Why an official Facebook page for Latvia is a great opportunity

Latvia wants a Facebook page. Very much. So much that prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis has written a letter to Facebook to ask for the possibility to register the username ‘Latvia’, which currently is not possible in Facebook’s terms of service. On top of that, the Latvia Institute has commissioned a competition to design and build the official Facebook page for Latvia. The goals for the page? Getting at least 1 million followers, make Latvia better known abroad and have more efficient communication with foreigners. Leading Latvian language PR blog 7Guru has helped the teams in the competition by asking their readership (Latvian PR professionals mainly) about what this Facebook page should provide.

This all is very innovative, in a way. And even though the competition is in full swing (deadline is 19 September moved to 26 September), there are some lessons we can learn from it.

First of all, if you want to engage with social media, you have to understand what they’re about, and what not. Although I think the initiative of writing a letter to Facebook to ask them to start accepting official country representations to register the official Facebook username is a fun and pr-friendly move, it also is a bit naive. Think of the consequences for a globally operating company if it allows it’s product to be a voice of repressive regimes. This year we had what came to be known as the Arab spring, and social media channels played a role in it. Issues like censorship and persecution were in the center of global debate on that role. You can imagine that a company simply does not want to get in the middle of that. Especially not one that thrives on people sharing information. It’s important to know and understand the limitations of the platform you’re dealing with, and to try and understand what’s behind limitations you encounter and find solutions around it.

Secondly, if you want to use social media in your organisation, you have to set the right goals. And one thing that is not a right goal, is aiming for a certain number of followers. I’ve said this before, but this is a metric that does not tell you anything. You can better have 10 followers that regularly buy your product (or visit your country, or invest in it), than a million who do nothing more than like your messages. ‘But wait a minute,’ I hear you think, ‘having a million followers says something about how well the country is known outside Latvia. And being better known is another goal. Haha!’ Well… sorry. Getting a million people to follow a page on Facebook is hard work. But, it’s possible. If all Facebook users from Latvia (about 260 thousand) like the page, plus all Facebook users from the Latvian diaspora, you’re already quite a bit in the direction. But does that make Latvia better known abroad? I honestly cannot tell. I don’t know the figures of brand-awareness for Latvia globally. To improve something, you need to know what your current position is. And even then, what does this better recognition of the brand Latvia bring? Being better known only has real value if that leads to more investment, more visitors that spend their Euros, Yens, Dollars here, maybe even less countries that ask Latvians to get visas before entering their territory. These are things that matter. I can go into the goal of communicating more efficiently with foreigners, but for that the same applies as to the other goal: what is the situation now, and what do you really want to achieve? Less expenses, one point of contact, less people involved…
So the lesson here is that you need to understand where you are and what business related result you want to achieve, before the other things really make sense.

And then last but not least the survey by 7Guru. It is very useful to ask your audience what they want, before you begin. There’s no better way of finding it out, to be honest. But the audience of the official Facebook page of Latvia consists of non-Latvians. That’s why the page has to be in English. Because, for some strange reason, non-Latvians tend not to understand Latvian. So asking Latvian PR professionals in Latvian what information they think the Facebook page should provide is nice, but you still don’t know what your audience wants to see. So, for an efficient communication strategy with your target audience, this doesn’t really help you. The lesson we can take from this, is that you need to understand who your audience are, who your customers are, and then talk to them.

Am I negative about this initiative for the official Facebook page of Latvia? You might think so from the above. But I’m not. I’m in the competition even. I think it is a wonderful opportunity to modernise communications from the Latvian government. And it is a wonderful opportunity to learn and bring the social media landscape in Latvia to a next maturity level. If my participation adds to that a tiny bit, that would be great. And if not, at least it has given me the opportunity to share some important points here.

This post has also appeared in the September newsletter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia.

For more discussion on this topic, see the posts of Maris Antons and blog 7Guru on this topic. All in Latvian, but Google Translate helps.

Tags: , ,

4 Responses to "Why an official Facebook page for Latvia is a great opportunity"

  • Zanda Sadre says:
  • Arjan Tupan says:
  • Rihards Kalnins says:
  • Arjan Tupan says: