Interview with David Saranga, Israel Consulate: A Twitter Press Conference

03/05/2009

Israeli Consulate logo In December 2008, the New York Israel Consulate held the first government press conference on Twitter and in doing so public diplomacy took one more step into social media.

The purpose of the 2-hour open conversation in 140 characters was to engage and provide the public with a platform where citizens' questions about the Gaza situation could be addressed directly by @DavidSaranga, Consul for Media and Public Affairs at the consulate General in New York. In addition to the running tweets from the press conference, updates were posted on the Consul's MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube pages.

With a few weeks distance behind him, I asked Mr. Saranga if he would look back on the experience and in retrospective share some of the marketing/PR lessons learned. My thanks to him and to the staff of the Department of Media and Public Affairs who kindly responded to my request. A special shout out to Noam.

Note: Diva Marketing is not a political blog but one focused on social media marketing and branding. My questions and Mr. Saranaga's responses reflect that positioning.

The Office of the Consul General in New York serves as the focal point of the Consulate. While it oversees all departments within the Consulate, the Lishka (bureau) primarily functions as the liaison between the State of Israel and the various centers of power and influence that encompass the New York Metro area such as national and local organizations, the offices of public officials and business alliances.

The role of the Consul General is to promote the positive image of Israel in the media and the surrounding communities by keeping them abreast of the most updated information on Israeli prominent personalities and developments.

David_saranga_Israeli Consulate David Saranga, Consul for Media and Public Affairs at the consulate General in New York.

Prior to joining the Consulate in New York, Consul Saranga served as Deputy Spokesperson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel, and was responsible for contact with the foreign media. He was a Manager of the Direct Marketing Department, Visa-Israel Credit Cards and worked as National Sales Executive at Kidum Ltd. Consul Saranga has been engaged as an academic since 1989, when he worked as a Teaching Assistant at the Hebrew University. Subsequent work has included one year as Director of Studies and Lecturer in Marketing Management at the Open University in Israel.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Using Twitter as a media conference forum was innovative and brave. Why did you choose to go in that direction?

David Saranga: We have been involved in online work for some time, through our blogs (isRraelli and IsraelPolitik) and our presence on MySpace and Facebook.  After reading about Twitter, we felt that the tool held a lot of potential for communicating with people online. 

Firstly, we can “focus” on one person, but many people can tune in as well. This way, even when we are answering one person, other people are still taking part. 

Secondly, Twitter is a site where people are increasingly going to talk, so we wanted to join the conversation where it was happening.

Toby/Diva Marketing: How did you achieve buy-in from the consulate and other stake holders?

David Saranga: The diplomatic staff here has really come to understand the value of web-based content and of social media. We told them how important a presence on Twitter could be, and they were hooked.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What were their main concerns? What were yours?

David Saranga: We were all mainly concerned with how many people would ask questions and whether we would be taken seriously.  When we first joined Twitter and mentioned the “Press Conference” idea, we started hearing opinions that we might not answer so-called “hard” questions.  So we needed to make sure that we answered as many questions as we could, even and especially the “hard” ones. 

Toby/Diva Marketing: Where did most of the engagement come from?

David Saranga: While our Twitter following has been quite varied, we seem to have attracted people interested in learning more about the Middle East and people who work in new media, public diplomacy or both. It was quite interesting to see the range of people with whom we have had very rewarding interactions through Twitter and/or as a result of such efforts.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What lessons did you learn from the first Twitter press conference?

David Saranga:

  • Our biggest lesson was the importance of making ourselves available to people through a medium they understand. 

We are aware that this issue raises a lot of emotions, and we wanted to give people the opportunity to talk with us in an unmediated fashion. Many of the questions we received were thoughtful and inquisitive, and we were happy to share our point of view on what can be touchy subjects.  Israeli Consulate Tweeting

It was also important for us that we could expand answers on our blog. While we could give only short answers online (due to constraints imposed by Twitter and by the sheer number of questions*), we did want people to know that we cared about their questions and wanted to give them the full attention they deserved.

*Note: Twitter allows only 140 characters per tweet.

Photo of staff of the Department of Media and Public Affairs tweeting at the press conference.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What was your biggest surprise?

David Saranga: We were really surprised by the amount of interest we generated. We started this whole project figuring we would get a few people to tune in. When our “followers” count began to rise precipitously, we realized we were on to something much larger.

Many more people than we anticipated were interested in having us take part in this conversation. The mainstream media got involved, too. We got coverage in the New York Times, Le Figaro, the Guardian, and other news outlets around the world. We were truly astounded.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What would you do differently next time (will there be a next time)?

David Saranga: We’re still evaluating the lessons of the first time, so we’ll have to evaluate whether we’ll do this again. We all felt this was an extremely positive experience, and we’re grateful for all the attention and ongoing relationships that resulted. 

Our biggest problem was trying to respond to a flood of questions in an organized fashion, so fixing that issue would be a necessary step before organizing another press conference. That said, we’ve really been having an ongoing press conference since late December, as we are active on Twitter. 

The next thing we hope to arrange is a TweetUp (i.e. meeting Twitter followers face-to-face) in the next few weeks to bring our followers together and help them see other facets of Israel with which they may not be so familiar. We’ve thought of a bunch of ideas (music, art, film, etc.) but want to see what our followers are interested in, too.

Toby/Diva Marketing
: What lessons can you pass on to others who are thinking of using Twitter for their press conferences?

David Saranga:The best lesson we can offer is that you should not be afraid to answer the hard questions that come at you.

  • The best thing to do is to be as transparent as possible and just be sincere in your answers.

Toby/Diva Marketing:  To wrap it up … your thoughts on social media ..

David Saranga: It’s clear that social media is not just a passing trend, but rather an effective way to communicate. It is important for us to maximize the capabilities these tools offer and use them to help us in talking to as many people as possible.

Israel Consulate in Social Media

YouTubeFacebook

MySpace

Blogs: Israel Politk isRraelli.org

First Israeli Tweet-up in the making!

Twitter

Facebook

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Comments

As informative as David is here, you asked all the questions I'd have wanted to and then some. Well done.

Posted by: David Berkowitz on Mar 5, 2009 4:41:11 PM

Great post. David is right, social media is not just a passing trend.

Posted by: Sharon Wilson on Mar 7, 2009 5:36:06 PM

Social Media is a great tool businesses can use to obtain valuable insight into the interests and opinions of consumers which is vital for maintaining relevancy.

Posted by: internet marketing company on Jan 21, 2011 11:49:03 PM

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