“Social media is about taking smart risks,” observed Victoria Esser, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy at the U.S. State Department. Unfortunately, the recent tragedy in Libya has reminded us that being stationed overseas can be a very dangerous occupation.

Esser appeared on a panel at the Social Good Summit on Saturday along with other foreign diplomats in order to provide attendees with a snapshot of their digital media experiences. The three-day conference takes place at New York’s 92nd Street Y during UN Week and concludes today.

The State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has embraced internal and external digital platforms as tools to interact with employees and the public. As Esser said, “nothing replaces face-to-face diplomacy, but social media cuts away time barriers.” She noted that the State Department had recently hosted a “Google hangout in Persian to engage in dialogue with Iran, where the U.S. doesn’t have an on-the-ground presence.” They invited a few journalists to join in.

Charles Ray, former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, pointed to another well-documented advantage of using social platforms. “Social media is not a magic wand, but it’s an effective tool to have ongoing conversations with people who are hard to reach with other methods.” He was referring to those who are under 30 years old; in developing countries, members of this demographic primarily use cell phones since they have only limited access to the internet.

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