Nation Branding and Social Media

A key element of a successful nation branding initiative depends on how well your audience absorbs, understands, adopts and redistributes the message based on their requirements for value. Back in the day this was done at a coffee shop, sundry store, mosque, church, football club or where ever else consumers congregated. Today those same people are increasingly likely to hang out in communities online. Facebook is the most popular home for many communities and it and other forms of Social Media need to be part of any strategic nation branding initiative.

But the Social Media rules are very different to the traditional media rules. And although many nations, organisations and government institutions or destinations believe they understand the new rules, the output of many of them would suggest otherwise. And this is detrimental to the long term success of the nation brand. Social Media channels or tools may not survive as long as many traditional media channels, but Social Media is here to stay.

One country that seems to be doing Social Media right, is the US. The importance of Social Media, and in particular Facebook during Obama’s presidential election campaign is now the stuff of legend. Key to the successes of the campaigns was that campaign personnel asked people what was important to them and then fed that information back to the main office where local service projects were implemented as quickly as possible. Many of of those vote winning projects continue today.

At one stage, in November 2008, Obama had 2,155,244 friends on Facebook, McCain had 578,651 and George W. Bush had none! Little wonder then who won.

The US has since expanded its use of Social Media to the international arena and the increasing importance of Social Media channels is reflected in the Facebook efforts of the US embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Embassy has invested significant resources into Social Media just as the use of Social Media in the country takes off – the number of active Facebook users in the world’s most populous Muslim country has grown from 2,325,840 in March 2009 to 20,775,320 in March 2010, an increase of 793%!

As the US Embassy in Jakarta has ramped up its presence on Facebook, its fan base has ballooned from 35,000 followers to 131,000 in little more than a month! This in a country not known for its love of the US. But the US embassy understands that this is not a soap box to try and hard sell or influence Indonesians with US policies and attitudes.

As a result, the tone of the Facebook site is light and cheerful. One recent post on the homepage related to Indonesia Batik, has received over 795 comments and more than 2,300 thumbs up. Most of the posts receive 100+ comments and significant numbers of thumbs up. Batik is err a common thread throughout the site and most of the postings are related to American life and culture, and in particular sport, music and popular green initiatives. Other initiatives include Blogger workshops.

Tourism, primarily destinations in the United States are also featured, including a rather ambitious and possibly poorly targetted attempt by Nebraska to attract Indonesians to the Great Plains state. Despite the remoteness of the destination, the video has received over 50 mainly positive comments. Other states using the site to market themselves include Tennessee and Ohio.

The US Embassy markets the site via advertising on local sites such as this one

Social Media and, in this particular case, Facebook is undoubtedly an excellent channel for nations to build their brands by engaging with consumers and offering value to those consumers based on the needs of those consumers, whilst understanding the environment. The USA, certainly in Indonesia seems to know this better than most.

Thanks to unspun for the inspiration for this story

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