Monday, November 7, 2011

Social Media in Public Diplomacy

This week’s Public Diplomacy conference at GW, The Last Three Feet, was a really interesting way to consider some of the theories and methods we have been discussing in class. One thing that was mentioned over and over was diplomacy as an act of understanding. Many of the panelists and Thomas Shannon, the ambassador to Brazil, said diplomacy is not just about talking and emoting communication. They said it’s also about receiving communication, which means hearing, listening and responding.

I was surprised by how much the talk revolved around social networking as an official Public Diplomacy method. Obviously the internet and new media have become an important tool for anyone in any sort of communications role, such as someone in public diplomacy. But I was surprised to find how much they used Facebook and Twitter on an extremely regular basis. They also had a few small, but detailed and creative ideas to make social networking more personal. Aaron Snipes, the Deputy Director for the press and Public Diplomacy and Spokesperson for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said that when he and his team posted things on their Facebook page, they would always sign it as “Facebook team.” It made people feel like they were communicating with a real person instead of a nameless, faceless government actor. Some other innovative ideas included Apps4Africa and the use of Facebook and Twitter in China even though it’s blocked.

There was actually less focus on traditional Public Diplomacy tactics. It was all about the hypable and exciting ideas. The @American storefront in Indonesia that Dr. Michael Anderson spoke about is something very innovative and easy to promote, whether it works or not. The same applies to the Youth Filmmaker program in Turkey. While it was great to hear about these innovative ideas, there was little to no mention of what else fills the days of a Foreign Service officer in Public Diplomacy… because I can hardly imagine they spend the entire day on Facebook! 

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