Impact of Social Media on PD

In recent times with the boom of social media, PD practitioners have taken the leap on their smartphones and Ipads to launch Twitter and Facebook pages for their perspectives offices and / or leaders. Research suggests that in certain cases – the use of social media may have a positive influence on communicating with foreign publics and may help with encouraging dialogue about the United States. This in turn, creates an opportunity (a new venue) to support public diplomacy strategic objectives in specific areas of the world where social media is a popular vehicle for communicating. However, research also suggests that many times communicating over social media for US public diplomacy may be extremely ineffective.

For example, in his article “The Challenges of the Internet and Social Media in Public Diplomacy” Matthew Wallin points out how dialogue over social media requires constant interaction but also requires receiving approval…which if it has to come from Washington it may take a long time. Social media is about instant gratification and consistent dialogue – so the lack thereof possesses a problem for PD practitioners to interact effectively with target audiences. However, even when certain State Department employees have the autonomy to go off and respond on their own they position themselves this may cause a new level of issues on its own. Tweeting one perspective – may result in this perspective defining the strategy itself as the author points out which can cause more challenges than anticipated.  

In his article, “State’s Digital Outreach Team May Do More Harm Than Good”, Cameron Bean points out that even when State Department to avoid this at times employees don’t respond. But this approach may be more ineffective and damaging than people realize. Bean used the example of a Twitter post about by a follower indicated that America’s mission in Afghanistan is to “kill Muslims”; with no response to this Tweet, we are unsure of the type of message this may have sent to the audience. As the saying goes…”sometimes not saying anything at all..says it all” and people may speculate more than you that it may be an admission of guilt – which is the totally opposite direction of what the DoS employer was trying to do with his educational campaign.

Finally, Bean points out in his article how we can’t control the level of responses and the type of responses to social media posts that come up – at many times we see that the negative posts can outnumber the positive points and in this way, the PD goals are being obstructed because readers may be more influenced by the level of the negative and the type of negative messages that exist about the US that the DoS messages get completely lost in the mix.

With all this in mind – social media has its pros and cons. What’s the most important is to be aware of the local context and ensuring the messaging is appropriate for the local population; tracking the messaging and the responses and working to ensure that all replies to responses stay in line with the strategy outlined for the given PD office.


2 thoughts on “Impact of Social Media on PD

  1. I completely agree with what you say at the end that when it comes to social media the most important part is to be aware of the context in the target country, and that the messages be appropriate for the local population. I think this is probably one of the main issues that us as public diplomacy practitioners can face. As I always say this is the importance of listening, and understanding your target audience. And as Wallin argues in his article the proper way to achieve this is by establishing people to people contact with the public. Only then can social media serve its purpose of steering the conversation, and supporting our efforts.
    In his article Wallin makes an argument that I have always believed is true. He mentions the effectiveness of having government officials speak more conversationally and informally with followers on social media. But as he points out the problem with this is how do we make sure that their messages stay in line with US foreign policy objectives. I think this will be another issue that we will have to work on, how to reach the public on their level while still staying in line with the messages required from a government agency.

  2. Great post, Una.

    I think it is really interesting to look at the impacts that social media has had on the government bureaucracy. I know just from personal experience working in politics the different layers of editing and approval it takes to get something signed off on. Social media has made it more necessary to cut through some of that red tape and give more leeway with what comes in and out.

    It is especially interesting when Bean and Wallin make a connection to what is actually posted on sites like Twitter, but also then responded to by followers. It would be really interesting to see a PD campaign against a large organization like the State Department. A group not in-line with what State’s PD goals are could take what is posted online and spin it any way that they like.

    This is all the more important to monitor and control what employees have authority to post on their own, but also makes it difficult to post timely social media. No one cares when you tweet about something that happened a few days ago.

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