More and more, the UN tries to inform the youth by using social media and interactive tools. But does the target group get the news it is looking for through the new channels? A critical review of the current effort reveals quite diverse results.
In the past years, the United Nations started to use more and more social tools to inform the public, especially the youth, about its activities around the world. Twitter accounts and facebook pages were created. A page to download and use the official UN photos was established as well as various news and media pages. UN TV streams live from the conferences of the United Nations and UN Radio made its program available online while stopped broadcasting its program in a traditional sense. Finally, the United Nations established a Social Media Team that maintains at least some of the official United Nations social media accounts.
UNYANET created a survey to observe how and where the youth acquire their information and news about the UN. The survey revealed some patterns but the use of different channels still seems somewhat random especially when it comes to getting information on more specific topics than the basic knowledge on the UN.
Clearly, the most popular channels to acquire news and information about the UN are the official website and the UN Facebook page. The popularity may be explained by the fact that these sources give information and news on a wide scope on all aspects of the UN. Also the basic information about the UN’s structure and procedures of different organs can be found easily and concisely on the UN website. Although the UN website can be used to get linked on other specific UN organs’ and offices’ websites, the websites of different UN organs and specialized agencies, such as that of the UNDP and UNICEF for example, are also browsed separately. The websites of the UN Information Services, namely those of Vienna and Geneva, remain favorites too. None of the pages mentioned, however, allows the user to interact and comment on the information and news provided.
The same is reflected in the usage of facebook pages. The official UN and the UN News facebook pages are the most popular ones followed closely by UN Information Services facebook pages. The UN Photo is perhaps unsurprisingly remarkably more popular on facebook than as a website which says something about the relevance and attractiveness of using visual material on facebook.
Twitter reaches a small but devoted portion of the UN news audience. Twitter users aren’t many in numbers but those who follow, follow a great diversity of UN related tweets. The amount of UN news followers through other online communities seems to be limited and consist of rather unique cases. Outside of official UN channels, some youth follow their own local UN Youth Association and the national UN Association either on the websites or on facebook.
In general, the active youth are very pleased with their interaction with the UN in online communities. All of those, who ever participated in a discussion or debate or commented on the posting of the UN received a satisfying reply. No one stopped following the UN in social media for any other reason than stopping to use all social media once and for all. However, surprisingly few actually participate at an online forum organized by the UN or comment on a posting of the UN. What some companies and NGOs do, in order to increase the interactivity, is asking for comments on the topic of the news or organizing photo and writing contests.
On twitter, the UN has a few very big accounts (like @UN) but the majority of the UN channels have comparably few users. This might be caused by a definitely too large number of different UN related accounts which creates the problem of knowing the difference between them. There is @UN, @unsecgen, @un_spokesperson, different Information Centers (Vienna, Geneva, Brussels) etc. One might end up wondering which of these represent the official opinion of the UN and who maintains these channels. What is the role of the Social Media Team in relation to the various channels?
During the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations in March 2013 in New York, a young person in Geneva tried to follow the proceedings through the UN channels on twitter but the UN didn’t produce really relevant information on real time. The interested representative of the youth ended up following the tweets by different country delegations and by an individual working as an independent disarmament professional in New York. This individual even photographed all 15 pages of the Chair’s third draft as soon as he got a copy and tweeted a separate link to each photograph. 15 minutes later, the document was published by the secretariat on the ATT website but that was all the communication from that side. Since the draft was distributed even in the council approximately 1 hour 20 minutes later than expected, someone following UN communication only, would have been rather frustrated by the time the draft became available.
On facebook, the offering of different pages is as divers, but somehow, it’s slightly easier to pin down the “identity” of each page – maybe because of the visualization opportunities that twitter doesn’t offer. Regarding both the twitter and facebook, all content seems to be produced solely in English. Has this been a conscious choice and is there no problem seen with it? It might prevent people with poor English skills from following the news and even more so from commenting and participating in the discussion. The UN also has a blog (blogs.un.org) but the reader cannot comment on the content. Interactivity of blogs isn’t always given, but why not let the people participate?
In November 2012, the UNDPI website (undpi.org) had, under the “More” category, 23 out of 30 news about Gangnam Style phenomenon entering even into the UN world. It sure is a funny topic to catch the youth’s interest, but mostly, the youth visiting the UNDPI website, aren’t looking for entertainment. 23 Gangnam Style news out of 30 could be regarded as an exaggeration and eating up the channel’s credibility as a news provider. The youth as an audience needs to be taken seriously and offer them, too, mainly real stories with challenging content.
The news on the UNDPI website can be rated by the readers on a scale from 1 to 5. One of the strengths of posting in social media, is to play with its dynamicity and speed. Rating something on a ladder of several steps requires the reader to stop for a moment to think which grade the news really deserves, and this isn’t compatible with the general nature of social media. A part of facebook’s ingenuity is constituted by the “like” buttons, that can be pushed much faster and without deep pondering. Furthermore, is it really necessary to show advertisements on the UNDPI website?
To conclude, it seems that the people like to get their information rather from one source that covers a wide scope of topics than scattered all over different specialized channels. The era of clear, basic information on a traditional website is certainly not over, and the era of twitter has yet to take over the relationship between the UN and the youth. What is missing is a central page listing all the various channels sorted by topic or cause, and this makes it difficult to find the correct channel when in need of some more specific information.
Surprisingly low number of young people participating on online forums or commenting on facebook postings raises several questions: Does the news in an online forum even reach the youth? How can the action of “following” the UN within a social network be used to get the youth more actively engaged? The youth in the world is not just thirsty for information but also full of ideas. If only the suitable channels and the momentum could be found to allow more efficient share of knowledge and ideas between the UN and the youth.
– This article was written by Mr. Daniel Hardegger, one of the two UNYANET Presidents, and Ms. Honna Marttila, the PR Officer of UNYANET.
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