A tweeting State Department

One of the main rules any company should keep in mind when engaging in social media is that whoever is responsible for the blog posts/tweets/status updates/re-tweets/likes etc. should enjoy working with social media. Enjoying to work with this type of media will make the posts more authentic and believable.

When I read Comentez’ article I wondered if the people at the State Department responsible for all tweets etc. actually enjoy what they are doing and if they are truly aware of who their readership is.

When the article talked about how people had to learn how to write shorter reports and make shorter videos I could not get stop thinking that these people are old-school trained marketing folks (at best, at worst their training never involved marketing and outreach) to whom the idea of social media does not come naturally. It is true, every organization or company needs to adapt when a new marketing strategy is adopted (and the public diplomacy campaign is nothing but that). However, these tweets are not intended to sell more yogurt or advertise a Black Friday event. These tweets are supposed to represent the United States and it’s mission in the world. Can you really do that in 140 characters? Can you really create an interest? Spark a change? If you do not know who your readership is (exactly), aren’t those tweets and status updates just a feeble attempt in trying to reach anyone who is willing to listen?

A company knows who they are tweeting for (consumers with their special demographics, and maybe employees). A country tweeting for potentially everyone in the world? I’m not sure I see the overlap in the audience. Social media is great, but I think that for a nation it is not the way to do diplomacy.

What I do think will work better is what was mentioned in the article, the provision on wifi or cellphone net alternatives. This way the people themselves are engaging. They are required to come up with their own ideas and content. It is, in a way, helping people to help themselves. This is where the future lies and this is what “21st century statecraft” a.k.a. public diplomacy should be about.



3 thoughts on “A tweeting State Department

  1. Public diplomacy must operate within specific contexts, as Franzi points out. Jacob Comenetz’s article outlines the anticipated roles social media such as Twitter and Facebook will play in the United States’ “21st Century Statecraft.” Comenetz concludes: “As these technologies continually reinvent the ways in which people interact, they will fundamentally redefine the practice of diplomacy. And as the juggernaut of cyber connectivity marches forward, diplomats will need to keep pace if they want to connect with the people who find themselves newly empowered in ways never before possible.”

    The article briefly touches on the reality that many of these social media are a privilege available to those on one side of the global digital divide. Comenetz makes note of a comment from the U.S. State Department’s senior advisor on innovation, who says Twitter “is a community that privileges immediacy, interactivity and provocative creativity.” Although more than 100 million people participate in Twitter, the community is limited in its scope in terms of its worldwide usage.

    I believe that social media is an excellent complement to public diplomacy, but I don’t think it is the engine. As Franzi rightly points out: “These tweets are supposed to represent the United States and it’s mission in the world. Can you really do that in 140 characters? Can you really create an interest? Spark a change? If you do not know who your readership is (exactly), aren’t those tweets and status updates just a feeble attempt in trying to reach anyone who is willing to listen?” As the IIP coordinator pointed out, brevity is attractive. However, it is limiting in its ability to prolong a two-way dialogue. Online media is not enough, and that is why the State Department’s shift to focusing on mobile phone communication systems and alternative wireless networks is critical to gaining a pathway for more sustained dialogue and two-way engagement in areas of the world that are hampered by the digital divide.

    The technological advancements we have made to date privilege us with the opportunity to create new platforms and ways of engaging with others. But that does not mean we should dismiss the power of interpersonal contact and face-to-face communication. Comenetz’s article disappoints me in that it fails to point out that at the end of the day, diplomacy exists between people, not tweets, posts, or text messages. Therefore, in order to facilitate authentic, local engagement, the State Department’s work on developing people-to-people meetings is not so “old-fashioned.” In fact, public diplomacy, though costly when conducted face-to-face, is local. It builds trust, is natural, and is never out of vogue.

  2. Franzi, this is certainly an interesting post, and I’ve enjoyed reading MJ’s comment. I concur that tweets by themselves can’t serve as a one-stop shop for Public Diplomacy, but I definitely think that it’s necessary for today’s world of quick and fast engagement. Twitter gives governments the opportunity to directly interact with foreign audiences that may otherwise never hear directly from them. A tweet may only be a 140 characters, but there’s plenty that can be said – or not said – in that short space. Furthermore, Twitter Q&As, web chats, and other interactive forms of social media are new and exciting ways for the USG to reach out to foreign audiences – and vice versa, for that matter. Social media offers new opportunities for positive interactions.

    I would also argue that the State Department is extremely progressive in terms of social media. A quick search of Twitter and Facebook reveals multiple social media accounts for not only embassies and bureaus at the State Department, but also ambassadors, under secretaries, branches of embassies, etc, and the vast majority are being populated with content on a fairly regular basis. It’s not uncommon to see an ambassador regularly tweeting or posting photos on Facebook or reaching out to a public through their social media account. So, in short, I think that social media is actually a fantastic way for a nation to go about public diplomacy, and I expect that it will continue to grow in the future.


  3. Franzi, I enjoyed reading your points on Tweeting PD and the Comenetz’s article. I just wanted to share something I’ve learned about the Department of State. A previous colleague of mine is now one of the Special Representatives for Online Media (or something of this nature – not sure his exact title). Anyway, he is young, tech-savvy, and very up-to-speed with all aspects of American culture, especially foreign affairs and news trends. He is also very personable in-person and has the ability to connect with just about everyone he meets.

    He manages some of the Twitter and Facebook pages of the Department, and his posts always seem to flow. He keeps up to date with his personal Facebook as well, posting almost the same things. Since this is a new position that he was fortunate enough to have been placed into, I think it indicates that the Department is realizing the real benefits of authenticity in using social media. I’ve spoken with those that work for the Department’s press, public affairs, e-diplomacy, and other tech-related offices, and they all seem to give similar first impressions – personable, bright, and tech-savvy.

    Anyway, my point is that Commenetz’s article may have been written before the Department realized the necessity of using “real” social media. Since it is a bureaucracy, this has been and still is a slow realization, and may only become realized if the Department becomes more transparent and open about their social media efforts and offices. But, having said that, they are moving in the right direction.

    I do agree, though, that having people-to-people diplomacy, especially through social media, would be most effective. It will probably take a while for this to come to realization, though. The IIP bureau, as MJ concisely explained, is making this effort in the many programs they use to engage audiences abroad. The Public Affairs office should complete similar programs for those of us in the U.S. as well, if they aren’t already doing so.

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