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Five Social Media Lessons From the US Ambassador to South Korea
Posted on April 10th 2013
As the Korean peninsula teeters on the brink of war, US ambassador to South Korea, Sung Kim, has a bit of a social media mess on his hands.
For over a year, Ambassador Kim has been chronicling his experiences in South Korea on the US Embassy's blog, "Cafe USA." Until this week, the blog was a model for how executives and government leaders can leverage the social web to communicate effectively.
Everything changed on Monday, when Ambassador Kim wrote about how North Korea's saber-rattling had impacted his family's vacation:
"My daughters recently had off from school for spring break, and I planned to take a week off for a nice family vacation. But as is often the case here on the Peninsula, my break was interrupted by important developments and urgent issues, so my week off turned into just one day."
Yeah… That's probably not the best way to describe how a potential nuclear war is impacting your day-to-day life, especially when you're an ambassador.
And it goes on. At one point, Mr. Kim complains that he had to participate in a conference call while visiting an aquarium with his family. What the ambassador thought would take 10 minutes of his time wound up taking 40 minutes.
Here's the thing: Ambassador Kim is actually a very good blogger. His blog is a fascinating look behind-the-scenes at the life of a US ambassador. I know nothing about Mr. Kim besides what I've read on his blog, but he seems like a very nice man who happens to occupy a very powerful position in the US government. In a post titled, "My First Weekend in Seoul," Kim describes a whirlwind of events and emotions that greeted his family when they arrived in Seoul, complete with photos and links to his prepared remarks. It really is quite interesting.
A high-profile social media snafu like this can scare executives away from using social media. But I prefer to view this as a learning experience. Here are five takeaways:
- Don't use social media to complain about your job. Everyone complains about their job from time to time, but nobody wants to hear about it. Especially if you have what many would consider a dream job.
- Know Your Audience. In the current geopolitical climate, it's safe to assume that many of Mr. Kim's readers would want to find out the latest information on the North Korean situation, not about his recent vacation. Instead of focusing on the issues that mattered to his audience, the ambassador went off-message.
- Optics, optics, optics. Taking a vacation in the midst of a crisis is never a good idea. It may have been a good idea for the ambassador to postpone his vacation. At the very least, he shouldn't have called attention to the timing of his vacation by blogging about it.
- Transparency can't be turned off. If transparency and openness is going to be part of your brand messaging, you have to be ready to deal with an occasional faux pas. It appears that comments have been scrubbed from the blog post in question, while previous posts still contain comments. This is not the correct way to deal with the situation.
- Apologize. Now is not the time for the ambassador to disappear from the social web. He really needs to get out in front of the story - post a short apology and move forward.