The first post in this series explained how many embassies based in Washington DC are using social media and which platforms embassies most frequently use.
After looking at embassy presence across all platforms, Facebook and Twitter proved to be the two most popular – over 50 embassies in Washington DC were identified as having Twitter accounts and 60 embassies had Facebook accounts
Of the social media platforms identified in our earlier piece, Twitter makes data most easily available and with least restrictions through their API (Automated Programming Interface). As a result, we have focused on Twitter rather than Facebook for this post, although we acknowledge the total number of DC Embassies using Facebook is slightly greater than those using Twitter.
When social media and twitter specifically are discussed within the context of Public Diplomacy, one of the frequently cited metrics is the number of followers. While this is a frequently stated metric, when stated about a single Twitter account it is at very best a tactical question, rather than an indicator of a successful strategy – unless getting followers is the end goal of using a Twitter account for Public Diplomacy. One way this metric can be a little more useful is to put it in the context of others in the same field, or in this case other Embassies in DC. While this is still relatively limited in its utility, there is at least a comparative element.
The above chart shows the number of followers for all the Twitter accounts that were found during the initial research phase. As noted on the chart, the Twitter account for Nirupama Rao, India’s ambassador to the U.S.- @NMenonRao, has the most followers. At the time of the making of the chart, she had around 75,000 followers. At the time of writing this post, about six weeks later, her followers were close to 92,000. Clearly she is doing something right on Twitter that she was able to gain that many followers in such a short amount of time. A quick glance at her account shows that she tweets consistently, which is crucial to acquiring and maintaining followers, and that she was on Foreign Policy Magazine’s list of 100 Womerati which is a list created after there was a lack of women in Foreign Policy’s list of 100 Twitterati.
The 100 Womerati list is a group of women that are deemed by Foreign Policy as “100 female tweeters around the world that everyone should follow.” This could explain the extraordinarily high number of followers that she has, but is probably not the entire reason. The next highest number of followers is the Indian Diplomacy Twitter account (@IndianDiplomacy) which is the dedicated Twitter account of the Public Diplomacy sector of India’s Foreign Ministry. The fact that they have a dedicated account for public diplomacy demonstrates just how devoted they are to using social media to engage international audiences. This account is not directed solely at the United States which may account for its high number of followers in relation to the other accounts on this chart. On the other side of the chart, we see several embassy Twitter accounts that have few to no followers. This is caused mainly by two problems: no one knows the account exists (i.e. it’s not linked to the embassy’s web site) or the account is not maintained (i.e. no one is sending tweets).
Moving away from a direct comparison of follower numbers, another indicator to consider is whether others in the same field think an account is worth following. This might give a comparative sense of authority around a particular issue or area of activity. In this case, while Embassies may at some level compete to represent their respective national interests, it is rarely a zero-sum proposition. As a result, there are many opportunities to collaborate and where a positive outcome for one Embassy is equally positive for another.
From this perspective, a very low level collaborative approach to public diplomacy could be to follow other Embassies on Twitter. The following graph represents the e-diplomacy network which exists between Embassies which are active on social media in Washington DC. Lines between nodes represent the follower / following relationships between Embassies in DC. Those represented by larger nodes and with larger labels are followed by the greatest number of other embassies in DC, and the smallest nodes are followed by the fewest embassies.
The data represented in this graph shows which embassies are considered important to follow by other Embassies. In simple terms, being followed by the greatest number of other Embassies could be a measure of importance. An alternative, Eigenvector centrality, provides a slightly more complex method of calculating importance within a network. This method gives greater value to connections from other important nodes than an equal number of connections from less important nodes. Using this method, the top ten influential embassies, amongst other DC based embassies, are shown below.
For those seeking to collaborate with other embassies, or develop strategies to engage the diplomatic community in DC this may be a useful starting point.
In addition to the relationships with other embassies, the Twitter data allows us to analyze all the users who choose to follow the Embassies in DC that have Twitter accounts.
The above picture shows the network created by individuals following different embassy accounts. The larger the circle, the more followers the account has. The lines connecting the nodes show the number of people that follow both the accounts on each side of the line. As seen in the graphic, the Embassy of Israel, the British Embassy, the Saudi Embassy, the UAE Embassy and the German Embassy are the top five embassies followed in this network. This graphic gives us a tangible idea of just how everyone is connected in the social media world which often seems abstract and difficult to comprehend.
Within this network of followers, there are approximately 280 Twitter accounts that follow more than 10 embassies. Looking at this group, we can make some observations about who follows embassies. Of these 280, 22 are embassy-affiliated accounts, 13 are diplomacy non-profits and media outlets such as Meridian International and the Diplomatic Courier, and 65 of the accounts are for hotels, passport services, and strategic communications firms that would be of service to diplomats and embassies. There are also 10 accounts from users who work in the diplomatic community and 8 accounts of students studying international affairs and related fields. Glancing at the profile data of this group, we can see that the majority of these accounts are based in Washington, DC and are interested in international affairs and diplomacy. A Wordle (right) shows the most popular words in the profile data. Put in the context of a two word semantic concept wordle, some familiar phrases appear – some coffee drinkers and grad students appear alongside the diplomatic community, international affairs cultural diplomacy and foreign policy.
The stated location of users who follow more than ten embassies provides another perspective. Washington DC is the most common location, but as the image below shows, users following more than 10 embassies claim to be located across the world. This speaks to one of the key challenges for any embassy engaged in e-diplomacy – How to optimize their engagement when their remit is frequently focused within geographic boundaries but the uses with which they engage are spread beyond those boarders.
In the first post we saw which embassies were using social media. In this post we have identified those with which embassies engage, providing information which could be useful in development of e-diplomacy strategy and, if gathered over time, evaluation.
First, we asked how many users embassies engage and looked at which the most followers. Knowing the number of followers of an account, by itself, is relatively low value tactical data. However, the comparison with other accounts in a similar position or fulfilling a similar role can at least give some context to the number.
Second, we have looked at those accounts run by embassies which are followed by the accounts of other embassies. When an embassy creates its list of priorities, the individual responsible for managing the Twitter account at another embassy may not initially be considered a key individual with which to engage. However, these embassy accounts can act as reach multipliers, facilitating the flow of information to users with an interest in international affairs (and related fields). As a result, building relationships with the other embassies via social media can allow both embassies to benefit from collaboration rather than adopting a competitive stance toward other.
Third, we looked at the extent to which followers of one Embassy account also followed other the accounts run by other embassies. Most individuals followed only one embassy, emphasizing the importance of the collaborative strategy above as a way of multiplying reaching. Their state location, along with one and two word, word clouds highlights the profile of those following ten or more embassies. Embassies may consider some of these groups or individuals as users to engage more frequently online or offline, where there is, for example, a common area of interest. This is not to say all these individuals that have shown some form of affiliation or affinity with the diplomatic community would be appropriate for all Embassies nor that embassies should charge ahead without further consideration of who they are engaging. It merely highlights that these individuals have expressed a specific interest and an embassy may benefit from further engagement activity or collaboration (online or offline) with some of these social media users.
Those familiar with Twitter know that the amount of messages or links tweeted can be overwhelming depending on how many people a user follows and how often those accounts tweet. As a result, data on followers is very interesting data that shows us how people are connected on Twitter, but still leaves some questions to be answered.
A lot of the messaging is probably missed and the probability of interaction between embassies and their followers is slim as people generally do not tweet directly at the embassy, and even if they do, the chance that the embassy tweets back and starts a conversation is slim based on a quick glance of the most recent tweets from each of the embassy accounts.
This type of disruptive metric is becoming an increasingly important part of diplomacy, through both strategy and evaluation. There is still a lot of research to be done regarding impact and strategy, but the above observations provide a basic landscape through which to understand how the platform is being used by those working in Washington DC. Further research will delve into the activities of a few specific countries across multiple platforms.
As J. Michael Waller (editor) notes in The Public Diplomacy Reader, the definition of public diplomacy has evolved over time and people view it in different ways. The link between all these definitions is that the audiences involved come from different cultures and backgrounds. Cultural diplomacy, by the very nature of the work, is done by many different organizations in many different sectors of a given country. Because cultural diplomacy encompasses so many different subcategories of diplomacy- arts diplomacy, educational exchanges, speaker series, etc.- there is a wide open field for those that can and do conduct these programs. This brings up a larger question of exactly who is considered a diplomat.
Like the definition of public diplomacy, the definition of who is a diplomat has also evolved over time. Of course everyone is going to have an opinion on where to draw the line between diplomat and non-diplomat, but I’d like to propose some questions in order to draw some rough boundaries. With the increase in the amount of people that can do and are doing diplomacy, there is the possibility, as Robert Albro suggests, of “interest-free cultural diplomacy”. People are more likely to engage if there is not a hidden interest or if the organization conducting the program is not affiliated with the government. These possibilities exist with the advent of new diplomats other than those belonging to the Foreign Service.
If you, or the organization you work for, represent a country and not a government are you a diplomat?
This question depends on the situation. You, as a singular person travelling abroad for pleasure, do not constitute a diplomat. If that were the case, then everyone who travels internationally would be considered a diplomat. That would be unproductive because then there would be no point to identifying organizations and people who are part of the Foreign Service as diplomatic representatives for a specific country. We would no longer need the Foreign Service Officer Test and we would no longer need the Foreign Service Institute. The sheer ubiquity of international travelers would diminish the value of having that position as a job. Everybody who travels internationally cannot be considered a diplomat even though each person would be representing a country.
However, as part of an organization, there is a possibility that you could be considered a diplomat depending on the type of organization and the nature of the work you are doing. An Armenian NGO called OST Armenia-Cultural Center of the East, acts as a cultural representative for Armenia with countries of the East according to their website. Their “About the Organization” section says that they are funded by “membership dues, donations and sponsorship funding.” From their website, it seems that they are not affiliated with the government of Armenia and are truly committed to advancing cultural diplomacy initiatives. In this case, people who work for this organization are doing the same type of work that we traditionally consider diplomats to do; thus I see no reason not to consider them diplomats. They are representing Armenia without representing the government, but are still conducting diplomatic work. Of course, there may be something in their operational policies that we are not aware of that links them to the Armenian government, but, for all intents and purposes, they are representing a country without representing a government and are on their way to conducting interest-free cultural diplomacy. .
If your organization is not representing or promoting a country then are you still a diplomat by virtue of working for/ representing this other type of organization internationally?
A related question that needs to be addressed in partnership with the above one is: What kind of organization does not represent/ promote a country? Many people will argue, and correctly so, that even if the organization is a true NGO, the country that the organization is based in is still going to be somehow represented. The challenge in this question is finding a truly international organization. For purposes of this discussion, I have chosen Greenpeace. According to their website, Greenpeace was founded by a group of Canadian citizens, is currently headquartered in Amsterdam, and has 2.8 million supporters worldwide and regional offices in 41 countries. In this case, Greenpeace is promoting a cause, not a country, and does not represent a government. Having its headquarters in a different country than where it was founded takes away that problem of the country still being reflected within the organization. So here is an organization that has essentially no ties to government or country, yet they are doing international work. Does this make the organization and its members diplomats? Due to the lack of ties to a country or government, they come even closer to Albro’s interest-free diplomacy idea, but is their work really diplomacy?
To me, the crux of public diplomacy is creating the space for dialogues which hopefully lead to relationship building. Greenpeace’s website says that their “solutions work promotes open, informed debate about society’s environmental choices, and involves industries, communities and individuals in making change happen.” I think they reach the dialogue state of public diplomacy, but I don’t know whether or not they reach they state of building partnerships.
Where do non-government organizations that are contracted by the government or partially funded by the government fit into this?
There are many examples of organizations doing diplomacy that are not government entities but are still funded, at least partially, by a government. These organizations do not really reach the notion of interest-free diplomacy and are not really NGOs, but fall somewhere in between. They do diplomacy such as exchanges, arts diplomacy tours, and more, and so the people of these organizations are diplomats by the nature of their work.
To reach Albro’s interest-free diplomacy, do you have to be independent or just come across as independent?
L’Alliance Française purports to be independent even though it really isn’t (see the official charter, in French but translatable) but you have to do some serious digging to discover this. The average person is not going to go to through the founding documents and will only see the website for their local chapter such as this one for L’Alliance DC which says that “L’Alliance Française de Washington, D.C. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-governmental organization that is not subsidized by the French government. It is an educational, cultural association headed by a Franco-American Board of directors.” Therefore, the organization comes across as independent without actually being independent. There is no question that that they are doing cultural diplomacy activities, but it is very much a projection of the French government. As Albro notes, interest-free cultural diplomacy often engages more people because they do not see it as a government trying to push its views on others. To most people, L’Alliance and other examples, such as the British Council and Goethe Institute, appear to be furthering the goals of their respective nations while being less-affiliated with government than other government organizations such as the Foreign Ministry. While this is not exactly interest-free, it is getting closer.
In summary, NGOs can be invaluable resources when it comes to public diplomacy measures. NGOs can range on a sliding scale from interest free to closely associated with a government. Depending on where they fall on this scale, they are free to express alternative views and have more freedom with their online presence, official statements, and programming efforts. This helps to reach a broader audience that may or may not agree with the views of a given country’s government, but may still be interested in that country’s culture. NGOs potentially have the power to reach an audience that may have been absent from the discussion when governments were solely involved in diplomacy. Depending on the context and the work of the organization, people and their organizations can be diplomats without being part of a country’s official government initiatives. However, one must be careful when considering NGOs to be interest-free.
This post was co-written by Dr. Ali Fisher, Associate Director, Intermedia. Ali produces analysis of social movements which enhances organisational strategy, strategic communication and evaluation through network analysis and big data. Current research includes the use of digital media during elections, and social media as an information sharing tool during moments of tension, in addition to projects focused on e-diplomacy strategy and methods to disrupt the use of the internet by violent extremists. Ali’s book Collaborative Public Diplomacy; How transnational networks influence American Studies in Europe was published earlier this year.
Social media is one of the fastest growing tools of modern public diplomacy. The advantage of social media provides the opportunity to reach citizens of other countries in near real-time. Social media platforms also provide spaces for interaction, increased engagement, and thus furthering the goals of public diplomacy. This research has been conducted by Jeanette Gaida as part of a capstone project for the Masters in Global Communication at George Washington University, working with Ali Fisher at InterMedia.
The potential ease with which social media can be accessed and the low cost in comparison to other methods make it an attractive tool for many embassies, as well as other government offices, that are facing budget cuts and demands to increase engagement. Numerous platforms allow for the use of more dynamic content, such as videos, photos, and links, than traditional methods of giving lectures or passing out pamphlets. In addition, social media are key channels in reaching youth populations, a major goal of current public diplomacy efforts.
However, public diplomacy is not only about reaching a youth audience. It is equally important to listen to and understanding young publics, their thoughts, aspirations, information seeking and sharing behaviors along with the actions they take as a result. With this insight, there is greater potential to engage and collaborate with key communities rather than broadcast to a target audience.
Which platforms are used to conduct e-diplomacy in Washington DC?
With over 170 diplomatic missions in the United States, American citizens and social media users around the world have a vast range of channels with which to engage. Adding to the range of channels, many embassies also have multiple accounts on the same platform, often an account representing the Ambassador and an account for the embassy.
To analyze the extent to which Embassies in DC are conducting e-diplomacy, accounts were identified through the websites of the respective embassies. An embassy was recorded as conducting e-diplomacy if the embassy website had easily identifiable links to social media accounts or if a brief, basic, search of social media platforms uncovered an account.
Which platforms are embassies in DC most frequently using to conduct e-diplomacy?
Logically, some embassies will use more than one platform to conduct e-diplomacy. The research found that every embassy that uses more than one platform, use at least one of Facebook or Twitter as part of their e-diplomacy strategy.
Platform Usage Among Embassies
|More Than 1 Twitter||Both||Neither||Facebook and Not Twitter||Twitter and Not Facebook|
|Embassies using 2 platforms||88%||14%||100%||88%||0%||13%||0%|
|Embassies using 3 or more platforms||100%||19%||86%||86%||0%||0%||14%|
Total number of embassies using 2 platforms= 24
Total number of embassies using 3 or more platforms= 21
This overview of the data raises some important questions for further analysis:
An evidence based approach to e-diplomacy strategy:
To analyze the strategic implications of this data to inform the conduct of e-diplomacy, the capstone project will focus on five embassies to study in depth: the United Kingdom, Peru, India, Italy, and Sri Lanka. These accounts were chosen as they represent countries from a range of continents and will give a more detailed picture of social media usage. Further parts of the research will be made available at a later date.
About the Capstone Project
The Global Communication program is joint venture between the Elliott School of International Affairs and the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. In this program, I have chosen to concentrate in Public Diplomacy. As part of the program, students complete a capstone project in which they partner with local firms. This project partners with InterMedia and looks at the uses of e-diplomacy by foreign embassies in the United States. Embassies mainly market to the American public, but some embassies reach out to citizens of their country living in the United States or to the public in their home country.
On Tuesday October 2nd, I had the chance to attend an event called “Groundtruth: New Media, Technology, and the Syria Crisis” at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) which consisted of three panels speaking about the presence and usefulness of social media in Syria (see more about the event here). This event was based on a report of the same title which you can read here. The first panel, Activists and the Regime, demonstrated that social media is being used in five major ways: as a fundraising tool, a method of negotiation, a way of accepting opinions, organizing and maturing civil society, and as a forum for encouraging thought and debate.
It is this last point that I found most fascinating. Rafif Jouejati (@RafifJ) from the Free Syria Foundation noted that Facebook comments were the most likely place to find debate among Syrians and that this tool was teaching the Syrian people how to debate and have respect for others’ ideas while maintaining their own opinions. Looking at the effects of social media in other countries that are part of the Arab Spring, I had never come across the point of social media being used as a tool to teach debate. Sure, there was preference revelation and the building of civil society, but the point about teaching debate on social media and the importance of Facebook comments was new to me. It is a fascinating perspective because this is the first time that these users have been able to engage in something that we take for granted. The anonymity of the Internet and the idea of not being face-to-face with a person or the possibility of being overheard by secret police or other government agents allows free-flowing discussion and this is where the actual revolution is taking place.
Later in the panel, the idea that not all analyzers, sympathizers, or potential aids understand Arabic was raised. This led me to think of the missing feedback loop between the debates and those who need to understand what is happening such as Department of State employees, researchers and analysts, news agencies and reporters, and aid organizations from outside the country.
As researchers of social media know, one of the greatest ways that social media can be used as a tool is in what is called the “boomerang effect.” This idea says that social media can lead to rapid response, whether by political pressure or monetary and non-monetary aid, by other countries that support the cause. However, because those that have the power to help do not often look to Facebook comments, most do not know about this debate. In speaking with fellow blogger and IPDGC fellow Mary Jeffers, during a break between sessions, she brought up another point in that there were some excellent ideas in those comments that she would like to share with colleagues, but couldn’t because of their limited knowledge of Arabic and the fact that no one has time to send everything through Google Translate.
Even if someone had this time, a non-Arabic speaker would probably not be able to understand the English that comes out of the translations because, as we all know, Google Translate is not perfect and one has to know the structure of the language to really understand the English results. Facebook’s “See Translation” link does not always work either as it just links to translation by Bing. In addition, Arabic posters write in two different forms: traditional Arabic script and the transliterated form.
Google Translate does not even read transliterated form and, as in English, online commenting is often abbreviated or written differently which is why a person would need to read these comments to be successful. Below is an example of what happens when I clicked on the “See Translation” button provided by Facebook.
As you can see, the translation of the original post makes sense, but the comment does not at all. This is the issue. There is inconsistency in the translation when and if it’s even available.
These comments and debates give us better clues as to what is going on in the crisis and help us to gain credibility when reporting stories which is a large problem in the Syrian situation. Information that comes from on-the-ground sources is useful and the debates provide the honest feedback that we need to truly understand the problems and to mobilize people and resources to give aid where it is needed. The problem here is a communication gap. There are no easy solutions to solving this problem. Clearly, we cannot expect everyone who analyzes and researches the crisis or is in the position to give aid to speak Arabic. We also cannot expect the Activists to write in English. What we need to do is have designated people at each agency involved to read through these comments on a regular basis and report the findings to people in power. We are missing some of the most crucial information and that needs to be changed.
This can also help news agencies because, as stated in the second and third panels, the Syria crisis has been a long conflict and the stories are no longer getting the attention they deserve. With information from the debates that are occurring on social media, there is something new to report and a new way to get the audience involved and interested in what is happening. As we know, there are two different messages going out: the ones between Arabic speakers and the ones in English directed towards non-Arabic speakers. We need to see the complete Arabic side of this to get the truth, maintain credibility, keep people interested, and find out the best ways to help.
Reading, understanding, and reporting on these debates will not be an easy task. However, this information gives us the insight we are missing and will help us to further understand just how civil society is being built and what people are thinking in this complex, multi-sided crisis.
With social media as a largely-used tool in the conflict, we cannot ignore these comments and debates. We have come very far in incorporating social media into research and reporting, but we still have a ways to go if we want to use this tool to its fullest extent.
After reading Fergus Hanson’s article in Foreign Policy, I have mixed feelings on the State Department’s campaign to use social networking and the Internet as a possible way of “subtly undermining repressive regimes.” While it is great that social networking is being embraced, I am not sure if this is exactly the way to do it. This is especially the case when it is being used in countries that we are supposed to have a partnership with. It seems to me that undermining the regime may be undermining the partnership as well. On the other hand, social media is a very powerful tool and a way to avoid using force by giving empowerment to a country’s citizens. It helps build civil society and give like-minded people the tools they need to work towards government change and promote democracy. It is a very fine line between using social media as empowerment and over-stepping your ground and risking your diplomatic relationship with the country.
Internet freedom is something that is lauded in our country, but in the regimes that the U.S. is using these new tactics in, this freedom could have very high costs. An empowered citizen, aided by U.S. Government tools, could be caught and prosecuted or even killed. While the United States is using the Internet as democracy promotion, it could turn into what Evgeny Morozov concludes: Internet freedom will lead to countries imposing more and more restrictions and thus making citizens worse off. This is not the goal of the State Department’s efforts and it would be highly unfortunate to see something that is intended to be positive go in the opposite direction.
Projects like the Open Technology Initiative and InTheClear are two very positive initiatives that have some great future possibilities. OTI, by the New America Foundation, allows people to maintain communication when the Internet is under government shut down, and InTheClear allows people to erase data from their phones if necessary. These projects can help those against a repressive regime in times of crisis and seem to be less tied to country partnerships and possibly makes citizens less vulnerable to attack.
In the end, the direction of the initiative is positive because it takes into account the realities that activists are moving online and that the Internet is a cost-effective mechanism for giving access to those who lack it, but it still raises questions about the legality of it all, the potential for diplomatic consequences, and the true impact it is going to have on citizens and their repressive regimes.
In a time when it seems that the Catholic Church is more prominent than ever in the news and politics of the United States, it is intriguing that there are reports about the Pope’s Twitter account. This Huffington Post article says that the Pope’s Twitter account is being used to “share Lenten messages” but also notes that is has been in use since before Ash Wednesday.
Based on the Pope’s Twitter handle “@Pope2YouVatican“, it seems the reason behind the Pope being on a Twitter is a diplomatic one. While the name ”@Pope2YouVatican” sounds rather odd, if we dissect it, “Pope2You” sounds as if they are trying to use unidirectional messages to relay the information they’d like to get across. Based on recent research, it is clear that unidirectional message are not the only way to do diplomacy and are clearly not the best way. In the world of social media, where responses can be instantaneous, it is important to have two-way conversations with followers instead of just pushing messages through.
The Vatican says that the messages will be posted in different languages. This is crucial to relate to Catholics across the world. What is most important is to have whoever is monitoring this account be able to speak the languages so they they can respond to those who retweet or direct message the Pope with useful comments. This renewed effort to pass the message on in several languages relates directly to the recent changes made to the English version of the Catholic mass. These changes were an attempt to unite Catholics, no matter what language they speak, by making all language translations as close as possible to the Latin text and to one another. By using this Twitter account, the Vatican is attempting unite Catholics in new technology, thus creating a network of Catholics that can be a very powerful voice for the Church. This follows Ann Marie Slaughter and Clay Shirky’s ideas that the network will be the tool of future diplomacy. By using new media to its advantage, the Vatican is piling up resources and preparing this network for a battle against possible controversial policies. While this is a good start, the Vatican has more work to do if it is serious about using the Pope’s Twitter as a public diplomacy tool.