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Americas Society: Taking digital bulls by the horns

Americas Society: Taking digital bulls by the horns

While many NGOs, non-profits, and news organisations are still baffled and skeptical of the impact new media tools can have, Americas Society is embracing the Web and social media to broadcast news and augment their readership. By engaging with Twitter, Facebook, and Web 2.0 platforms, Americas Society is an example of cultural institutes and policy think tanks coming into the digital realm.

On Sept. 23, hours after news broke that a Colombian military attack had resulted in the death of a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia leader, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos spoke at an Americas Society event in New York. Live tweeting of Santos' remarks entered the international news stream, and it was announced to the world that not only had the FARC leader, Mono Jojoy, been killed, but 14 computers and 60 USB drives of information about the FARC had also been seized by Colombian authorities.

Santos: "What happened back home in #Colombia with this military success we had 24 hrs ago is going to change our history." (

Santos went on to compare the significance of Jojoy's death to the Colombian authorities with an announcement to New Yorker's that "Osama bin Laden had been struck down."

The live tweeting of these monumental updates turned a speech at an annual conference into a dynamic source of real time news. This is an example of one of many ways that Americas Society is utilising digital media to engage audiences, while making their work more accessible. Recognising that its conferences are key sources of news, Americas Society is not shying away from the social media tools at their disposal to get timely information to their audiences.

Americas Society is a world leading non-profit dedicated to fostering an understanding of the contemporary political, social, and economic issues confronting the Americas. Providing analysis on Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada, Americas Society engages in dialogue on the inter-American culture and relationship. Broadly speaking, Americas Society's audience are those interested in analysis and a cultural understanding of the Americas.

David Gacs, New Media Manager at Americas Society (AS), is currently working, as part of a team, to develop the AS website to broaden readership and create a more social space through improved functionality, increased use of multimedia, and an embracing of social media tools. Along with a thriving twitter following, Americas Society also produces podcasts (available in itunes), live video streams, and RSS feeds. Currently, all major AS events and conferences are captured via webcasts, along with live tweeting and blogging. Gacs explains that as part of a team, he is continually "investigating ways to provide the media with better access to events, while offering channels of engagement to those who can't attend."

Gacs has worked on Americas Society resource guides covering major news events which include analysis, links to materials and multimedia, as well as a breakdown of key Twitter hash tags, Facebook pages, and mobile update services. The most recent of these resource guides was prepared for the crisis in Ecuador. On September 30, Ecuador declared a state of emergency after its president was sent to hospital as a result of a tear gas attack by protesting police officers. The Americas Society's resource guide gathered a selection of materials and coverage about the crisis, including the Ecuadoran government's statement regarding the unrest, the U.S. State Department's comments from Secretary Hillary Clinton, international news and analysis, and key social media links.

Digital innovation is also utilised by Americas Society's sister publication, Americas Quarterly. The magazine is dedicated to policy analysis and debate of economics, finance, social development, and politics in the Western Hemisphere. The Americas Quarterly website encourages user generated communities, the sharing of articles, subscription to RSS feeds, commenting and discussions. The winter 2009 issue explored the digital divide, and addressed whether the IT economy deepens the division between those with and without digital technology, and what governments, civil society and the private sector should to address this.

Americas Society engages with digital technology both on a practical and conceptual basis. Timely communication and consolidated communities are constantly being enhanced, while the international concerns of the the digital divide are explored through analysis and expert insights. It is through such thought leaders and their enthusiastic use of digital tools that new opportunities will become evident to the NGO and non-profit environment, and new fast and formidable communication channels will be opened.

This article is appearing on in partnership with TubesCodeContent, a companion website to a course at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, taught by Michael Cervieri.


Leah McBride Mensching


2010-10-19 00:16

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