The Role of Social Media in Diplomacy

Posted by Victoria Esser
June 29, 2012
Under Secretary Sonenshine Holds Twitter Q&A in Nine Languages

Yesterday, our Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, Tara Sonenshine, held a Twitter Q & A, answering your questions on everything from exchange programs in Pakistan to who inspires her (her children). Earlier this week, the Secretary of State's Senior Advisor for Innovation, Alec Ross, spoke to 100 European Union public diplomacy professionals in Brussels, where he underscored the importance of social media in 21st Century Statecraft. One point they both emphasized was that social media is a place for listening and discussing, not just talking.

It was also one of the points I took away from my trip last week to the Republic of Korea, where I gave the keynote at the East West Center's annual International Media Conference. The three-day conference was an excellent opportunity to meet those in international news and hear from them on subjects such as covering the news in restricted media environments and adapting to the changing information environment; to hear from digital innovators on the challenges and opportunities in reinventing news business models; and, for me, to discuss Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's 21st Century Statecraft agenda and the role social media plays in diplomacy.

The conference underscored for me the shared opportunities and challenges that governments, civil society organizations, and news rooms are facing in the digital realm. How do you deliver timely, accurate yet interesting content? How do you measure success? In a world in which 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, it can be challenging to ensure your content is front and center. These and other questions were touched on by Al Jazeera's social media chief Riyaad Minty, who noted the measure of Al Jazeera's success is the consumption of its content. He and others at the conference also made a point -- with which I whole-heartedly agree -- while there is certainly a need to move fast in the digital realm, it is imperative to be accurate. The credibility of an organization is closely tied with its accuracy, so while the State Department strives to keep pace with today's 15-minute Twitter timeline, we want to ensure that the information we are sharing with our friends and followers is accurate.

Another question frequently raised was: how is social media changing the responsiveness of governments around the world? In my comments, I touched on how governments are designed to be responsive to people, and social media is giving citizens around the world a more direct voice in policy conversations and more timeliness from governments around the world. One participant later picked up on this theme, discussing how the Vietnamese government and media was influenced to focus on and address a land rights protest that was being widely covered on social media.

Secretary Clinton has made 21st Century Statecraft a key part of the Department's foreign policy agenda, using technology, digital networks, and innovation to meet the diplomatic and development challenges of the 21st century. She wants us to take "smart risks," utilizing these new communications tools in innovative ways in pursuit of our policy objectives.

Twenty-first Century Statecraft doesn't just mean us using the technology: it means listening to what people are saying. Social media affords us the opportunity to better understand events on the ground and the perspective of citizens around the world, which brings greater richness to our diplomatic engagements.

That's why the Department has to constantly innovate and try new things to keep pace with the times. In the interconnected a world in which we live, we cannot go about this on our own: we must be willing and able to share our ideas and collaborate with stakeholders across oceans, languages and cultures. Engagement is part of the spade work of diplomacy. Providing information, answering questions, and sharing ideas with people is what diplomacy is all about -- and it is the end goal of our social media strategy.

But engagement does not end with digital interactions -- as is the case with our traditional shoe-leather diplomacy, relationships that begin online must be nurtured away from computers, through real-world interactions. That's why I traveled to South Korea -- to be able to foster connections and build common understandings. In the process, I better understood how universal the questions are that the State Department faces every day in best using digital diplomacy.

Comments

Comments

John
|
Canada
June 29, 2012

John in Canada writes:

“But engagement does not end with digital interactions -- as is the case with our traditional shoe-leather diplomacy, relationships that begin online must be nurtured away from computers, through real-world interactions”

More important in my mind -- digital communication can sometimes be a source for misunderstanding. To bad its not all that easy to do.

Alex B.
|
United States
June 29, 2012

Alex B. in the U.S.A. writes:

The three-day conference was an excellent choice i guess. That was the right step which was taken to gather all the information. I hope much worth while info would be the outcome of it.

Diane
|
District Of Columbia, USA
June 29, 2012

Diane in Washington writes:

I am the mother of a YES abroad Scholar

I am the daughter of a newspaper / media PR retiree

I've been searching face book and online sites for Ms Clinton's schedule in the off chance she may be addressing the returning and departing scholars in the coming days. It occurred to me I have some fabulous photos form the Indonesian group . A plug for the program, a nod to the hellos and good byes of the coming week and most importantly a colorful look at a slice of the department of state, many Americans are unaware of.

Diane R.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
June 29, 2012

Diane in Washington writes:

Have no idea how much mail you get but I just wrote to you

yes - abroad mom ....feeling like a stage mom right now ....

Just miss my little girl and I'm down to 4 days ...

I wanted to share this in hopes that it makes it back to the DOP Press / PR folks ....or one of Ms Clinton's assistants .....and like in some Jane Austin novel one of lady Hillary's dressers/ cooks or errand runners would pass this onto her ! Ok a mom can dream !

Before my daughter was packed last August, on one of our many treks back and forth to town, we caught an NPR program who's name escapes me , but the program was essentially "a day in the life " of Secretary Clinton form the perspective of her aids and interns .....a true behind the scenes look at not only the details and workings of keeping these junkets afloat but the stress and sleepless nights of all involved. I could see the light bulb brightening within my daughter .

A world awway through social media I have witnessed my daughter evolve, morph, shift shape , before my very eyes via the electronic tablet I am typing on now . Mostly photos taken by friends and family , the occasional professional photographer . I am proud and blessed to have been a part of this unfolding even if it has been from back stage .

Natalie is enrolled at The Evergreen State College , a stone throw form our state Capitol , her desire is to spend her junior year at the Jackson Scool of IR , at the UW ....followed by a masters back at ESC in public administration .
She is 19 and because of an amazing opprotunity she received form the DOP, and a few sound bites from NPR my daughter has direction , a goal, and a dream , that I know she will reach .

And thanks to social media I can share this mothers thoughts and emotion while I take a break from packing on this Friday morning, just two days away from my fight to DC and 4 days away from my reunion with my baby girl .

Thank you for your time ....
Diane

Ps ....there was some bad press this last year on exchange programs ...I did not follow it closely for obvious reasons .....has the DOP considered having some returnees share their experience on a few news talk shows ( Today for example ) ....I am involved on the fringe with our AFS chapter ....and from what all I am learning it really gets down to placement ....that's another conversation ....and I need to pack and spruce up my daughters room ....which turned into a coset this year ! Anyway just a thought !

Have a great weekend !

Philip S.
|
California, USA
June 29, 2012

Philip S. in California writes:

Well said. This piece underscores the vast scope of the social media universe and how difficult it is to keep pace without sacrificing good judgment.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 9, 2012

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Well, I was watching the inagural get together of all the international "gurus" of diplomatoc protocol, and they read out the role of nations and international orgs attending, and the UN's chief of protocol (hope I got his title right) offered an interesting perspective. The deputy Secretary's remarks had me on the floor, as I now know how long it actually takes to get fired from the US dept of State...(LOL!).

I think the basic difference between a social media platform and what these folks do daily to grease the wheels of diplomacy in all its miriad functionaly and processes, formalities and traditions; is that diplomacy..the art of,...is best done face to face.

In fact probably cannot truly be said to be properly conducted otherwise.

What Social media does for diplomacy however, is bring everyone else into the conversation who takes an interest.

And being witness to many a public comment on many a major media outlet's foreign policy (or topic du jour) blogs, on-line articles etc.; There's an aspect of "the crazies coming out of the woodwork", as well as some sane and serious public thought process and energy being put into the opportunity to be a part of the solution to what ails humanity.

I'm speaking from the end user perspective with the latter intent, and if I see Dipnote as a vehicle for my insanity's purpose...(chuckle), trust me, it's only because my fellow citizens thought it crazy of me to try.

What more can I say, except Thanks Dipnote Bloggers!

EJ

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 9, 2012

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Diane in Washington,

Both my daughters spent time in Italy as part of their academic immersion into the world of Art.

Their half sister taught English there after she graduated.

Overall I think the individual's ability to adapt to any given envirionment they may find themselves in is the actual key to a good foreign exchange, or study abroad experience.

I gather they had a heck of a good time, and I'd get these pretty hilarious "diary entries" in my in-box describing some of the "fitting in" to the local scene and doing all the things one would do being a stranger in a strange land.

I kind of think they all gained a great perspective on the world and "stretched out" their understanding of it.

And themselves.

Best,

EJ

Dale P.
|
United States
July 26, 2012

Dale P. in the U.S.A. writes:

Social Media feedback....maybe bump it up notch so that certain bills up for passage into law could be voted into law by "reverse proxy" where the Congressperson has the right to pass his vote off to the Constituents. this would increase political options, posibly diffuse the interst of Lobiests and more importantly be a real boost to engagement in Democracy.

I like this"In the interconnected a world in which we live, we cannot go about this on our own: we must be willing and able to share our ideas and collaborate with stakeholders across oceans, languages and cultures.....don't forget to listen deeeply with respect.

.

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