Digital Diplomacy, Zing and the US EmbassyPosted: October 30, 2012 | |
In short Zing has recently been caught in something of a “digital piracy” storm as a result of dodgy unlicensed file sharing. Then it emerged that the US Embassy was still using the platform as a result of what they claim to be a lack of online options for “public discourse”.
Why do I feel sorry for them? Well firstly I can see how this happened and I’m not entirely buying the line that there were few other options, though I’m sure that would have contributed. I have seen the stats and for much of the last few years Zing has been ahead.
Frankly back when I worked with the British Council there were two reasons why we didn’t set up a Zing account. The first was it was seen as something a little bit younger than our target market – younger than Facebook which, theoretically, you aren’t supposed to join till you are 16. Secondly the foreigners, due to the language issue didn’t get it and as a result there wasn’t a united push from locals and internationals to use the platform.
No one ever raised the issue of copyright, though I did know it was a music sharing site. I suspect local staff wouldn’t see it as abuse and foreigners, not being users, wouldn’t grasp the wider culture.
A quick look at the US Embassy website and there are links to a dozen different sites including Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and Zing, though no Twitter. I understand that Twitter usage is generally low in Vietnam though it remains a great way for sharing content. It’s networking, it’s not marketing. The British Embassy in Vietnam likewise still doesn’t use Twitter despite a very obvious foreign office love for the platform. (I’ve actually set up an unofficial one in their continued absence - channeling the various outputs over Twitter).
As I write it remains to be seen whether the US Embassy will continue with Zing but perhaps even more interesting will be how continued Facebook issues alter social media plans. In particular future problems may be less about local blocks and more about policy changes from Facebook themselves back in the States. Actually reaching your following without further investment is becoming harder than ever. Perhaps that’s why the Australian Embassy has gone the paid-for route as they look for friends (see below). Presumably once they have friends they’ll then have to invest further in ensuring all of them receive updates – such are the changes.
Interestingly I had cause to email the Australian Embassy recently and despite hunting across their website I couldn’t find an email address. I presume that while the culture is to open channels in social media other routes to assistance are being nailed shut in the interests of keeping inboxes empty. It seems a slightly odd approach.
In terms of making the best use of social media I’ve always maintained it’s more about content not platforms. With Zing’s reputation in tatters, Facebook blocks and operational changes I’m more sure of that than ever.
In which case it’s also worth noticing that neither the American Ambassador nor the Australian Ambassador blogs. Meanwhile the British Ambassador (as I type) hasn’t updated his since the end of June.