“Diplomacy is changing in a world where both our allies and our enemies are connected,” said State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs, Valerie Fowler to an audience of Jackson School students and faculty gathered on the morning of April 10 to hear her talk on “The Future of Diplomacy in a Digital Era.”
During the hour-long discussion, Fowler focused on the State Department’s response to the ease of communications and connections of social media and technology – and the challenges – from a public affairs and diplomacy standpoint.
Using stories about how diplomacy has happened in the past, even just five years ago, compared with today, Fowler emphasized the State Department’s expansion of audience reach and engagement with social media. Digital platforms are being used in every U.S. embassy and consulate, even in virtual embassies such as those of Damascus, Syria, and Tehran, Iran, where the U.S. has no physical presence, and in every key language, said Fowler.
More and more, we explain foreign policy through multi-media, Fowler noted of the State Department. She spoke about the importance of telling the story in an engaging way through images, video and audio, describing strategic content, outreach and transparency goals of the Department’s more than 10 digital platforms, from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and GooglePlus Hangout, for instance, to discuss U.S. foreign policy.
“Our audience is everywhere, and we have to lead by example if we’re going to ask our diplomats to Tweet, it starts with our top diplomat … the new face of public diplomacy is personal,” she said. She highlighted Secretary of State John Kerry’s social media presence, noting he has over 450,000 Twitter followers, far higher than his counterparts in foreign ministries around the world.
From “selfies” to “un-selfies” and sharing “behind the scenes” photos of the hard work of diplomacy, Fowler showed the need for diplomats to take responsible risks and use social media to engage key audiences around the world.
Questions from the audience ranged from dealing with negative comments on social media while maintaining transparency and the use of social media as propaganda, to analytics that measure quality of engagement and human and financial infrastructure needed to maintain a coordinated and strategic social media response.
By Monique A. Thormann