#MosulOp – Live Streaming the Battle of Mosul on Facebook

I was shocked to say the least when I was alerted to the fact that major news outlets are live streaming the military operation by the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, back from ISIS.

Both Al Jazeera English and Channel Four both have live feeds on Facebook where anyone with access to a computer can watch the war unfold. This is incredibly disturbing – what are the ethical and moral issues of watching the consequences of war live in our social media streams?

Like most Facebook feeds, viewers are able to like, share and comment on the proceedings. The Al Jazeera feed had over 13,000 comments when I took the screen grab below.

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The Channel 4 coverage had a live press conference being translated into English

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Photojournalism and more recently user generated content have been accused of desensitising the public to the graphic images of war.  We have become accustomed to ‘live news’ from the likes of the BBC, Guardian etc, where the viewer receives curated and edited content in near to real time, but what are the ramifications of live, uncensored media coverage?

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Photography and Social Impact – An interview with Everyday Africa

I have been a big fan of Everyday Africa for 2-3 years now, so I was delighted when Peter DiCampo, one of the founders, kindly agreed to an interview. Published on Instagram, Everyday Africa is a collection of mobile phone photography which combats the clichés that depict Africa as a place of only poverty, disease, and war. The photographers who are native to Africa or have lived there for years at a time, find the extreme not nearly as prevalent as the familiar, the everyday. Here are Peter’s answers to my questions.

Please give me a bit of background information about yourself and what motivated you to start Everyday Africa

I began my career as a photojournalist just before moving to northern Ghana as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2006 – so, from the beginning, I questioned the narrative that I was helping to propagate by focusing mostly on stories of disease, poverty, and conflict in West Africa. My two years living in a village showed me that there was much more to rural Ghanaian life, and this extends of course to rural and urban life across the continent and beyond. But, there are few places to share these stories.

Everyday Africa began in Ivory Coast in March 2012. Austin Merrill and I were traveling as a writer / photographer team covering the continued strife a year after the country’s post-election violence and the cocoa trade that is the root of turmoil there. Austin is intimately familiar with the country, having lived there at a couple different points in his life (he was a Peace Corps Volunteer there in the mid nineties and then a journalist living there at various points), and I had been there before as a photojournalist, and of course had lived several years “next-door” in Ghana. During the March 2012 trip we began shooting photos on our phones, very casually, and it occurred to us that those images felt much more familiar to us than the ones I was “professionally” shooting for the story we were there to tell.

Having outlined that story above – as you can imagine, it was a bit preconceived. I think often about the process of photojournalism – going into a story, you often feel you “know” the images needed to tell it. If it’s a story with phrases like “continued ethnic violence,” you feel you need photos of refugees, burned down homes, survivors with horrific stories to tell, etc. These are the images that will make sense to the reader; that he or she will find palatable. But there’s an inherent contradiction here: if we’re giving the reader images he or she already expects, then the story reinforces preconceptions and doesn’t teach anything new. Along the way, we also see a lot of daily life moments, but we often pre-edit these out of our story by not even photographing them. Austin and I decided to photograph them.

A couple months later, we were both on the continent again, at the same time but in different locations – he in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, me in Uganda. We kept shooting on our phones, and this time around started a Tumblr blog so we could share the images with each other and a wider audience in real time, or close to it. In the months that followed, we found that a lot of our colleagues shared our frustrations with coverage of the continent and were excited to have an outlet for the day-to-day images. We migrated to Instagram (but kept the Tumblr too) to extend our reach, and things grew rather quickly.

How did you publicise the blog and Instagram sites? How did you get photographers to contribute?

We could never have imagined how big this would become. The first way of publicizing it was simply on our own – we started the Tumblr, we posted about it on our Facebook page. Other photographers we knew were drawn to it – at first, other foreign correspondents living on the continent who shared our frustrations, and then eventually more African photographers. (The bulk of the feed is now African photography).

Then it snowballed. The New York Times Lens blog wrote about us, and a few other mainstream publications. Instagram put it on their “suggested user” list, and that made our following grow exponentially.

Is it mainly Western or African photographers who contribute their imagery? What motivates photographers to to be part of Everyday Africa?

In total, it is an even split. However, it was a lot more Western photographers early on, and is now majority African. In the forthcoming book, the number of photographers is half and half, but the number of photographs are majority made by Africans. As far as motivations, I think they feel it builds on their profile and career (some have certainly received assignments via Everyday Africa, for example), but the main reason, I think, is more ideologic: they believe in the mission of showing a different side of the continent, regardless of their background. They enjoy seeing their photos used in the educational initiatives we have, and simply having a platform and an audience for this kind of imagery.

Do you have any examples of African photographers contributing to Everyday Africa that have received jobs/commissions as a result of the publicity?

Just a few days ago, a photo editor from Buzzfeed reached out to me to ask for Edward  Echwalu’s info. I’m not sure if the assignment panned out yet, but we get that kind of thing often. Nana Kofi Acquah, Andrew Esiebo, Tom Saater - these guys have all received assignments as a result of their increased social media presence, and I think it’s safe to say that Everyday Africa is a part of that.

We’ve also worked with World Press Photo to create the African Photojournalism Database, because we wanted to find a way to spread these opportunities beyond just our set contributors. See these two links:

signup here: http://apjd.org
database here: https://blink.la/organizations/apjd

How do you curate Everyday Africa? Do you ever censor images?

Actually, we really only curate the photographers, which I will get into. But as far as the images, we give our contributors the login information and set them loose. We don’t select the images. We instruct the photographers to interpret those words, Everyday Africa, however they see fit, and the only real rule is that they don’t post on top of each other. We have never deleted or edited an image. There have been a handful of times (maybe two?) that we have asked a photographer to edit their caption, always for the sake of clarity and not for the sake of content.

As far as selecting photographers, at first it was very organic. People would ask us, and if they seemed to have an intimate relationship with the continent (or a specific country), were thinking along the same lines as us in terms of broadening perceptions, and were skilled photographers, we generally said yes. Lately, it has been more organized, as we are drawing a few new contributors a year from the African Photojournalism Database, and looking more specifically on diversity as we try to find photographers in countries where we don’t currently have anyone based.

How powerful is photography in changing people’s perceptions about Africa?

I think it’s very powerful. We build these perceptions based on what we see – to put it simply, people do not realize that normal, daily-life moments occur because they do not usually see them. In paying attention to the commentary our photos elicit on Instagram, we’ve seen this happen in the most basic way, often with presumably young people: “I didn’t know they had cars”, “I didn’t know they had phones”, that kind of thing is very common in our feed. I think Everyday Africa has much deeper implications than that, broadening in many ways our understanding of the continent even for people who are more tuned in – but providing that very basic burst of those misconceptions for people at a young age is, I believe, very important.

There have been several campaigns to change narratives about Africa such as #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, #IfAfricaWasABar etc. How important is social media as a counter to stereotypical images of Africa?

Social media is hugely important. I believe very strongly in showing things from multiple perspectives. Traditional media has a role, but as it presents a specific story-based narrative (conflict in Ivory Coast, for example), it doesn’t often have space for these other views.

What are you 5 favourite photographs on Everyday Africa and why?

When I think about my favorite photos from the project, they tend to fall into two categories. The first is, simply, the daily life moments that often go undocumented. Nana Kofi Acquah’s photo of women greeting each other with a handshake by the roadside in Burkina Faso.

Glenna Gordon’s photo of a couple celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary in Lagos, Nigeria. Edward Echwalu’s photo of a midwife gently touching an expectant mother’s shoulder as she speaks to her in a health center in Uganda. The other category is, loosely, the type of photograph that speaks metaphorically to our project, the push and pull of the Africa we imagine versus the one that is more real, the old clashing with the new. Tom Saater’s photo of a woman named Ginika wearing a white wig as she heads to graduate from law school in Abuja, Nigeria.

 

Austin’s photo of a safari in Zimbabwe, in which we see smartphones and tablets but only the smallest glimpse of an animal.

Tourists photograph while on safari in Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe on May 24, 2012. Photo by Austin.

A photo posted by Everyday Africa (@everydayafrica) on

Of course, the list goes on and on!

I understand you are involved with educational work. Can you tell me more about it?

Since Everyday Africa’s first work in school classrooms, in December 2013, we have seen more than 2,500 students. A grant from the Open Society Foundations allowed us to build a pilot curriculum that we launched in March 2014 with a group of 16 middle and high school students in the Bronx, in New York City. That workshop, spanning eight classes over two months, taught students about stereotypes, photography, how journalism gets made, and truth in storytelling. Since then, thanks to funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, we have run similar workshops in Chicago, Washington DC, and Mombasa, Kenya. For the Mombasa program, we had the students collaborate with peers in a Chicago high school—the students discussed, via Skype, their stereotypes of each other, and then shared images of their school and home communities to tell the stories of their everyday lives. Students use Everyday Africa’s photography to learn about what life is really like in Africa, and then apply those lessons to their own lives, telling the stories of their own communities through photography. You can see our current curriculum here: https://pulitzercenter.atavist.com/everyday-africa-curriculum-

Why have you decided to publish a book now? What are the main objectives of publishing a book?

The answer to “why now” is because we wanted to do it while there is still a buzz surrounding the project – we hope there will be for a long time, but we can’t know for sure! Instagram is changing, new platforms coming up – it seemed a good idea to encapsulate this work now. The book comments on a very specific form of communication that is ever evolving, and it seemed best to set it in print before it is unrecognizable. The book, for me, is a very exciting object. It includes the strongest photography, as well as Instagram commentary. Creating it presented us with the unique challenge of translating a social media project to the printed page – including the commentary makes the book into a document not only of the Everyday Africa project, but also of the many perceptions that we cast onto a continent and of how we communicate today.

The comments range from paternalistic and racist to funny to the very familiar, people commenting that the photo is from their hometown, for example. It is a marker of increased connectivity, the need for us to dispel antiquated notions of Africa, and the need for more localized storytelling. Some of the conversations go on for quite a long time, and become fascinating discussions on how we read imagery. For example, an image of women carrying things on their heads (of course a common sight across the continent) prompts a heated debate on our understanding of poverty: some commenters, many of them African, argue that the photo shows heavy labor and serves only to perpetuate a poor view of the continent, while others argue that ignoring this sight would be an even greater disservice, as we would then be asserting that only “Western” can be synonymous with “normal”. The conversation raises many questions on empathy and visual literacy, to say the least. We’ll use the book in our educational programming as well. We’ve worked with a number of partners and supporters – Pulitzer Center, Open Society Foundations, PhotoWings – to create a curriculum on media creation, stereotypes, and photography. Studying the conversations from the Instagram feed adds another layer – it’s a direct lesson in cross-cultural communication, comparing how people see themselves to outside perceptions.

Are there any plans for an exhibitions, and if so where?

We’ve had a number of exhibitions in the past, see our full list of Everyday Africa exhibitions here At the moment, we have work showing in BredaPhoto and FotoIstanbul. The book launches with an exhibition at AddisFoto in December. In 2017, we’re hoping to have a number of exhibitions that coincide with book launches.

What advice would you give to other people wanting to use photography for social change?

Experiment, experiment, experiment. There is no recipe for this stuff. We, for example, never could have known the impact we would have. Look at what is out there already (in terms of subject matter, but also in terms of how it is displayed) and see what you think works for your project, your issue, your passion, the change you want to make, and the audience you want to reach, and then try it, and then try something else too. We’re on social media, but we’re also in classrooms, in galleries, in publications, making a book, and even experimenting with theater. Some of those will reach a broad number of people but only on the surface level; others will have a deeper impact but only reach a few people. It’s very difficult to know what method will reach which group of people, and how. For more specific campaigns, try targeting specific change-makers (government officials, etc). For stories that aren’t receiving enough attention, try very public displays, in the vein of what #Dysturb is doing. Be targeted but be creative.

EVERYDAY AFRICA BOOK

Featuring some of the best images project, the book Everyday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent, showcases photos of ordinary life that find beauty in stories rarely seen, shifting perception from the ensationalized extremes to a more textured, familiar reality. Photographs run alongside sections of Instagram commentary inspired by the images. Shocking, funny, and heart-felt, the comments are lighthearted one moment, caustic the next, speaking volumes about widely held perceptions of Africa while underscoring the continent’s increased connectivity in a globalized world. Together they justify the project’s very existence. To be one of the first owners of the book please support the Everyday Africa Kickstarter campaign.

 A huge thank you to Peter for this detailed and fascinating Q&A. I hope you learn as much from this post as I did.  I spent 3 thoroughly enjoyable hours on Sunday familiarising myself again with the Everyday Africa Instagram images.  To finish, here’s a couple of my personal favourites from the project. I can’t wait for the book….

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WaterAid use virtual reality to tell the story of the aftermath of Nepal’s earthquakes

WaterAid has recently launched its first virtual reality documentary, Aftershock. The film immerses viewers in the unique challenges faced by hill-top communities in Nepal to restore access to water in the aftermath of last year’s devastating earthquakes.

Aftershock uses virtual reality technology to tell the story of plumber Krishna Sunuwar, 58, taking on the challenge of repairing the community’s damaged water system.

Produced and directed in-house by the WaterAid film team, Aftershock is set against the stunning backdrop of Nepal’s mountain communities.  Aftershock can be viewed on a laptop, but for the most immersive virtual reality experience viewers are encouraged to use a VR headset or cardboard viewer. The app is currently available for download via the Playstore and Cardboard app and iOS. 

WaterAid film producer Catherine Feltham said: “Virtual reality gives us the opportunity to take people closer to our work than ever previously possible. By using this new medium we hope to engage supporters in the reality of where we work and the challenges we face as well as inspire them by proudly showing how we work alongside fantastic community members and project partners.  The beauty of this medium is that it allows the viewer to be fully immersed and we look forward to seeing the reactions of people all over the world as they are transported to Kharelthok.”

Aftershock was funded by HSBC as part of WaterAid’s global partnership with the HSBC Water Programme.

The film is unquestionably beautiful, partly due to the stunning surroundings in which is was shot, but I still sit on the fence when it comes to virtual reality. I showed this film to my children, aged 8 and 9. One of them was totally engrossed. It was great hearing her talk through the story with her headset on and ask so many questions afterwards. For my eldest daughter the experience merely made her feel sick. One of the the other problems I find with VR is the amount of memory it takes to download the app. This film was 1.4GB and I had to delete loads of other apps in order to view it. 

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I applaud WaterAid for experimenting with this new medium which will undoubtedly continue to improve and become more popular in the future. The story is fascinating and the aesthetics of the production are incredible. I appreciate the attempt to immerse viewers in the reality of the destruction and work that needs to be completed. My youngest daughter was fascinated and wanted to take the headset (and my mobile phone) to school to show her whole class. Like other recent VR films such as Clouds Over Sidra and Waves of Grace, I’m unconvinced that the film warrants the large expenditure. I suppose it depends on the main objective of the film, e.g. fundraising versus education or advocacy. For education purposes I think it has huge potential, but that might depend on whether it is possible in the future to drastically reduce the file size of the films.

 Banner image: WaterAid/Adam Ferguson
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Barbie White Saviour Complex

This semester I’ve been teaching on a Humanitarian Communication module for the BA Media and International Development degree at UEA. Whilst planning my lecture on social media and development, I can came across this hilarious new Instagram account – Barbie Savior. It has over 5,000 followers in less than 5 weeks and I’m sure that this will increase at a rapid rate. Big respect to whoever came up with this very funny parody of the White Saviour Complex. It reminds me slightly of the Humanitarians of Tinder site set up a couple of years ago. It’s great that people are taking the time to come up with inventive ideas to raise awareness of the potential harm of voluntourism. Shame that a couple of Bratz Dolls have made it into some photos. That’s just wrong.

Two of my personal favourites – Barbie #Slumfie

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Barbie Dancing

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UNDP and their use of social media – 2015

A detailed interview with LeiLei Phyu, Social Media Manager at the UNDP. This is longer than my usual blog posts, but Lei has provided so much rich content and advice about the use of social media that I have left the interview in it’s entirety.

1. Why do you think that people follow the UNDP on social media?

I think the majority of the people who follow UNDP on social media follow us because they are interested in the broader human narrative and our role in it. From our audience, community members who contribute and engage with us daily are big on advocating for social causes.  They’re an informed and curious audience, especially interested in the impact narrative – stories of hope and inspiration – the kind UNDP works on such as the story about a nurse in Ghana who used mobile nursing to save the life of Faith, an expecting mom, who lived in Keta, off the coast of Ghana. Faith was a mother of three. Her town of 20,000 was stricken with cholera during 2014—heavy flood and changing climate patterns had dramatically affected the health of Faith’s town, which is a similar story for small communities like Keta worldwide. Especially during rainy season, Faith and the rest of the residents of Keta were cut off from the nearest major health centre. As a mom of three, pregnant with a fourth child, already showing symptoms of cholera, Keta was in no condition to travel far to reach the closest health centre in time.

Access to information is the primary reason why our audience follows us. Using Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin as a space to provide feedback on our programs and have someone from UNDP respond back is also a key reason. The general public, both from the global south and north, follow UNDP’s social channels on different platforms to learn about our work,  our results, trends in key global conversations, about the issues that matter most to them such as climate action, gender equality, anti-corruption, social justice and youth action. Media and those who work in government such as parliamentarians and those who sit on Foreign Affairs Committees or are responsible for covering specific foreign policy issues follow us to keep tuned into trends in global affairs and sustainable development, especially new or emerging key development decisions, policies, results, data in reports, and our responses to global challenges. An ongoing example is the Climate Summit (COP21) happening later this year in Paris, as well as the next stages of the Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by world leaders a few months ago at the UN General Assembly.

I started managing UNDP’s English social media platforms in October 2014. Before this, I had exclusively worked on crisis and disaster response and recovery communications and fundraising for five-years, when the role of social media began evolving globally both in driving social and political change (Arab Spring), in aid programming, and in the way UNDP communicates—social media’s role is very important in times of disasters and conflicts.

Social media gave organizations like UNDP a means to directly connect to the public rather than wait to be noticed. It’s an opportunity to be more approachable and rewrite our own narrative, break down mis-information, and show that for every negative story about those in the UN system, there are 100 undiscovered stories of positive action, and that behind these results, are amazingly talented and committed human beings who work very hard to improve conditions for the world’s most vulnerable. By not responding, by not engaging, because of a culture of risk-aversion, we run the risk of letting the myth or stereotypes and public perceptions of us become bigger and bigger monsters. The best way to address mis-information and chase the monsters away is turn the light on and reveal ourselves, who we are, what we do and how it makes an impact, what the steps look like at different phases of a project, and why you should care.

Social media also opened up a way for the public to have a dialogue with UNDP and our staff directly through our global social platforms and through staff’s individual Twitter handles. Access to information remains a big part of our conversations with the public. On a given day, I respond to questions on how to apply for jobs, how to receive climate adaptation training or become a project participant – most times, people seeking answers to questions want to learn. In the past year, we’ve had farmers—one from the Philippines who needed advice on climate adaptation as the leaves on his coconuts were already drying up. We were able to connect a youth fish farmer from Nigeria who faced the challenge of getting a loan and had put all his savings into starting his fish farm before weather patterns changed and his fish started dying.  Students and journalists turn to us when on deadline to find data resources or information.

Social media is transforming the culture of communications and transparency in the organization where often, no news comes out of projects until the project reporting cycle comes to term, a very technical status and budget report is sent to donors, and depending on the communications capacity (whether they have a dedicated communications staff in their office or not), we may or may not get a report or story about the project that may or may not sound more or less like a budget report. So social has challenged different parts of the organization to change specific processes so that we’re more accountable and transparent at every step of the process. This new demand requires skill sets and training for staff and skill sets. It sheds light on the capacity gaps that are systematic – the need for staff from all areas of work to be able to write effectively void of policy jargon and the need for capacity, especially in offices where a communications function maybe one of six functions a staff holds. We are part of a tree and the tree has to be healthy for everything to work right—I cannot tweet without getting quality stories that show impact and has a strong human narrative from fellow communications colleagues. They in turn need capacity, training, dedicated time and the full support and cooperation of their office to communicate, as well as a strong linkage with the project and technical staff who have the expertise, data and access to the communities who participate in our projects.

Making this connection – getting that buy-in at all levels on the vital importance of investing in communications skill sets, finding that space in business processes, in cultural mindsets of the value of social media and strategic communications – these are priorities we’re working on to innovate within the organization following our UNDP organizational restructuring which concluded at the end of 2014 and as a new Communications Strategy is being drafted. We need to evolve in the way we communicate because the world is moving at a faster pace and we need to adapt and get out of the “the UN bubble.”

2. Who are your main audiences on social media? Do you segment any of your channels for specific audiences for example do you have more than one Twitter account?

UNDP’s global communications office has a sub-team—the social media team, which manages UNDP’s global social media accounts in English, Spanish and French on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin (only available in English). What we prioritize on the global channels are the best of our work. We show development impact. We tell the story of transformation through the voice of the communities affected and the people who have found their lives changed for the better by our projects. We curate and re-write content pulled daily from over 170 UNDP offices, through websites, through exposure photo blogs, through YouTube channels, through Twitter and Facebook. In addition, I do quite a bit of monitoring of staff’s Twitter handles depending on the global news priority and trends of the day—if the whole world is talking about Syria on Twitter, I’ll go through our Syrian colleagues’ Twitter handles to showcase their take on their ongoing work in Syria. If the world is talking about kittens, I’ll pull out all the stories about endangered big cats living in protected areas we’ve had a role in establishing.

For global accounts, we try to find that middle ground to tackle the diversity of our social community. Advocacy, education, ensuring accountability and transparency through open.undp.org data and thought leadership are priorities for messaging. For the general public, we’ve slowly started a series called #ABCdev which seeks to demystify policy wonk jargon into practical examples that anyone interested in learning about development will be able to appreciate. Data, results reports and updates on developing and ongoing work are key to our approach too. These are of vital importance for global media, government and development partners as well as the public—such as Syria, the current debate around the European migrant crisis vs refugee crisis, the war in Yemen. In the case of under-reported news such as drought in Papua New Guinea and drought in Vanuatu while the island nation is still recovering from Cyclone Pam, we raise light to conditions not covered in big media that profoundly affects the very existence of these communities . We shine the light on local heroes who bring amazing changes to improve their communities through our work.

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Our work aims to give people a boost up the ladder or give them the tools they need to flourish – the drive behind change are the determination of people who utilize those tools —whether it be women’s access to land rights in India or policies and technical processes that UNDP facilitates that leads to laws and groups that provide a structure and space for activists to pursue social justice—in Guatemala, Elena, a mom and a survivor of the civil war in the country.

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Her story starts with heartbreak. In 1982, when she was 12, she was raped by soldiers. Elena grew up to become  part of the first group of Maya Ixil women who made history when they testified again former President of Guatemala, Efraín Ríos Montt, for genocides and crimes against humanity. This case continues to be very contentious but in 2013, when Elena took the stand, it was a landmark case because it shed light to years of injustice and impunity.  She’s a teeny, tiny petite woman—soft spoken, shy. Our UNDP Transitional Justice Programme may have paved the path but the true strength was Elena who said she had to do this, regardless of how much it put her in the spotlight or put her life at risk, because she didn’t want what had happened to her to ever happen to her children or any other human being ever again.

Our amazing regional teams across five continents manage separate regional accounts. Our 170+ country offices maintain their own social accounts. They all have different sets of audience who are interested in regional issues or only about particular countries.

3. If UNDP could only use one social media channel, which one would you choose and why?

All of our social media platforms are well loved for different purposes so that’s a very tough question.

I love Twitter for the real-time interaction, behind the scenes feel, the challenge of getting up breaking news as it happens and for rapid information consumption. Twitter also challenges me to write better and think more strategically about  key messages I want the audience to walk away with into a single tweet—only 20% of our audience actually clicks on our links for more information so the tweets have to be super tight and informative so they walk away with knowledge. Colleagues who tweet at work, especially those in the field, may not be fully aware but our small social team does check out their handle and read their tweets to pull content from and to feature their work—we love when colleagues embrace Twitter, get the “social” behind social media and start to develop a distinct voice and personality (what is also called brand identity).

My favorite is still Facebook because I can really establish a relationship with our community. Those who engage with us on Twitter may change from day to day. But on Facebook, there’s a very dedicated community who engages daily, takes the time to read and give feedback.  We see what they want to learn more of. We also see what doesn’t work on that platform (top down approaches, speeches, meetings). The audience who engages is dedicated, expressive, curious and I am able to have longer dialogues with them to answer questions, thank them for their support, or clarify mis-information. If the dialogue is constructive criticism, we try to maintain a dialogue to show facts—but that’s also linked to our capacity and workload because we do a range of other functions related to social that goes beyond content writing, curation and community management.

4. Access to social media in the global south has significantly increased in recent years. Have you noticed more interaction on social media with recipients of UNDPs programmes? Do you think it is an area of growth in the near future?

We are getting more growth from Myanmar in the past year.

The top countries where our audience are based in are India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Egypt. US is third. UK is 10th. India is 1st. Bangladesh is 2nd. Pakistan is 3rd. We aren’t seeing a rise in interaction with recipients of our programming but there has always been an organic growth in audience from programme countries—many are members of the general public who want to know if we’re being effective in their countries, want project updates and want to see impact, or want us to do more (sometimes on issues that go beyond our scope and mandate)-others want to learn about job opportunities and NGOs want to explore ways to become implementing partners or receive aid.

We are actually struggling to grow our audience in the global north because reaching them and being accountable to the tax payers whose hard earned wages contribute to aid is vital. This is also a challenge that we are looking to tackle as we shape our new Communications Strategy.

5. Do you have a strategy to connect with more people in the global south via social media? If so what does it involve?

Be social. Be genuine. Engage. Have empathy in your storytelling. Be human. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of our audience. Continue to improve upon what’s working so far but don’t get comfortable. Innovation is vital to social media –just staying relevant doesn’t cut it. These are challenges because of limited human capacity and budgetary resources. Getting support to procure new tools and enabling tools that will increase our productivity, time or resources to grow existing skill sets, having time to think of non-monetary incentives and innovative mechanisms that will nurture intrepreneurs in the organization to open up a culture of social media and effective communications is necessary.

6. Helen Clark, Administrator at the UNDP is a big advocate of social media. How has this helped with your strategy?

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Helen Clark being an amazing advocate of social media has made all the difference with our strategy. She not only champions social media—she’s an avid champion of strategic and effective communications. This opens up the space for “converting” the skeptics when she leads by example, rather than when a younger, more junior staff like me attempt to go against the “this is how it is” approach to the system and lots and lots of bureaucratic red tape. Mila Rosenthal, our Director of Communications and Caroline Hooper-Box, our Deputy Director; both bring an amazing wealth of expertise and fresh perspective from having worked in Amnesty International, Oxfam and print media. We have plenty of positive disruptors and intrepreneurs with great, creative energy but we need more and more senior managers and established staff like our champions to push those doors open, nurture the creativity, and support a transformative culture of communications.

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