giesen, a Digital Influence Specialist with over five years of experience with Ogilvy PR and is an Interactive Marketing Manager in Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide; Arsalan Iftikhar, international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com blog, and a contributing editor for Islamica magazine in Washington DC; Mark Frauenfelder, co-founder of BoingBoing.net and was an editor at Wired Magazine from 1993-1998 and Corvida Raven, author of SheGeeks.net, co-author of EverythingTwitter and TheSocialGeeks Podcast.

The U.S. Embassy has also sponsored a series of blogging workshops in 10 cities across Indonesia over the past three months, in order to encourage more Indonesians to blog and to impart the principles of citizen journalism. Over one thousand people participated in the programs, which were held in Malang, Semarang, Balikpapan, Samarinda, Makassar, Medan, Bandung, Surabaya, Palembang and Yogyakarta.

Sounds like fun!

In June this year, I wrote about the State Department’s digital diplomacy footprint. I looked at our most important posts in terms of perceived engagement need and size and included posts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, China and Mexico. Read my original post here.

I omitted Indonesia because in Asia, there were other high flyers online that shocked my balls. Yes, Indonesia did have a user growth rate of 1,150%, but Afghanistan is the top dog with 49,900.0 % growth rate while China holds the highest number of Internet users at 48.2%. As an aside, the countries with the highest growth rates after Afghanistan (in five digit rates) are in the –stans: Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Tajikistan (US Embassy Dushanbe is on Facebook) and Uzbekistan (IRC Tashkent is on Facebook).

But I did want to write about Indonesia because among the US missions I’ve been keeping tabs on, US Embassy Jakarta’s digital outreach probably offers the most active, creative and fun engagement in the new media. Indonesia is also a sprawling country of 17,000 islands. It is the world’s fourth most populous country, with the world’s largest population of Muslims. Indonesia’s internet stats below:

Estimated population in 2009: 240,271,522

Internet Users in 2000: 2,000,000

Internet Users (latest data): 25,000,000

Penetration: 10.4 %

User Growth (2000-2009): 1,150.0 %

% Users in Asia: 3.6 %

The US Embassy in Jakarta says that it was the first diplomatic Mission in Indonesia to create a Facebook page. Check it out at www.facebook.com/jakarta.usembassy. The page was launched in January and as of this writing, has 15,106 hard-earned fans. Its Facebook page also features unique content, including photos (see the Embassy’s resident cats and batik collection), videos and contests (FotObama, Ocean in Focus).

Ambassador Hume has posted once in DipNote but Embassy Jakarta has no regular blogger. The US Embassy Jakarta is also on YouTube and Twitter but its Facebook page is obviously its flagship engagement online.

In late August, it announced its plan to organize a fans meet-up when the number reaches 10.000. Exactly a month later, it hit that impressive mark. To put that number in context, Co.Nx: See the World which is hosted by the State Department’s International Information Programs (IIP) Bureau and spans the globe has 31,993 fans. The State Department’s main Facebook page has 23,432 fans. Most US mission pages on Facebook barely breaks the thousandth mark. So 15,106 fans is a big wow! I hope that goes into somebody’s EER. I also hope that the embassy can keep it up even when the current team running it rotates out to new assignments.

Just a couple more thoughts –

1) I am glad the embassy no longer plasters the embassy’s URL across its shared photos. But I am still hoping that they move their photo gallery over to Flickr not only for easier search but also to have an integrated depository of mission photographs. To date the U.S. Government has spent over US$ 8 million for the West Sumatran earthquake assistance campaign. The photos are available here but have not been posted in its Facebook page.

2) I’m wondering who will venture bravely into the undiscovered country of public diplomacy via SMS? Indonesia could be a great place for PD innovators (admittedly State is not known as a great incubator for innovators, but one can hope). The total mobile subscribers in Indonesia crossed the 90 million mark in early 2008, with a 37% penetration rate. According to trendsmith, its mobile market is growing rapidly with almost 50% annual increase in subscribers over the past 7 years. Now there’s an opportunity for engagement. Think about it.

Truth or Consequence: Linked Assignments

The two curves of this (2,4)-torus link have l...Image via Wikipedia

The State Department’s OIG has recently released its inspection report of US Embassy London (OIG Report No. ISP-I-09-37A | July 2009). It talks about a lot of things, as these reports tend to systematically go through the different sections of the embassy and look at issues like management control, morale, etc. But I’m struck by what it says about linked assignments. This is a relatively new practice in the State Department of linking one-year assignments to Iraq and Afghanistan with the next onward assignment as part of the war zone incentive package:

“Another challenge has been the absorption of a large number of officers – 60 currently serving in London – who have returned from duty at extreme hardship posts such as Kabul or Baghdad with high expectations of a London tour of duty. Some lack the requisite debriefing or training.”

Elsewhere in the report the OIG writes:

“The impact on London’s ability to manage its staffing and the quality of its work is significant. For example, the current regional security officer (RSO) could only be assigned for a short tour in London (18 months) as his position had already been promised to an officer due to depart Iraq. Other positions have been or will be filled by returnees who have no experience or training for the work they will assume in London.

For example, by 2010 there will be only one officer in London’s large and busy economic section who has served previously as an economic officer. This gradual accretion of tied assignments in London’s staffing pattern has had the unintended impact of putting many positions in London out of reach for virtually all bidders, regardless of how qualified, except for returnees.”

Bob Barker in the old days signs off with, “Hoping all your consequences are happy ones.” I hope so, too. I hope so, too.

Related Post:
Quickie: Gunning for London via Baghdad? Better Hurry

Related Item:
OIG Report No. ISP-I-09-37A | July 2009: US Embassy London, England

PD Rapid Response Team to Pakistan?

HRC delivered the Second Annual Dean Acheson lecture yesterday at Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC (Remarks | October 21, 2009 | Video). Last year, DOD Secretary Robert Gates delivered the inaugural lecture for the U.S. Institute of Peace.

During the Q&A, a Pakistani who apparently is a fellow at USIP said that “the overwhelming majority of the people believe that the U.S. presence in the region is all about the Pakistan nukes; that the Administration has made efforts, yet these efforts are countering to – the propaganda. And the widespread impression on the ground is that the Blackwaters are there, the Marines are in the Embassy, and they’re all just to take the Pakistani nukes.” He further states, “I understand that the U.S. Ambassador in Pakistan and special envoy, from time to time, they interact with the Pakistani media. But by the time they interact with the media, the conventional wisdom had solidified.” On that landmark Kerry-Lugar bill, he says “You may call it a historical step towards enhancing relationship with Pakistan, but the bitter reality is that back home, it is considered a big fiasco.”

So then he asked, “How to increase the speed of your counter-propaganda in Pakistan, and second is to coordinate across the whole government to ensure continuity and cohesion of approach?”

The USG in recent months supported a young entrepreneurs’ “Incubation Center,” provided bomb disposal equipment, donated ambulances, sent Pakistani students for US exchange visits and more. None of these seemed to have penetrated the very crowded traditional press that is considered among the most outspoken in South Asia. BBC reported that there were 17.5 million internet users in the country as of March 2008. A growing number of bloggers and social networkers write about politics. These users of new media have been vocal and quite active not only about the expansion of the US Embassy in Islamabad but also about the Kerry-Lugar bill. Check this one here, here and here.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, in the meantime, lacks a vigorous presence online. Except for that template website that we see in most embassy websites, and the videos piggybacking on materials provided by America.gov, its only other online engagement appears to be its connection to Co.Nx for its webchats, also via America.gov. I have not seen any material specifically geared towards an online dialogue addressing hearts and minds issues in that country.

In response to the questions above, here is what Secretary Clinton said:

Well, I’m actually very glad that you raised your questions and made your comment, because I think we have, as a government, not done a very good job in responding to what you rightly call propaganda, misinformation, even in some instances disinformation, about our motivations and our actions in Pakistan. That became clear to me as we were doing our review, and I saw how often there were stories in the Pakistani media that were totally untrue, but we were not responding as effectively as we need to.

We have, under Judith McHale, our Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, undertaken a very thorough analysis of what better we could do, and we are moving very rapidly to try to fill that void. We have a new team going in to Pakistan. A Public Affairs officer may be already there. We have adopted a new approach, which is we do not leave any misstatement or inaccuracy unanswered. It may be that people won’t believe it at first, but we intend to counter a lot of this propaganda with the best weapon we have; namely, the truth. And we’re going to be much more aggressive in interacting with the Pakistani media.
This is going to take time. This is not something you can fix in a news cycle or by just snapping your fingers and asking people to believe you. You have to go at it day in and day out. And I was, frankly, quite surprised that we had not done much of this in an effective manner. But we’re going to remedy that. And there’s no guarantee that people will pay more attention to what we say, but at least we’re going to be in the mix and we’re going to be in the mix every day in getting out information that can be used by those who understand that the United States is hoping to be a good partner for not just the Government of Pakistan, but more importantly, the people of Pakistan.

We’ll be in the lookout on what changes the new public diplomacy team makes when they get to Islamabad.

Insider Quote: A 24/7 Responsibility

24/7 Snapshots - I Give my AllImage by infiniteshutter via Flickr

“Debbie and I also had the responsibility of taking care of the Embassy communities. This was a 24/7 responsibility. Whatever the emergency or crisis among our Embassy employees (350 in Prague, 1,050 in Paris, of which 60 percent were Foreign Service nationals, ie. Czechs or French), we were on call. We hosted the Embassy team for picnics, games, Christmas parties with kids, Easter egg hunts, Memorial Day remembrances, July 4th celebrations, festive barbeques, and Thanksgiving. We tried to be as accessible as possible.”

Craig Stapleton
US Ambassador to France (2005-2009 )and Czech Republic (2001-2004)
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