Fred Ballenegger, Switzerland
Fred shares his experience during Rio+20 summit using social media within the United Nations!
Is there a straightforward way to give a face and humanize somewhat abstract United Nations (UN) processes? Can the UN take the initiative in demonstrating how communication channels can nurture the decision and negotiation process and simultaneously disseminate key issues to the public? The answer is Yes! I learnt it thanks to UNITAR’s e-Learning course “Innovative Collaboration for Development” (ICfD) that gave me a wide perspective on how social media and collaborative platforms can be used UN-wide.
Social media are too often considered as a mere way to drive traffic onto existing websites instead of being acknowledged for their social and interactive impact. As Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon phrased, “They promote United Nations messages [...] behind the scenes, engaging real-time content. Use of these interactive platforms broadens the reach of the messages of the United Nations and contributes to the overall transparency and accountability of the Organization.”
My personal experience using social media within the UN confirms these words. Last year I went in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) for the Rio+20 summit. For this occasion social media had been used as a full communication channel to give more visibility to the decision making process and offer more interactivity to the general public, especially young people and academia, although time and budget constraints did not allow for implementing a full-scale strategy. I was asked to ensure the maximum coverage of UNCSD conferences and I identified 3 social media channels to use simultaneously: Google+ Hangouts, Facebook and Twitter.
In particular, Google+ Hangouts have been identified as a means of communication with several benefits:
1. a light, portable and fully compatible technical infrastructure;
2. feedback and interaction from several social media in one go;
3. lively video interaction with up to 8 speakers in different locations;
4. Immediate integration in YouTube corporate channels.
Two Google+ Hangouts were organized, on 1 June 2012 (3 weeks before the conference) at UNHQ-DESA and on 19 June 2012 (the eve of the conference) in Rio de Janeiro.
The World Wide Web was a key asset in advertising the event and sharing it, including the recorded versions, building credibility for the event and creating a collaborative spirit among social media specialists in the different areas. Before the events took place, the Hangouts were advertised on a wide range of UN communication channels.
These were the first live social media organized during a major UN Conference. Since then, several events have been organized at Headquarters and elsewhere and my company and myself recently started a training program on Google+ Hangout (see this at UNDP for example). Another project in which I was involved is volunteeractioncounts.org, a multi-channel campaign for UN Volunteers, originally for Rio+20 and which we are reorienting now to Millennium Development Goals and post-2015.
In conclusion, social media is a major trend and a wonderful opportunity for the Organization at large to give itself a presence in the life of millions of users, especially among the younger generations.