Nirupama Rao: We Want to Be Part of the New Media Revolution

Forbes India spoke to Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on the new social media initiatives attempted by the Ministry of External Affairs

Published: May 17, 2011
Nirupama Rao: We Want to Be Part of the New Media Revolution
Image: B Mathur/ Reuters
Nirupama Rao, Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, India.

Foreign Policy, diplomacy: these are delicate matters that require careful responses, thought-out statements, high-level interaction, and politeness. Social media is conversational, demands a certain amount of instant response, and can get anarchic. How do you reconcile the two?
I think there is a difference between the way an individual uses social media and the way that a government official or organisation uses it. We are seized of the need to be responsible, credible and authoritative and this can imply that we are less conversational and more deliberate in our approach. But what we have demonstrated, particularly during a crisis situation like the evacuation of our nationals from Libya, is that we can operate on a real-time basis to ensure that our information and responses are prompt.

What persuaded you to adopt Twitter? What were your prior experiences with social media? What were reactions like, from peers in India and abroad, people in your ministry, family?
I see Twitter as a powerful channel of communication to get our views across; not just to the growing set of individuals and organisations that are following us but also to those that receive the information through Retweets. The viral nature of Twitter and its ability to help us connect with younger audiences makes it an integral part of our larger approach towards communications.
I must say that the response and reactions have been overwhelmingly positive and many young persons have described this as a harbinger of change in our attitudes.

What were your objectives when you decided to try using social media? Have you set yourself some guidelines, some dos and don'ts?

We recognise the growing importance of social media, both as a tool for communications and a platform for engaging with a broad cross-section of audiences. Its ability to provide feedback and response gives us a feel of what people are thinking. It is also an excellent way of getting real-time information on developments as they happen.

I think it is important to have guidelines and to make sure that we use social media in a responsible fashion. This means that we should stay clear of the urge to become chatty and hold forth with our personal views on various issues. It is particularly important to acknowledge the power of this medium to act as a powerful amplifier and this means that every word that we use in a 140-character response on Twitter, for instance, must be chosen with care.  

Indian missions abroad are adopting social media: What prompted this?
Well! We have obviously watched the impact that social media has had in the recent developments in the Arab world. You can see the emergence of a powerful new phenomenon and it is important that we remain engaged in this space.

Keeping this in mind, we have asked our missions to establish a presence on Facebook or other similar social media platforms wherever this is permitted under local laws. We expect that over the next few months, this will help us build communities of persons who have an interest in India and with whom we can build an active, two-way engagement. We also hope to employ social media to tell the India story in a more effective manner.  
How, going into the future, do you see yourself and the foreign ministry using social media?
We see social media becoming an integral part of our larger approach towards communications. This does not mean that we start neglecting the press, TV or other traditional media. But we do intend to make sure that we are a part of the new media revolution that is unfolding before us.

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