“Putting a Human Face on Social Networking” – Key Lesson Learned from The Last Three Feet

In the book, The Last Three Feet, various public diplomacy professionals came together to write short chapters about their experience working in some of the key U.S. countries – including Pakistan, Iraq and China.  No one story in the book is the same, and no one lesson learned is the same for all writers based on their experiences working overseas. What is important about this book though is that through various perspectives and experiences, we as scholars of public diplomacy and hopeful professionals in the field can read the accounts of our predecessors to learn best practices- identify what works and what doesn’t work. For a student of international communication and intercultural relations I was extremely interested by the chapter Aaron Snipe who captures 1. The importance of social media but 2. The need to communicate with a human face for more high context cultures. Mr. Snipe and his fellow colleagues at the US Embassy in Iraq recognized that communication vehicles like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were popular means of communication with youth – especially following the Arab Spring. An important key lesson for all communications campaigns is to know your understand – and understand the way they want to be communicated with. Defining the appropriate communications strategy can be conducted through focus groups, surveys, random interviewing to determine the appropriate vehicles a given population will respond to effectively. Just building a strategy is not enough though – as can be seen by the Facebook Page that the US embassy launched in Iraq (which took a hit from 4,000 friends to 1,000 friends in less than 4 months). To respond to this dilemma the Embassy took on a few measures including:

  1. Increasing the frequency of the posts on Facebook page as well as ensuring the content was relevant to users
  2. Developing more messages in Arab to appeal to local population; but also including a English option
  3. Giving a name and face to the Facebook Page “Administrator”

In particular – I am impressed by the decision to humanize the Facebook Page. Many times we can all find ourselves frustrated when posted on a given company’s Facebook page but we don’t get a respond to our request or sometimes complaintJ The use of personnel names and photos on the US Embassy Facebook page helped the Iraqi population see the Embassy in a new light and made people feel that they can actually connect with someone who works at the Embassy.

 Based on the analysis conducted by the Facebook Team, as a result of the measures that the Embassy took, the Facebook page generated nearly 100 new viewers a week, encouraged greater two-way communication between locals and the Facebook Team, and provided a platform to promote USG objectives through activities like the “The Question of the Day” initiative which increased insight into Iraqi society for the USG. In addition, according to Spine, after greater followers joined the Facebook page, the US Embassy also noticed an increase of applications for US Exchange programs; which were as a direct result from promotion by team members on the Facebook page.



Public Diplomacy between Asian Powers: Intractably Historic

By: Sean Callahan

The most dynamic, growing part of the world is in Asia at the moment. Rising powers are dominating economically, half the population of the world resides there, and the focus of everyone, including the United States, has shifted to this area. Public diplomacy is in the interest of two of the largest powers in the region, but they can never seem to build on relationship efforts due to historical recounts and differences.

The topic of Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) history is one that is explained differently depending on which side the details are recounted by. There has never been a more opportune time for each to use public diplomacy to their advantage, and here is why: China and North Korea, they share the same interest in keeping the area stabile.

But as we learn from Nick Cull’s article, Jamming with Uncle Sam, “The first form of cultural diplomacy is the prestige gift: the international presentation of what one considers the finest of its own society.” In the case of Japan and the ROK, both countries share different views of what is the finest. Until the heads of state and elites in the ruling political parties can stop visiting that wartime shrines of soliders that the other considers class A criminals, this relationship will be complicated by historically based mistrust and animosity among regional actors.

Both countries are transitioning to new governments, and face the same threats in the region. In addition, both countries are in a position where their strongest ally – the United States – is in a critical strategic rebalance to the region. If the new governments from Park Guen-hye and Shinzo Abe can reach the respective populations of one another, and communicate their shared interests in economic stability and peaceful intentions, the sky is the limit in what they can accomplish.

In the interest of sharing a view for future of region and ensuring China does not dominate the area, Japan and the ROK must suppress nationalist views and work together. Using public diplomacy to communicate the things that the two countries share could go a long way, but it remains to be seen if the scars of history run to deep to ever hope this is a possibility.


Don’t Blame the Message/Messenger, Blame the Institution

The organizational contexts within which U.S. public diplomacy (PD) actors and ideas must operate is, in colloquial terms, a “hot mess”. U.S. international broadcasting has to contend with the convoluted structure of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an organization in which, for example,  there is no centralized authority, which is vulnerable to the politicking of Congress despite its supposed independence, and which has no oversight or cooperation with other PD actors (Emily T. Metzgar, “Considering the ‘Illogical Patchwork’, CPD Perspectives on Public Diplomacy, Paper 1, 2013). And then of course, there is the “big kahuna”  of PD itself — the State Department — which has relegated public diplomacy to an under secretary position, leaving PD officers in the field to report to their regional bureaus instead of a centralized PD leadership, and has the governmental problem of “bureaucratic [processes] of communication” (Kennon H. Nakamura, et al, “U.S. Public Diplomacy: Background and Current Issues,” CRS Report for Congress, Dec. 18, 2009). These institutional set-ups can, for example, keep an important PD initiative from being relevant in real-time and face-to face. In other words, the bureaucratic structure, more often than not, hampers productive PD from taking place.

This organizational chaos has been recognized by scholars and practitioners alike, and an array of solutions has been proposed. From an outside observer, it would appear that the most effective remedy is to give authority to heads of public diplomacy sections and organizations in the U.S. government. Both the State Department and BBG suffer from a lack of leadership. Though PD is of course supposed to be a tool of the whole government foreign policy, this lack of centralized leadership in either organization means that more voices can try to set the agenda. And these voices are not necessarily those with training and experience in public diplomacy practice. Greater PD leadership within organizations would help ensure that all organizational PD efforts were aligned, that PD actors had more of a say in the policymaking process, and that there was a (somewhat) more streamlined channel for communication and coordination throughout the U.S. government. As it stands right now, the institutional structure of U.S. public diplomacy does not allow for enough authority, autonomy, and participation of PD practitioners for their actions to be as effective as they could be; one way to solve this is to have better, centralized leadership.

“The Last Three Feet” key lessons

After reading “The Last Three Feet” there are several points that I consider can be taken as key lessons that can be applied to the practice of public diplomacy. First of all the authors emphasize the importance of people to people contact within the public diplomacy efforts of US embassies around the world. Related to this same point is the importance of listening, and not just listening to what the local public is saying, but understanding what they want. More specifically what they want to derive from their relationship with the US. Through the case studies it is made clear that it is not enough to put out a message with only your own goals in mind, for this will only produce limited results or worst case scenario alienate the local populace even more (if that is already the case). Another topic that was brought up is the need for innovative ideas that come from the local staff at the embassies around the world. As some of them put it when public diplomacy officers take matters into their own hands, and stop relaying on Washington to make the next move or solve the problems, it is when some of the best practices in public diplomacy come to fruition.  I believe this is probably one of the ways in which the practice can be improved; I’m clearly not implying the disappearance of government involvement, but less “over reliance” as the author puts it. Washington doesn’t know how things work locally in the different embassies; coming up with the same solutions for everyone is definitely not applicable to all.

In regards to the selections of cases I thought some were interesting and offered great insight into what goes on at embassies, and good examples of solutions that can be applied to similar situations. What I found was lacking was more examples of countries in South America and Europe. One issue I had was in respect to the case study of Jakarta and @America. The case study left out the fact that the @America center has received criticism for being located in an area that is not accessible to ordinary citizens of the country; while also leaving out the fact that it is an incredibly expensive project that could not be easy to replicate elsewhere.

Overall I believe the key lesson I can take from this is the role face-to-face contact plays in the success of public diplomacy. After all that is what public diplomacy is about, creating those relationships were both sides are able to fully understand each other and work mutually to a common goal. Finally what these case studies brought to mind is the need for a better approach to public diplomacy on behalf of the US. While the US does have some good initiatives, it has had a hard time putting some of the great ideas into practice. Another thing that must be kept in mind is the realization that in this day and age other nations have been taking the lead and have found good approaches to public diplomacy. The US must learn from these, and take advantage of those significant people to people connections public diplomacy officers overseas are able to generate.

Public diplomacy what and why

In order to describe public diplomacy to someone who is not familiar with the term I would start with the basic explanation of public diplomacy being a tool used by states, associations of states, and non-state actors to engage, persuade, influence and inform, in order to advance interest and values. It is also used to understand other cultures, as well as to build relationships. I would make it clear that in today’s new public diplomacy states are not the only actors involved in carrying out public diplomacy efforts. Like I mentioned before groups of states, sub states and non-state actors are involved as well in this exchange, which now is seen as two way rather than one directional, meaning that it is a process based on listening and engaging in dialogue, rather than imposing one’s opinions.

When it comes to giving examples of what public diplomacy is I think most of us agree that it is rather tricky for there is no concrete definition on what it really is and how it is used. I would talk about the different categories within public diplomacy, and mention: cultural diplomacy, sports diplomacy, educational exchanges, cultural exchanges, nation branding, and international broadcasting. Would I say this is a definite list of what public diplomacy is? No, and this is one of the problems we face. When you have everything being labeled PD and everyone doing it, it can start to loose meaning. Why is it important? Public diplomacy allows us to engage with people at a different level, it’s not just about governments talking about their foreign policies, it is and should always be about deeper interaction between citizens of different nations. Public diplomacy allows us to share our values and interests to citizens of other countries in order to create better understanding. It can open the doors for other types of relationships between governments, be it creating peaceful relations, working together for a common goal, or more business related matters. Finally I would say that public diplomacy is important in order to create mutual understanding, it helps us go where governments can’t necessarily go, without understanding and dialogue there are only so many things that you can do.

PD: New Importance or Just New Context?

New technologies, new geopolitical realities, and new international actors have altered the international relations landscape of the 21st century and thus shifted the practice of public diplomacy (James Pamment, “A Dynamic Field in a Changing World” in New Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century: A Compartive Study of Policy and Practice (2013), 25-29). In this dynamic context, it is tempting to argue that public diplomacy has become more important now than it ever was during the Cold War era. Yes, it is true that the array of international issues, “from energy to preventing terrorism…can only be solved collaboratively” (Matthew Wallin, “The New Public Diplomacy Imperative: America’s Vital Need to Communicate Strategically,” American Security Project (2012), 4), which means that reaching, understanding, and engaging foreign publics and actors has now become “central to diplomacy” (Bruce Gregory, “American Public Diplomacy: Enduring Characteristics, Elusive Transformation,” Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 6 (2011): 353).  However, this does not mean there has been a shift in the importance of public diplomacy. Instead, one should think of this new public diplomacy as stemming from a shift in the practice of foreign ministries and not a shift in their ideology of PD.

This is supported by the contention among scholars that “public diplomacy has meant, and continues to mean, different things in different historical and national contexts.” (Pamment, 20). In the Cold War, PD was used “as a state based instrument… to engage and persuade foreign publics [to] influence their governments”; during the 21st century, PD is used by states, non-state actors, and others to understand cultures, build and manage relationships, influence thoughts, and mobilize actions to advance interests (Gregory, 353). As we see, the core goal of public diplomacy remains the same — to further one’s interests through public engagement and persuasion — illustrating that public diplomacy was and  is an important tool of foreign policy. But because the context of foreign policy has changed so drastically in terms of number of actors, the expanded media environment (and subsequent information proliferation) and the shift in international power dynamics, public diplomacy is no longer just sending a message to persuade (Gregory, 353, 357). Two-way communication and true relationships have to exist between governments and publics now, which means that PD initiatives have to be reimagined to accomplish this goal.


How public diplomacy is used has certainly shifted in the last ten years, let alone from the 20th to 21st century. But during both the Cold War and Post-9/11 periods, public diplomacy has held a place of importance because it allows for foreign policy objectives to be met from the parallel fronts of governments and publics. It is not that public diplomacy is more important now than it was before; it has simply moved into public awareness more as the new world context has changed and dictated a broader engagement with publics.

Public Diplomacy: What’s the big deal?

By: Sean Callahan

Communication is perhaps the most valuable tool for a variety of different situations. In international relations, communication is standard at many levels, government officials communicate with other government officials, and the media conveys this information with the public. One of the oft-overlooked forms of communication is public diplomacy, or how a government communicates publicly with foreign populations.

Think about the amount of time and resources that governments put into planning their foreign policy. Some of the nation’s most intelligent citizens work countless hours to carefully construct and craft this policy, always being mindful of how the American public will react to the employ of these policies. Policy makers are in a sense held accountable by the American public for there actions, even those not in elected positions can be deposed when there is an outcry from the public concerned about an action that has been executed by the government.

When speaking broadly about our foreign policy, another population that needs to be considered is the foreign country that this policy is designed for. And just as the government must communicate to their own constituencies and citizens, it is of the utmost importance to outline the goals of a strategy to those that it is being implemented on. This is perhaps more difficult than the domestic population, as citizens of a country generally hold the governments values and goals as reflective of their own.

If a foreign constituency is not on board with these values and goals, they will make it far more difficult to implement a policy. However, this understanding can begin if a government makes it clear that the policy is in the best interests of this population. Clear communication with the population of a foreign country can get them on board with the implementation of a policy, and this will make it far more simple to execute and lead to success.