How H.E. Mr. Andrew Dalgleish practices diplomacy on social networks
Your excellency who are you trying to reach through social media? Why?
If we are not using social networks these days, then we are missing the opportunity to talk to a whole load of people who, as you say, are out there. In the old days, before the internet, diplomats used traditional forms of communication which might be letters or it might be interviews in newspapers. We still do that, of course, but what social media does is give us the opportunity to talk directly, in my case to Croatians.
I am still working for the British government and I am still delivering British government messages. But what it means is that I can speak in a very direct, almost personal way to people in Croatia who care about the UK, or who do not know yet that they should care about the UK.. The people who are using Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, they are also getting a chance to see what we do - in London and here in Zagreb – and what is going on. So it is a really great tool. It is a tool to help me get messages out there that I think are of interest to the Croatian audience.
Have you faced some difficulties or negative comments while you were communicating on social networks? How did you deal with it?
What this great opportunity does is open you up in a much more public way than diplomats have ever been exposed before. And that goes with the territory. That is part of the thing. You know you cannot just get all the benefits and all the advantages. And say that you are only prepared to play with that tool - you cannot be spared from some of the more difficult things. So you just have to accept that.
"If we are not using social networks these days, then we are missing the opportunity to talk to a whole load of people who, as you say, are out there."
So I have to be thoughtful about what I post to make sure that it is appropriate and that it ‘does the job’ properly. We will get a range of comments that very often have nothing to do with anything that we are talking about, and those I just ignore. You know if people have a problem with the UK, the Brits or whoever it might be, then they will often express that problem on social media. If it has not got anything to do with a specific issue we are talking about, then I am not likely to spend much time worrying about it.
And then you get things that are just downright rude and offensive and they are quickly deleted because I am not prepared to tolerate that on our social media. My experience in Croatia is that the interactions that I have had by a very large majority have been positive - enthusiastic, warm, kind... and that gives me a lot of strength, so that when I do get those bad ones, I do not take it too much to heart.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a Social media guidance for civil servants: October 2014 strategy. In this respect could you please tell us a little bit more about this concept?
The guidance existed already, the rules existed already, on how civil servants, how diplomats should behave according to the principles of what is a good civil servant. The Civil Service Code - how does that work when you are in a world of social media? So it just brings us up to date. The key thing to remember is that in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in our government in the United Kingdom, we are digital by default. In other words, our starting point is going to be - can we do this online? Because that way we can reach more people and make it as easy as possible for people to engage with what we are trying to do.
And so when we are being digital by default, when we are being online, how do we make sure that the rules that have applied since the beginning, since before the internet - that we are still making sure that we are compliant with them? The difference in a way is that before the internet, as I said, I was a lot less personally exposed out there as an ambassador. Here I am putting myself out there. That is what social media allows you to do for any individual, to go out there and say I think this, or I want you to know about that, or here is what I am having for dinner or whatever.
The point of the guidance is to say - yes you should do that because we are digital by default. But when you are doing that, the rules still need to apply that are about being honest, about being politically impartial. I work for the British government, I do not work for a political party. I am not a political appointment, so I need to show that I am politically impartial, that I am demonstrating integrity and all the other things that you would expect an ambassador to be doing anyway. The main thing when we are online is that it is so easy to fire out that 20-word tweet that we pause and we think carefully - am I making sure that I am respecting all the rules when I am doing this? And as long as I am, then I am free to choose how I express myself. And that is one of the great things about these social media platforms. I guess people who are looking at my feeds on Instagram and Twitter get a feel for who I am. Not just who a British ambassador is, but who it is underneath, and I can be very personal about that.
So, does it stop me in doing what I want to do? Does this guidance prevent me from expressing myself? No. It just reminds me that the way in which I express myself has to be compliant with the rules that apply to all civil servants.
A fair player that does not know defeat
Let's remind that during the Football World Cup, Croatian Ambassador in London, Igor Pokaz, and H.E. Dalgleish ahead of the match Croatia-England in 2018 placed a bet on the winner of the match on the BBC5 radio. The cards were stacked against England.
Immediately after the game, and according to the agreement of two ambassadors, Dalgleish made a promise and put on a Croatian jersey and socks. Ambassador's photos got great attention on social networks.
On your Instagram account it says husband, dad, reader, writer, baker. Have you ever thought how to attract more people with culinary diplomacy? Or how to create public diplomacy by writing?
I was indeed on TV and in the Gloria magazine doing baking - that is who I am. It is not necessarily representative of the UK, but I made hot cross buns around Easter. It is a tradition we have in the UK and I have had a few questions afterwards from people saying what all this is about. And you begin to learn a bit about each other's cultures when you do things like that because it is not politics. It's not old-fashioned diplomacy, but a way of building bridges, making contacts. Britain is not famous for its culinary brilliance, which is a shame because there is some great food in the UK, but there are so many ways of doing it that are about being personal, individual.
Football World Cup last year - wow. What a great experience that was. I mean England and Croatia in the semi-final, I do not know if you saw my socks. That was not about British policy, it is not about the government's approach to Croatia or anything like that. It is just about football which most people love. And being able to use social media to go very directly to people to say - well look, you guys beat us. I lost my bet. I am wearing my socks. Social media has a great way of making it personal if you like showing a little bit of fun and a little bit of engagement. So cooking, writing, football, whatever it might be, I think there are lots of opportunities for reaching out.
"And the more we learn about social media, the better we get at making sure that we have the high impact and avoid some of the mistakes."
How do you match social media and discretion of diplomatic work?
It's a tool. What do you use a tool for? If I come out of an important and confidential meeting then I am not going to run off to the media and tell them exactly what was said inside that meeting. Similarly, I am not going to come out and put it all on Twitter, so it is not really rocket science here. Use your judgment as to what it is you want to talk about in public and what it is you need to keep for yourself because a conversation was held in confidence.
From your own experience what is the most effective: photo, audio-video or textual content? Why?
It depends on what the subject is. So I think that what we've tried to do in the embassy is keep a fairly flexible approach to how we do things. There are times when a picture says a thousand words. And then there are times when you think I wonder what a good picture of Brexit looks like. Maybe a few words would be better. There are times when I can deliver that personal message. We're running a competition at the moment called ‘Ambassador for a day’ - we've invited kids to make applications by video. Well - if they're going to speak to me by video, then I should speak to them by video too. So when we invited the pupils to compete to become an Ambassador for a Day, I did a video message - shorter than a minute – explaining what the campaign is about.
So it's about choosing the right medium for the right message.
Did you receive training on how to use and behave on social networks? Does the MFA train diplomats in social media?
Yes, and it’s about giving us confidence to operate on social media. So I was not told ‘this is what you shall do.’ I was, however, warned against what you should not do. I was given examples of British diplomats in the past, of those who had a really big impact with their social media, big positive impact, and examples where it did not work so well, where it went wrong. And the more we learn about social media, the better we get at making sure that we have the high impact and avoid some of the mistakes. So yes, I did have training and I think it is important when you are using what for me was a new tool. I have never been on Twitter before I came to Croatia. I have never been on Instagram before I came to Croatia. So it is good to get some advice from people who know what they are doing.
Advice to your colleagues?
We are not in the stone age, you know? I love writing by hand with a fountain pen. This is how I do my creative thinking, but I am not going to say I am never going to use a computer. You have got to use the tools there. As we have said before, the reach that you get, the direct contacts that you get is fantastic, but what is really important is the authenticity. Whatever it is, it is me talking about it. Of course, I am doing it in line with the official message, but it is not a machine, it is me.