Exchange Matters / May 5, 2014

#DigitalDiplomacy: New Technology is Changing Modern Diplomacy

On April 22, Diplomatic Courier Magazine hosted a half-day summit exploring the nexus between technology and social media and how they are changing diplomacy. Public diplomacy experts and leaders from the U.S. Department of State, embassies, and the business and nonprofit sectors discussed current trends and best practices and offered insight into the future of global engagement.

The future, more and more, is in the hands of those not in formal, official, and limited diplomatic roles. One striking statistic mentioned during the summit offered a case-in-point: 40 years ago, 80% of aid given to developing nations came in the form of government assistance. Today, government assistance accounts for only 10% of that total, largely because of the huge increase of private investment.

Public diplomacy is going to where the public is and meeting them on their terms. Today, that means going online and going on social media platforms

Almost half a dozen representatives of embassies in DC participated in Diplomatic Courier Magazine’s summit. They touched on a number of themes, including how public diplomacy has changed. The crux of public diplomacy is going to where the public is and meeting them on their terms. Today, that means going online and going on social media platforms to engage. Large majorities of the U.S. population use Facebook and turn to the internet for information and news. One embassy’s research found that people were getting news and updates directly from the embassy website rather than other channels.

Twitter, while not as widely used as Facebook or the web, was also a place to engage active and influential leaders in a variety of fields who in the past were difficult to identity and reach. During the summit, panelists stressed the need to have a clear goal and strategy for use of new technology tools, the need to be authentic and match the tone of the tool, and the need to engage with and respond to members of any social network from the “bottom-up,” rather than “top-down.”

To succeed you need to “start small and think big.

Partnerships that cross boundaries and sectors are essential to addressing global problems. Access to better tools and technology for connecting across borders has been coupled with an increased desire to put them to use. Daniella Foster, Director of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) at the U.S. Department of State, had practical advice for any person or organization interested in forging new partnerships and leveraging technology to solve pressing global challenges. She said to succeed you need to “start small and think big.” Find a real unmet need, look for uncommon alliances that could meet that need, and start a pilot program to prove that a concept will work, she advised. And, importantly, don’t reinvent the wheel. The best innovations come from improving existing “wheels.”

While there will always be a need for formal diplomatic relationships between nations, one thing was clear by the end of the summit: governments are not the only ones building international relationships in ways that change the world. The individual citizen is more connected to the world than ever before. It is up to those not just in government, but in the business and nonprofit sectors as well, to work together in order to help connect them in meaningful and productive ways that foster a more peaceful and prosperous world.


By: Collin Burden, Global Ties U.S.