Engaging Youth in the 'Most Wired Place on Earth'

Posted by Andy Jay
February 27, 2012
Students Use Smart Phones in Seoul

Ambassador Sung Kim may be one of the most sought-after interview subjects in South Korea, but it is surprisingly easy to access him -- if you are a Korean university student.

Last week, Ambassador Sung Kim spoke to a standing-room only house of some 130 local undergraduate students for Seoul's 27th Embassy Youth Forum.

The regular forum, also called "Real People Talking" (RPT), gives young people a chance to sit down with U.S. government officials, often at fairly senior levels, for face-to-face conversations. Each event spotlights an American guest -- in this case, Ambassador Kim -- who conducts a panel discussion with five to six Korean students, moderated by the embassy's Public Affairs Officer. The in-house audience can also ask questions, many of which are prompted by topics that the Ambassador has previously touched upon in his popular blog, "All About Sung Kim."

In addition to our in-house audience, two months ago through the embassy's Facebook account we started live-streaming these events. In Korea, which has been called "the most wired place on earth," it is essential to take our programs online.

“I chose to go to the Web because that is where young people are these days,” a former Public Affairs Officer told local media when speaking about RPT. Not only do 99.3 percent of Koreans have access to wireless high-speed Internet -- more than double the OECD average of 47.9 percent -- but Korea has the fastest connections in the world.

Thus, Koreans' enthusiasm to this online access is palpable -- almost 30 people were already logged into our live-streaming 20 minutes before the event began! Not only can the virtual audience watch the event, but they can participate. Through the livestream chat feature, Ambassador Kim also answered questions from our virtual audience.

"Real People Talking" is an exciting program for us, but it represents only one part of our online outreach to the Korean public.

Ambassador Kim recently kicked off his “Ask the Ambassador” (ATA) outreach as well. Through this program, he invites the online public to submit questions for him using any of the embassy's social media accounts -- Facebook, Twitter, and me2day, a domestic Korean microblogging service.

After sifting through all of the questions he receives, Ambassador Kim selects two or three, videotapes his answers, and we send out his answers through the post's SNS accounts linked to the U.S. Embassy YouTube page. We posted our first "Ask the Ambassador"video a week and a half ago, and to our surprise, it has quickly become a big hit and one of our most popular videos ever!

All these efforts at U.S. Embassy Seoul reflect the State Department's broader efforts to engage online. As Secretary Clinton has said, 21st Century Statecraft is about embracing new tools, such as social media, to communicate what we are doing at post and to also use them to help individuals be empowered for their own development.

As we move forward, we hope to create even more interest in embassy programs by reaching out to the people who make up Korea's vibrant online community.

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