Governments Get Savvy on Twitter to Help Their Citizens Overseas
The U.S. State Department sends travel alerts and news using its Twitter account. / PlaceIt by Breezi
The travel alerts and warnings which used to be simply posted online, are a lot more instant with Twitter. Savvy foreign offices like the ones in U.S. and UK are taking over a lot of minor functions that embassies did in the past.
Travelers increasingly turn to Twitter as a lifeline on the road. They know about flight delays before gate attendants, can find out hotel Wi-Fi rates before arrival, and crowdsource tips for the best local restaurants.
Travelers can also turn to Twitter to quickly contact their home governments for help when violence breaks out or a natural disaster is headed straight for their resort.
Over the past four years, the governments of the U.S., UK, Australia, Ireland, Canada, and Israel have set up Twitter accounts to share travel alerts, answer citizens’ questions when abroad, and clear up passport or visa confusion.
Using Skift’s social intelligence platform SkiftSocial, we looked at each of the departments’ travel-focused Twitter accounts to get an idea of who’s doing it best. We only look at English-language accounts, but other countries including France have travel-focused Twitter accounts as well.
|COUNTRY||TWITTER FOLLOWERS||NUMBER OF TWEETS||DAILY TWEET RATE (PAST 2 WEEKS)||REPLIES & RETWEETS (%)||ACTIVE SINCE|
|U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs @TravelGov||352,576||2,741||1.9||63||July 2008|
|Israel Foreign Ministry’s Digital Diplomacy Team @Israel||108,665||17,750||5.4||0||July 2009|
|UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office @fcoTravel||47,456||7,335||7.1||33||June 2009|
|Government of Canada @TravelGoC||6,056||744||1.1||0||August 2012|
|Ireland Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade @dfatravel||1,394||401||0.4||0||January 2012|
|Australian Government’s “Smartraveller” Travel Advisory Service @smartraveller||571||37||1||7.1||October 2013|
Read below for more details on each country’s Twitter habits and strategies:
U.S. State Department @TravelGov
The U.S. State Department has the most followed and most active Twitter account. It was the first to launch its Twitter account in July 2008 and has grown its following to 352,576 people.
Sixty-three percent of its tweets are retweets and replies and its been particularly busy this month since the partial government shutdown essentially sent a message to travelers worldwide that the U.S. is for closed for business.
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) October 1, 2013
The department recently joined Twitter’s new alert program that sends tweets with breaking news directly to subscribers’ mobile phones.
Israel Foreign Ministry @Israel
Israel Foreign Ministry‘s Digital Diplomacy team has two Twitter accounts, although neither are entirely focused on travel news. The account @Israel shares cultural events and travel news. The account @IsraelMFA serves as a public relations account focusing on political news.
— Israel ישראל (@Israel) October 2, 2013
Update: The social media team running @Israel has reached out to Skift to point out that most information for Israeli travelers is tweeted through the @IsraelHebrew account. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Digital Diplomacy Team has also created an app designed specifically for travelers. It is available for Android and iOS devices.
UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office @fcoTravel
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office is the most prolific tweeter sending 7.1 tweets a day over the past two weeks. Thirty-three percent of its Tweets in the last two weeks are replies or retweets making it the second most engaged Twitter account surveyed after the U.S. State Department.
The department takes special care to makes sure that someone is manning the account 24 hours a day. FCO’s dedicated travel advice and consular teams answer Brits’ questions from 9 am to 6 pm during the week. The Global Response Team takes over after hours and on the weekend answering tweets directly, via direct messages, or by suggesting the travelers call them at a certain number.
We're handing over to our global response team who'll respond to emergencies. We'll answer non-urgent questions tomorrow from 9am BST.
— FCO travel advice (@FCOtravel) October 14, 2013
“The most common questions are from British Nationals wanting to know the current travel advice for a country they are planning to visit. Other popular questions are about passports and visas,” says a spokesperson from Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
“Unusual but valid questions to @fcotravel have included one asking about travel advice for visiting Chernobyl, to which we replied by providing a link to our Ukraine travel advice page.”
Government of Canada @TravelGoC
Canada’s travel-focused Twitter account is frequently updated – at least one tweet every day for the past two weeks – but it does not engage with travelers. It did not reply to a traveler or retweet in the past two weeks.
— travel.gc.ca (@TravelGoC) September 20, 2013
The Canadian government shares the same news in French on the Twitter account @voyageGdC. The French account only has one-fifth of the followers (1,435) of the English-language account and it directs followers to a French version of the travel website.
— voyage.gc.ca (@VoyageGdC) September 20, 2013
Ireland Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade @dfatravel
Ireland is the least active of the surveyed Twitter accounts. It tweets once every few days and does not engage travelers. This could be because Irish travelers defer to the more popular and informed UK travel handle.
Australian Government’s Travel Advisory Service @smartraveller
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade only created a social media presence focused on international travel and the safety of Australian overseas this month.
Travel updates and alerts were previously sent through the department-wide Twitter account @dfat. The new Twitter account @smartraveller directs Australians to the Smartraveller website where there is up-to-date travel advice for 166 destinations.
Planning on tying the knot overseas? Take a look at our info on getting married overseas http://t.co/v8ICBPeieT
— Smartraveller (@Smartraveller) October 10, 2013
“A dedicated Smartraveller Twitter account allows us to better target the delivery of consular messaging such as travel advice, tips for travelling safely, and updates for Australian travellers during overseas crises,” explains a spokesperson from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.