Social media for development: Q&A with a United Nations specialist

Interested in social media for development? Then you need to read a recently published, very informative interview with LeiLei Phyu, Social Media Manager at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). LeiLei covers a range of topics in the context of UNDP’s work, including effective public relations, transparency, capacity building, strategy and corporate leadership.

UNDP has over 800,000 followers on Twitter and over 1 million likes on Facebook.

Read the full interview on the Social Media for Development Blog or read the highlights below.

On public relations:

“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.”

On transparency:

“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.”

On capacity:

“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.”

On approaches/strategy:

“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… We shine the light on local heroes who bring amazing changes to improve their communities through our work.

“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.

“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.”

On the best platform to use:

“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.

“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.”

On engagement with audiences in developing countries:

“The top countries where our audience are based in are India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Egypt… 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.”

On leadership:

[UNDP Administrator] 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.”

Read the full interview

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