FRIDAY 8 MAR 2013 10:26 AM


Social media has changed the way the world interacts, it has changed communications, changed booking airplane tickets and buying coffee, among other things. It has also changed the way international organisations respond to shifting patterns of influence.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is no different. The IMF has 60 stakeholders and 188 member states and operates in the world’s most volatile economic situations. Last night, at the CIPR’s annual Maggie Nally lecture, deputy MD of the Fund, Nemat Shafik, spoke on the IMF’s changing communications strategies in a landscape of democratisation, globalisation and hyperconnectivity.

Influence, she says, is moving away from the traditional power hierarchies and toward a wider swath of people in the ‘virtual middle class’. While the IMF previously relied on its partners in governments to communicate the Fund’s decisions; reserving very little transparency for its own activities. Since the rise of social media, however, it has begun to disseminate its own information on fiscal policies and advice.

However, that brings with it a new set of challenges. “We have to pick our media strategically,” Shafik says. “We are increasingly trying to speak to people in their own languages.” The fund is tasked with maintaining a consistent voice and views in its increasingly transparent communications. That direction comes from the head of the organisation and filters down, with consensus building and discussion along the way. “In this kind of world, leaders of organisations have to spend more time doing communications,” she adds.

The hierarchy of influence has shifted since the end of the millennium, bringing to light stakeholders in the economic health of the country from groups outside of policymakers. The trend toward democritisation helped the IMF function effectively during the banking crisis. But Shafik says social media has another step to make to not only be a communications tool, but also a force for change. “Social media is effective at challenging the system,” she says. “But it’s not good enough yet at building an alternative.”