DUBAI // The Foreign Affairs Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, has more than 800,000 followers on Twitter and is second among leading officials only to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, the GCC Government Social Media Summit heard yesterday.
The statistics are an indication of how leading government figures have embraced social media to engage and communicate with the public, said Dr Saeed Al Dhaheri, who advises the Foreign Minister on information systems.
“Sheikh Abdullah’s use of Twitter is personal, but sometimes he hears of issues related to the ministry which are ultimately dealt with. He is very active and is always engaging citizens and the public,” said Dr Al Dhaheri.
“Social media plays an important role in the UAE’s foreign policy. There is effective engagement by the Minister of State, Dr Anwar Gargash, who in many instances provides insight and clarifications on issues and explains the UAE’s foreign policy on those issues.”
An example of effective engagement, Dr Al Dhaheri said, came in November 2011 when Sheikh Abdullah tweeted: “I hope we raise the UAE flag on top of every house.”
The tweet inspired a campaign by an Emirati, Hasan Al Mazrouie, to raise a flag over every home before National Day in 2011.
Mr Al Mazrouie opened the Twitter account @fogbaitna3alm (“above our house a flag”) and appealed to Emiratis and expatriates to get involved.
The campaign reached more than 850,000 people and has now become an annual event, Dr Al Dhaheri said.
The ministry has also developed a social media policy and has trained diplomats on how to engage effectively with the public.
“This is part of our public diplomacy efforts that the ministry has focused on recently and it is to win the hearts and minds of the public through the use of social media and to clarify the intrinsic values of the UAE,” Dr Al Dhaheri said. “I would like to see more ambassadors using it.”
The challenge lay in drawing immediate responses. “It requires direct and immediate involvement and we have put in escalation procedures for direct public engagement.
“Some of the issues require low- level engagement or engagement from the concerned department which are forwarded to them but at the same time you cannot provide an immediate response to some issues which require further investigation.
“I want to see more social apps and systems in use in the ministry in collaboration with different departments for communications.
“This is because I think that emails will not last for long as a means for informal communications, but with the rise of social tools and software, collaboration becomes easy and sharing information becomes immediate and effective in keeping everybody aware and involved.”
The ministry was engaging actively on social media and yielding results.
“Our use of social media in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stems from our objectives and strategic directives to engage with the citizens and how to effectively provide services,” said Dr Al Dhaheri.
Their social media and online services are mostly used for consular work to help citizens abroad who may encounter problems, he said.