The State Department wants to be able to communicate directly with hundreds of millions of Russian-language speakers, and could soon be taking to Twitter.
The department this week issued a pre-solicitation notice seeking a Russian-speaking vendor with expertise in Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms. Eventually, the department plans to create Russian-language State Department accounts, to be maintained by this vendor "on a daily basis -- including evenings, holidays and weekends," the notice said.
The new Russian Twitter account would complement the department's other accounts, which usually translate what's being posted on the official English-language account -- @StateDept -- such as news about the Iran nuclear deal. Other official State Department accounts are in languages including Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese and French.
"What we really try to do is try to make sure people are hearing [news] directly from us . . . versus having it translated for us," Moira Whelan, the deputy assistant secretary for digital strategy in the Bureau of Public Affairs, told Nextgov. Her goal is to "reach people where they are, and be part of that conversation."
Including accounts handled by U.S. embassies in other nations, the State Department operates about 400 Twitter handles, reaching about 35 million people a year, Whelan said. The English-language State Department account was created in 2009, and the department started adding more languages beginning with Spanish in 2011.
Several factors determine which languages the State Department chose first, Whelan said. For instance, Spanish is one of the most commonly spoken languages, but the department was also able to find the talent and resources required to maintain those social media accounts. Whelan noted that Russian has "always been a priority language for us to communicate in."
A qualified vendor, she said, "understands the dynamics of social media thoroughly," and can ensure the Russian-language accounts are "singing the same song" as the other official accounts, but "customizing it for their languages, in terms of dialect, in terms of how the conversation's going, habits and trends in the social media conversation."
Whelan said she wasn't sure if the vendor would need to respond to Internet users. Currently, she said, the accounts are used primarily to disseminate information.
But she added, "it's something we definitely want to do on all of our platforms . . . the hundreds that we have, to be in a back-and-forth conversation with people, versus a broadcast mechanism."
Whelan also said she didn't have a timeline for when the vendor would be selected, and emphasized that the search is still in the pre-solicitation stage.
(Image via Quka/ Shutterstock.com)