Twitter's impact on public diplomacy

On July 16, 2010, The Huffington Post published an opinion piece authored by John Brown, former U.S. Foreign Service officer and currently Adjunct Professor of Liberal Studies at Georgetown University.

In the op-ed titled "What's important, what's happening, and what's public diplomacy," Brown discusses the limitation of social media as an intellectual or political tool. Instead of heavily focusing on using social media such as Twitter to engage with target audiences, public diplomacy practitioners should execute public diplomacy via person-to-person contact where they can speak freely beyond 140 characters.

Brown says, "Much of what twitterers say is as significant as that Viagra ad aired on the corporate evening news. 'Now' is not 'wisdom.'" He scoffs at the U.S. State Department's pop approach to using social media to promote U.S. public diplomacy, identifying insignificant discussions roaming on Twitter. Rather, he supports Evgeny Morozov, who skeptically views new media as a reliable platform to engage with international audiences.

(In a Dec. 1, 2009 Wired article, Morozov said, "The problem is that doing something online doesn't work that well with populations that are predominantly offline and predominantly illiterate… For the next twenty years, the battle for 'hearts and minds' in regions that really matter geopolitically will still be fought using what social media gurus call 'legacy media': radio and, to a lesser extent, television.")

Separately, the Dutch Foreign Ministry approached the MountainRunner blog on a survey project involving the importance of social networking in public diplomacy. Feel free to share your thoughts to these questions below in the comments and email Carolijn van Noort, the researcher, directly with details.

Diplomacy professionals, your views are needed. 

Carolijn van Noort is working as a trainee for the Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco on a survey that assesses professional views about the importance of social networking in public diplomacy. Note: this survey is relevant for both representatives of countries with embassies and consulates in the United States as for US public diplomacy specialists.  Please respond to her directly at carolijn@cgsanfrancisco.org

Questions: 

  • How important is public diplomacy in relation to traditional diplomacy
    • How has it changed since the Cold War? Since 9/11?
    • To what extent is Obama’s Presidential campaign exemplary for small/middle European countries?
    • How is public diplomacy affected by the ‘democratization’ of the audience?
    • How has it evolved in the Information Age/Global village?
  • How can social media as a tool of public diplomacy be used to support foreign policy goals?
  • What are the most appropriate sites and tools for overseas offices?
  • What style of interaction is best for a government agency in the social media realm?
    • How do we balance a personal voice together with a voice, representing the government?
  • What is the code of conduct in the social media realm for government agencies?
    • How should we manage our social media communications? How many people should work on it, ideally? For how many hours? Should posted content require approval?
    • What are considered important principles in terms of social media guidelines?
    • What are your views on centralizing or decentralizing the management of social media?
    • What are your views on localizing or globalizing the content, style and form of the online tool?
  • What are the potential linkages between a government agency’s website and other social media providers such as Facebook/Twitter/YouTube/blogs/microsites?
  • How can the various tools of social media be tied together?
  • What is your view on tailoring/formatting content to suit specific media channels?
  • Is it better to develop a presence on social media under a broad umbrella (ie., “The Netherlands in the Western US”) on to focus on specific themes of interest (ie., “water management” or “creative industries”)?
  • What kind of content is of most interest to American audiences?
    • Items that highlight the collaborations between the Netherlands and the US?
    • General knowledge of the Netherlands as a tourist destination?
    • Public Diplomacy topics, such as Human Rights and International Law?
    • Public Diplomacy topics, such as Creative Industries and Water Management?
  • What is the best way for a government agency to handle/address politically-sensitive topics?
  • How do we find and focus efforts on our target audience?
  • How do we reach our target audience and drive traffic to our site or blog?
  • How do we measure and evaluate the value of social media?

Carolijn van Noort is working as a trainee for the Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco on a survey that assesses professional views about the importance of social networking in public diplomacy. Note: this survey is relevant for both representatives of countries with embassies and consulates in the United States as for US public diplomacy specialists.  Please respond to her directly at carolijn@cgsanfrancisco.org

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