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.