Q&A | Talking Twitter

Talking Twitter with Dante Licona of the IFRC

Each month, Talking Twitter takes you behind the scenes of some of Twitter’s most interesting publishers with the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments. This month we sat down with Dante Licona, senior social media officer at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, based in Switzerland.

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Tell us a little about yourself. What makes @IFRC worth following?

Dante Licona: My name is Dante, I'm originally from Mexico, and I'm a big news, social media, and digital diplomacy junkie. I have been very privileged to work for different sectors, and that gave me a much more comprehensive view of the different needs of different audiences. First, I was working for the Mexican government here in Geneva, then I joined the World Health Organization's social media team, and now [I’m with] the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is better known as IFRC.

We share stories that are meaningful, and that are compelling and about our humanitarian work. The Red Cross is in every community around the world and we want to amplify globally what is being done locally. We have the largest humanitarian network in the world — 14 million volunteers — that are, every single day, giving the most important asset that they have, which is time, and passion for their humanitarian work, and care for their fellow citizens.

We want to Tweet as positively as possible, knowing that our organization actually carries out emergency response assistance and relief: even in the hardest moments, there is always room for hope. Such moments include the Tetris Challenge. It's basically lots of emergency responders putting all their equipment ready from an aerial perspective, and it looks like a Tetris. It started in Switzerland, but because of the global network that we have, lots of Red Cross and Red Crescent teams around the world sent us amazing videos and photos, and we just basically created an ultimate thread about the challenge.


What does it mean to be a social media manager in 2020?

Dante Licona: I think most of us can agree that 2020 has been brutal, and it means that it's the ultimate endurance test for all of us. There have been extraordinary challenges, but at the same time, it's actually the year that I've seen the highest level of solidarity among peers and colleagues, helping and willing to give each other a hand when we are facing a tough moment. I think that's an incredible and rare opportunity to see such a degree of collaboration, willingness to help and to learn from each other. It has been really, really meaningful to see that collaboration.

Where I work, in nonprofit social media management, there was not necessarily a community as such, so with my friend Val Voschevska from Amnesty International, we thought that it would be a great idea to create a space — a community that we call Social for Good, that we started in February this year. I think now we are over 300 professionals from the nonprofit sector from all over the world. Every time that you have two social media managers in a physical or virtual room, it's essentially a therapy session, because we understand each other: We know the challenges that we can face. Some of them might face it at a more local level, some of us face it at the global level, and that adds a lot of levels of complexity when it comes to time zones, when it comes to languages, when it comes to new and social nuances and all those skills.

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How has the industry changed since you started out?

Dante Licona: It has changed an incredible amount in terms of agility, volume, scale, relevance, and adoption for very important global leaders, particularly the aspect that I've always been fascinated by: digital diplomacy, and we have seen how that space has grown so much and matured in the last 10 years. [Back then] people didn't understand that a Tweet was a public statement from an official, and that just because it was not on the website, it was still a public statement from a relevant voice.

I don't think there's a single day that you will not find a Tweet or a statement that was first said on Twitter on the cover of the Financial Times or The New York Times, but also in terms of the user perspective, it has been incredible to see how the platform has evolved with its users. One very important example is threads.

I've been Tweeting in threads for the last eight years, and when I joined WHO, social team run by my mentor and friend, Sari Setiogi Griberg, we were using threads without knowing that they were called threads; we used to call them the “Flagship Tweet Strategy.” And the Flagship Tweet was essentially an old-school fundamental, which is, we want to highlight our key message that's useful, then there will come secondary messages, then you can have a third or fourth or fifth iteration of a Tweet. You will then have all of them together in a link, so even if you have colleagues that don't have a Twitter account, they can access all those messages in a string, easily accessible.

So yes, social media has evolved a lot. Twitter has evolved a lot as a platform. But again, those fundamental messages, those fundamentals of communication still remain.


Describe your relationship with Twitter.

Dante Licona: Twitter changed my life. It changed my professional path — I joined Misión de México en Ginebra because I pitched the idea that Tweeting matters in 2011, thanks to Twitter I joined the World Health Organization and IFRC — and helped me build connections, friendships, habits, and information gathering. All my family is on Twitter; it’s a critical part of my life!


What's the most underrated Twitter feature?

Dante Licona: It depends — if it's a go-to feature, then it's Twitter advanced search and Lists. I am obsessed with Twitter advanced search. We created a guide for advanced search and it essentially offers all the commands that TweetDeck gives you, but from your mobile phone, because not everybody has access to TweetDeck, [as it can only be used] on desktop. Thinking about those limitations, we came up with this guide, so everybody could surface the Tweets that they need whenever they need it.

The most underrated Twitter feature might be Twitter timestamps on Periscope, because we have a lot of live sessions with our experts from all over the world because of COVID — we have gone live at least 50 times since the pandemic started. If there is a memorable moment you want to share with your audience, you can do it with the timestamp without having to force your audience to watch 16, 20, or 25 minutes — you take them directly to the quote, you take them directly to the place where it's happening. So I think that's pretty useful, and I don't think a lot of people are using it.

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And if we could grant wishes, with the exception of the edit button, what’s the one feature you’d ask for?

Dante Licona: I would love to see the ability to schedule threads with videos that are longer than 2:20 minutes. That would be awesome. 


How do you prioritize the different functions of your Twitter account's role?

Dante Licona: The emergency is our number one priority. If there is a massive emergency happening right now, we will drop our plans, we will concentrate on the emergency, to share updates as they happen.

For instance, Cyclone Idai in Mozambique was not covered a lot by international media for the first 48 hours, because Mozambique is not a hub for international media correspondence. The damage was also so big that nobody had access to know what was really happening. Thanks to the extraordinary effort of our colleague, Caroline Haga, who Tweeted from a helicopter, we actually got the first footage from all over the world, and that footage made a massive difference for people to actually see that when this cyclone hit, Mozambique was completely devastated.

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Twitter is all about the conversation. How do you decide what conversations or replies to engage with?

Dante Licona: Our priority will always be emergency response, so everything that is related to our operations, we will always try to immediately address it. We will also try to address misinformation as soon as it happens. We want to engage in constructive dialogue, and we welcome fair criticism — we are not perfect, but we engage where we know that we can make a difference. 


Tell us about a Tweet so good, you wish you'd written it.

Dante Licona: There is one from a colleague I met through Social for Good. Her name is Ejolee and she started today her new job as a social media director. Her Tweet is “Why hire someone who is an expert in their field, if you won't even let them implement their expertise?”

It resonates across many different sectors, but particularly on the social media side of the equation, [because] some people still don't take the work we do seriously, particularly when it comes to taking our advice for the best way to proceed.


Let’s wrap things up with a quick-fire round:


Throwing friendly shade at other accounts: yea or nay?

Dante Licona: It's a nay: always be positive.


Including more than one hashtag: yea or nay?

Dante Licona: My views have shifted over the last nine years. Today would be nay. And only include one hashtag if it’s really, really really needed.


Using emoji to replace words: yea or nay?

Dante Licona: Always! But not more than four, for accessibility reasons. We have learned the hard way when we’ve done emoji-only Tweets: when you're deaf, for example, [too many emojis] disrupt your experience.

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Talking Twitter

Go behind the scenes with some of Twitter’s most interesting publishers and the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments in the Talking Twitter collection.