Context: why social media matters
The Foreign Secretary, in his speech on Diplomatic Tradecraft, said that diplomats should be, “well-versed in modern communication including social media”.
The FCO encourages all staff to make full use of the opportunities offered by social media to help deliver FCO objectives. Social media:
- Allows diplomats to monitor events, harvest information and identify key influencers.
- Can assist in the consultation process and the formulation of policy by helping us crowd source ideas.
- Provide real time channels to deliver our messages directly and influence beyond traditional audiences.
- Improve the delivery of our services through closer engagement with our customers and allow us to better manage a crisis.
- Make us more accountable and transparent through open dialogue.
The importance of embedding digital tools in policy making and service delivery is set out in more detail in the FCO Digital Strategy.
Social media activity in the FCO
We do not expect our staff to all use social media in the same way but we do expect social media to be a core part of the toolkit of a modern diplomat.
FCO staff should feel empowered to use social media in three main ways:
- All staff should use social media for listening: monitoring conversations, keeping track of news and building networks as part of their day to day work.
a) This means setting up an account with a monitoring tool. You should also consider digital tools that aggregate real time news trends from social and mainstream media.
b) You do not need your own personal social media accounts to use monitoring tools.
- Policy/desk officers may use, or set up, personal social media accounts for low-key work related activity such as the building of networks, following influencers in your policy area and engaging with those groups in non-controversial areas.
a) If you are taking up this flexibility, you may wish your profile to say you work for the FCO or Civil Service. However your profile should state your views are personal and do not necessarily represent the views of your organisation.
b) You do not need permission to use social media accounts for work related activity but you should inform your Head of Department that you are doing so. Staff will need to take FCO security considerations into account.
c) Examples of this engagement could include the highlighting of public information, lines or reports or relevant FCO or external events. It might also include asking non-controversial questions.
d) Personal accounts should not be used for making policy announcements, engaging in controversy, or breaking news – that is the job of official accounts.
- Staff for whom active engagement and communication will be essential in the delivery of objectives should use an official FCO branded channel. This could be personal (e.g. HMA) or on a policy theme (e.g. FCOHumanRights).
a) This can be in addition to 1 and 2 and will require sign off from line management and digital team – channels should have a clear purpose and ongoing commitment to effective staffing.
b) Official accounts will be registered and monitored and reviewed to ensure effectiveness.
c) All official accounts should be clearly and consistently branded and listed on the FCO website.
See FCO Facebook Guidance and FCO Twitter Guidance (only available through FCO intranet). These guides provide information on setting up official channels, branding and best practice.
What are the rules?
We should not say anything on social media that we would not say on any other public channel; this means contradict HMG policy or be politically partial or breach the Civil Service Code in any other way, bring the office into disrepute or divulge classified information.
All staff should also be familiar with:
Official accounts allow us to target key audiences, deliver our messages and information directly, engage and be open to challenge, opening up access to our officials and Ministers.
- Official social media channels should provide relevant, useful information on UK Government activity; promote the FCO, HMG and relevant partner content in line with FCO objectives.
- More specifically official accounts should have a clear purpose and audience and be evaluated against those criteria.
- Below is a framework on when to seek clearance before publishing content on official channels:
|Go ahead||Established policy & press lines within your area of expertise.|
|Seek guidance from head of team and/or Press Office & Digital Department.||Breaking news where there is press no line.
The interpretation of a change of policy where the line is being agreed.
|Don’t do it||Subjects not in your area of expertise or direct responsibility or any classified data.|
- You should update social media channels regularly or it is not worth doing at all – tailor frequency, length and type of updates to audience needs and expectations.
- You are encouraged to share interesting third party content eg media articles, NGO blogs, foreign government information but only if you are sure of it is appropriate and it is politically impartial.
- Take into account cultural sensitivities and avoid posting anything that could be considered offensive by anyone who may see the page (including audiences from other countries).
- Debate is good, a protracted online argument is not. Take discussion best dealt with in private offline.
- Do not post or share anything which breaches Copyright or that could be construed as advertising or promoting a commercial company.
- Do not disclose information that is classified or privileged, or that may put you or your colleagues at risk, whether from crime, terrorism, or espionage.
How to apply for an official social media account (only available through FCO intranet).
Personal use of social media
We have no bar on staff using social media channels but there are some rules.
- Where your social media accounts are personal, you do not need to say you work for the FCO or Civil Service.
- It is important to remember that when posting in a personal capacity you may still easily be identified by others as working for the FCO even if you don’t state it.
- Stating that your views are personal is no insurance against negative media or other publicity. On personal social networks – even closed ones like facebook – you should be aware that posts can be shared outside your network.
- Overseas, what you say will likely be seen as representing FCO/HMG views.
- You should avoid taking part in any political or public activity which compromises, or might be seen to compromise, your impartial service to the government. The precise restrictions are specific to different staff (e.g. politically restricted grades) and you should know them already as they apply to you offline too.
See also guidance on staying safe online (only available through FCO intranet).
Dealing with mistakes
In making full use of social media, mistakes will occasionally happen.
- How the FCO deals with a particular mistake will depend on the nature of the error. Your online conduct is subject to the same disciplinary rules as your offline conduct.
- There are a few steps you should take if you make a mistake:
|1.||Delete the post and apologise for the mistake, explaining that the material was posted by mistake and is not an official view.|
|2.||Post the correct the information if the mistake was factual, making clear what you’ve corrected.|
|3.||Inform your line manager and the Press and Digital Department for advice on further handling.|