Understanding Social Media's Contribution to Public Diplomacy

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Understanding Social Media's Contribution to Public Diplomacy: How Embassy Jakarta's Facebook Outreach Illuminates the Limitations and Potential for the State Department's Use of Social Media

by Melanie Ciolek

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As social media platforms have grown in popularity around the world, calls for the U.S. State Department to utilize them have also increased. The perception that these new technologies "redefine how foreign ministries communicate and collaborate with publics" by enabling interaction has become widely accepted, even though far fewer understand how platforms like Facebook and Twitter actually create opportunities for engagement. While the State Department has embraced the concept of using social media tools as another way to engage with audiences around the world, there is confusion about using social media as a public diplomacy tool and skepticism about whether or not its use can prove effective.

This paper intends to demonstrate that social media tools can contribute to public diplomacy when their use responds to the audience and considers the overall information landscape. While President Obama's visit has yet to occur, it's possible to see how the Embassy's effective use of Facebook helps advance U.S. public diplomacy objectives while producing visible interaction with its audience and building a basis for continued engagement. By recognizing both the limitations and potential of social media within Indonesia's information environment, Embassy Jakarta's Facebook outreach provides valuable lessons for developing future State Department outreach efforts. Improving comprehension of social media's contribution to public diplomacy can help State Department practitioners and policymakers communicate its value to Congressional lawmakers who ultimately determine the financial resources allocated to public diplomacy efforts.

Melanie Ciolek is a second year student in the Master of Public Diplomacy program at the University of Southern California, and interns for the public diplomacy evaluation project at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Before arriving at USC, Melanie worked for the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) in Washington D.C., a global public opinion research think tank which manages the WorldPublicOpinion.org project.