When training Mission (U.S. Embassies and Consulates) staff on social media best practices, design usually comes as a last thought. In September of 2016 the Digital Support and Training (DST) team in the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) at the U.S. Department of State requested help in conducting trainings on design best practices for branding and social media content to be included in their training resources.
The “Design 101: Social Media Basics” training deck was built to address design basics for non-designers in the field, to enhance their visual communications skills and effectively represent the U.S. Department of State brand on social media. Since then, nearly 20 trainings have taken place virtually and in-person with Mission staff, and it has become clear that staff who have participated in the in-person sessions have produced stronger design deliverables than those who have only participated in virtual trainings.
Virtual design trainings are typically an hour long session with several Missions in attendance at a time. A slide deck of information is presented by screenshare that includes discussion of best practices and design basics for creating strong social media graphics. A chat box is available for trainees to ask and respond to questions throughout the session, but very little time is used to share ideas and tips on specific projects Missions staff are currently working on. Once the training is over, trainees go about their daily business and it is difficult to see how they apply what they have just learned, if anything, to their visual communications. A feedback survey goes out after the training to collect responses on the training’s usefulness, but there is no way to gauge specific changes in their design thinking as relates to the visuals they build.
In January 2017, a three-day social media workshop was held at the U.S. Embassy in Algeria, addressing the needs of the region by providing hands-on activities geared to public diplomacy (PD) officers and locally engaged staff already using social media and digital diplomacy platforms who sought to deepen their skills in a range of social media topics including design best practices. Eleven PD trainees attended from seven Mission countries in the Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) region – Algeria, Egypt, Jerusalem, Jordan, Qatar, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates.
By conducting the training in-person, trainees were given time to use what they learned to apply directly to their current social media campaigns. This time also allowed for troubleshooting and asking about tips on design techniques that were then applied to their designs on the spot. Trainees were given simple style sheets that matched the U.S. Embassy websites so their social media graphics could be tailored to fit the same visual identity. In addition to being able to problem solve and share design inspiration with each other in-person that week, having these colleagues from around the region in the same room empowered the PD group to continue learning from one another and sharing ideas outside of the workshop.
A follow-up training, “Design 102: Branding Consistency”, was conducted virtually later in the year that included strong design examples from the NEA region that had been produced since the workshop. The group had continued applying the style sheet and utilizing the templates made at the workshop to make beautiful social media graphics that related perfectly to their Embassy and audiences. In the virtual session, the former trainees were able to share with the group in attendance how they achieved their designs, inspiring other Missions to do the same, ultimately empowering non-designers with the tools they need to build a stronger visual identity across all Missions representing the United States.