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India hunts for Twitter handler in US

New Delhi, Dec. 19: Wanted in Washington, an @agent tweeter.

As India’s foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao had pioneered the use of social networking sites like Twitter to reach out to people.

Now, India’s mission in Washington, which she heads, has gone a step further by inviting private individuals or companies to manage the embassy’s Facebook and Twitter handles.

Last week, the mission invited “technically qualified and experienced” companies or individuals to bid for the job that involves regular maintenance of the embassy’s website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, “including posting of pictures, press releases, (and) messages, etc”.

The work, on a “commercial contract basis”, also involves “trouble shooting for about 100 Windows-based desktops, as and when required”.

This is the first time that an Indian government ministry or department is officially looking to hire a private entity to take care of its Twitter handles and Facebook pages.

The ministry of external affairs (MEA), which has been a pioneer among central ministries in making optimum use of social media, has diplomats who not only decide what is to be posted on the ministry’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts but also do the work themselves.

But a source said the mission in Washington was facing an acute staff crunch, which may have forced it to decide on hiring a private entity.

As foreign secretary, Rao was the first in the MEA — other than then junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor — to use Twitter extensively.

Tharoor’s “cattle class” tweet — on flying economy class — had, however, kicked up a row, which contributed to his exit from the council of ministers about a couple of years ago. He has since made a comeback as junior human resource development minister.

But Rao’s effectiveness in using the microblogging site to reach out to people, particularly during the evacuation of Indians from Libya and Egypt, had come in for praise, enough to make then minister S.M. Krishna’s office so jealous that she was asked to be less active.

The mission invited the quotations on December 14. The last date for submission of bids is 31st.

The tender says that “besides regular business hours on weekdays, services are often required also beyond business hours and over weekends and closed holidays”.

The mission has a Facebook page and a Twitter handle @IndianEmbassyUS. It now mostly “re-tweets” tweets from the Prime Minister’s Office and the foreign ministry’s public diplomacy division. Rao has a separate twitter handle @NMenonRao.

Earlier this year, the Centre had issued a framework and guidelines for the “use of social media for government organisations”, which stressed the need to be careful while using such sites.

It advised government departments to have a dedicated team that would take care of their social networking sites and post new content regularly.

The government did not specify whether a department could outsource the job to a private individual or company. But it had underlined the need for specific officials to screen content being posted on their department’s Twitter or Facebook accounts.