Friday, February 13, 2009

Social Media and US Diplomacy

Foreign policy is, “a set of goals outlining how the country will interact with other countries economically, politically, socially and militarily, and to a lesser extent, how the country will interact with non-state actors.”
Emerging new media channels are proliferating rapidly throughout the world. The catalyst of conversation is evolving, as the people are interacting in new and innovative ways given this emergence. Anyone can be a journalist by posting on a blog. Anyone can be a photojournalist by posting on Flickr, or other photo-sharing site. And user-generated video delivers breaking news. Even the microblogging site Twitter has had an impact in world affairs, with its coverage of the recent Mumbai attacks. The power of new media channels in shaping the grassroots conversation continues to grow with each instance of its effectiveness.

The image established of a particular policy initiative has always been determined in large part by the interactions that take place among the people. Historically, government officials have enjoyed the bully pulpit from which to drive these conversations. Television, and news agencies in particular, have had a strangle hold on driving these conversations, providing a relatively secure channel through which government officials can communicate their message. Few other resources for information or perspective were available outside this channel.

This is no longer the case. Even in more controlled nations, new media continues to penetrate and burrow holes in whatever veil of control the respective government seeks to establish. Thus, new media is an emerging channel that drives the conversation among the people.

Given this paradigm shift in the manner in which the conversation is shaped, a new opportunity has emerged through which diplomacy and foreign policy initiatives can be supported. New media is now a pivotal channel through which foreign policy is executed, whether or not a particular government shapes it. It is time the United States invested in leveraging this new channel to deliver upon its foreign policy.

I am not alone in this thinking - Victoria Esser's article on social media in the Politico provides additional support behind the idea of enlisting social media in US diplomatic efforts.
(T)he U.S. cannot afford to wait while these channels are perfected in order to direct them in service of President Barack Obama’s priority of renewing America’s global leadership. Indeed, Mr. Obama can use the themes and technologies that helped him generate huge grass-roots support in his presidential campaign to build support for America on the world stage.
As Clinton discovered and Obama exploited, social media is far more than just a new channel to communicate to your target audience. The interactive conversation that can be fostered allows for listening as well as talking, providing a wealth of opportunity with the right message and mix of tools to develop and move a community.

Control of the message is still paramount, but the control cannot come from restricting the tools or even the speakers. The control comes from having a solid, heartfelt message that lives and breaths in every dimension. Bill Clinton emulated his adoration for doing good by the American people despite his personal transgressions by drinking every opportunity he could to interact with and connect to everyday voters, carrying his image over those rough patches. Obama emulates his drive towards objectivity and constructive debate in everything he does, from not only allowing but enabling the conversation to continue far beyond his control. This is providing the cover necessary to thrive despite a few missteps in recent weeks.

Given Obama's positioning as being transparent and open, a strong social media strategy supporting these basic tenants could go along way in reparing the damange done in recent years to the US image abroad...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I like your comments as to Web 2.0 and of course now with the Department of State using the term "Public Diplomacy 2.0".

We have also been studying the 2.0 generational standards, and it has become more "participant" than the old term of "audience".

I recently spoke on a panel with one of the web managers for the US Department of State's a social network for past and future US professional exchange programs (Fulbright, International Visitor, Flex and others) and they had some similar thoughts on the subject also.