It appears the U.S. State Department has a Twitter problem.
For the second time in six months, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo created diplomatic waves with its Twitter account, and at least one PR professional thinks it’s time for the State Department to review its social media policy.
The most recent incident occurred on Tuesday when Embassy Cairo, as it’s called in diplomatic circles, tweeted a link to a “Daily Show” segment about an Egyptian TV personality—billed as that nation’s Jon Stewart—who had been arrested for criticizing President Mohamed Morsi.
The tweet drew a harsh rebuke from the Twitter account of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as from Morsi’s official Twitter account:
As a result of the criticism, the embassy in Cairo shut down the Twitter account briefly. That sparked a response from some who saw the move as appeasement.
The embassy’s account was reinstated by Thursday, but the tweet in question had been deleted. The sum reaction is that the embassy's Twitter feed needs help.
A State Department spokesperson chalked up the incident to mismanagement of the account.
“We've had some glitches with the way the Twitter feed has been managed,” Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.
Nuland acknowledged that Wednesday’s incident was not the first time the embassy in Cairo had blundered on social media.
“Embassy Cairo is looking at how to manage these glitches,” she said. “They came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site.”
Her remarks from the briefing appeared on a Foreign Policy magazine blog
Nuland’s mention of previous incidents is likely a reference to Sept. 11, 2012. When protesters amassed outside the walls of the embassy in Cairo, officials inside the compound tweeted several times to reportedly calm the protesters. Mitt Romney used the tweets, along with a press release (reportedly drafted by a PR professional at the embassy
), as political fodder, suggesting the Obama administration was caving to the demands of America’s enemies.
According to Foreign Policy
, “the combative character” of the embassy's Twitter account has continued since the Sept. 11 incident. The New York Times pointed out
that the account has also created a dialogue with critics of the U.S. and sought to quash rumors about America and President Obama.
Either way, Wednesday’s incident offers U.S. officials an important reminder about communicating via social media, said Gil Rudawsky, the head of crisis communications at GroundFloor Media in Denver.
“This issue should be a wake-up call for other State Department officials using Twitter to institute a social media policy about what is appropriate, and what is not,” he said. “If they have one, it's time to review it.”
According to Rudawsky, who is a frequent contributor to PR Daily
, the State Department, particularly those working in the Middle East, need to approach Twitter with the same oversight as traditional communications.
“I highly doubt that they would have sent out a release teasing to a ‘The Daily Show’ [segment] critical of the Egyptian president,” he explained. “Satire isn't appropriate in press releases, and, likewise, it is not appropriate in official Twitter accounts.”
He recommends that the State Department keep the Twitter account open, but be smarter about it.
“Deleting items never works and just increases interest and, in this case, suspicion,” Rudawsky said.