Over a month after the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) debuted on Twitter, the response from netizens of the fast-growing social networking site has generally been welcoming, although tinged with some surprise that the stodgy Government of India was finally waking up to the power and reach of new media.
MEA's public diplomacy division created its Twitter account, @indiandiplomacy, on July 8. It has since written 94 tweets – some of them being links to press releases and speeches and others interactions with the tweeting crowd. By August 16, the account gathered 2,012 followers, through word of mouth and media reports. A recent press release on Indian aid to Pakistan – the note was sent out through Twitter – was circulated widely in twitterverse, including among the Pakistani 'tweeple'.
“Perhaps for the first time Twitter is having such an a/c (account) from any Govt. Of India dept. We the people feel honoured,” Kaushik Dutta, an insurance executive, tweeted in appreciation of @indiandiplomacy on July 11. Similarly, Swamitra Singh from Kanpur gave his own welcome. “I heard about you via news. Now I am so happy that government is doing something for us.”
There was however a bit of confusion on how MEA will use this account. “Does this mean I can send grievances to you and it will actually be sorted out?” asked Faisal from Mangalore. There was an immediate response from the ministry official manning the Twitter account. “We may not be able to sort out grievances but we will certainly bring it to the attention of those dealing with the subject,” said @indiandiplomacy. Besides, some users were interested in knowing how Indian diplomats, known for their verbal skills, will adapt to the minimalism of Twitter. “How will govt babus talk in 140 chractors. Used to writing 14000 page documents,” asked a Twitter user with the handle 'iArifsyed'. The MEA's reply: “We should not be prejudged.”
Several foreign governments, notably those of the US and Britain, use social media like Twitter and Flickr to reach out to younger people and have got encouraging response. US President Barack Obama's splash in the Gulf of Mexico was first put on White House Flickr page to give the messsage to Americans and the rest of the world that the BP oil spill-hit Gulf Coast is open for business.