How does the State Department practice public diplomacy in the age of social media?

Millions of people around the world are aware that the U.S. Department of State is using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Between them, the U.S. Department of State, U.S. embassies and consulates now collectively manage:

  • 125 YouTube channels with 23,940 subscribers and 12,729,885 million video views
  • 195 Twitter accounts with 1,403,322 followers;
  • 288 Facebook pages with 7,530,095 fans.

The U.S. Department of State also maintains a presence on Flickr, Tumblr, and Google+, and an official blog, DipNote. Its embassies and consulates also maintain a presence on these social media platforms and produce their own blogs.

What many U.S. citizens may not realize is that U.S. foreign service officers are also practicing public diplomacy on China’s Weibo microblogging network or Russia’s vkontakte social network. The U.S. Department of State also publishes social media content in 11 languages: Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Urdu. Many embassies are also tweeting in local languages, including German, Indonesian, Korean, and Thai.

That’s a lot of talking, to be sure, but in the context of social media, a key question is whether the State Department is listening. After all, news about both human and natural crises often breaks first on Twitter, from the early rumblings of earthquakes to popular uprisings.

This morning, three representatives from the U.S. Department of State shared case studies and professional experiences gleaned directly from the virtual trenches about how does social media is changing how public diplomacy is practiced in the 21st century. In the video embedded below, you can watch an archive of the discussion from the New America Foundation on lessons learned from the pioneers who have logged on to share the State Department’s position, listen and, increasingly, engage with a real-time global dialogue.

Video streaming by UstreaPARTICIPANTS

  • Suzanne Hall (@SuzKPH), Senior Advisor, Innovation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affair, U.S. Department of State
  • Nick Namba (@nicholasnamba), Acting Deputy Coordinator for Content Development and Partnerships, U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Program
  • Ed Dunn (@EdAndDunn), Acting Director, U.S. Department of State’s Digital Communications Center

From analog to digital diplomacy: a snapshot of the evolution of the tools of the diplomat

A display of the evolution of tech at the State Department
A display at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.

If you’re interested in public diplomacy in the age of social media, I hope you’ll join me (either virtually or in person) at the New America Foundation next week, where I’ll be moderating a discussion on how the latest connection technologies are being applied to statecraft in the 21st century. Who’s participating and why? What have been some lessons learned from the pioneers who have logged on to listen and engage?

I’ll be talking with the following three representatives from the U.S. Department of State, each of whom will share case studies and professional experiences gleaned directly from the virtual trenches:

  • SuzKPH
    Suzanne Hall
    , Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • EdAndDunn
    Ed Dunn
    , Acting Director the U.S. Department of State’s Digital Communications Center, U.S. Department of State
  • nicholasnamba
    Nick Namba
    , Acting Deputy Coordinator for Content Development and Partnerships, U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), U.S. Department of State

If you have questions for the panel, please submit them and vote for others on Google Moderator. Of course, I’ll also be monitoring the hashtag for the event (#SMWdiplomacy) on Twitter during the event, along with comment threads on Google+ and Facebook.


#AskState: U.S. State Department to take questions from Twitter at the podium

Under Secretary McHale Participates in the State Department's First Global "Twitter Q&A"
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith Mchale, center, participates in the State Department's first global Twitter Q & A, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 2011.

As part of what it is calling “21st Century Statecraft Month,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland will be taking questions from Twitter from up at the podium during the Daily Press Briefing each Friday afternoon during the month of January. Questions can be submitted using the #AskState hashtag.

The questions will be selected from the Department’s 10 official Twitter feeds, which now include tweets in Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Urdu:

Whether this is a public relations exercise or another step towards the next generation of digital public diplomacy will depend upon whether State is willing to directly take on its fiercest critics, a constituency that will likely be active on the #askstate hashtag.

While this is an interesting experiment, it’s important to note that the State Department will still be choosing which questions to answer. In a press briefing, Nuland can choose the questioner but not the question. If Nuland would commit to taking the 3 most retweeted questions, say, that would be one thing. Here, they can be selective. For instance, if asked about the Wikileaks saga, sales of American surveillance gear to foreign governments or past State Department involvement in South America, will they take the questions?

There’s also the quiet reality that P.J. Crowley, the former state department spokesman, was (and is) quite active on Twitter as @PJCrowley during his tenure. As far as I know, Nuland doesn’t have an account, which effectively means they’re doing less of that particular brand of 21st century digital diplomacy, not more. @JaredCohen, who has moved on to Google, is similarly no longer a voice for ‘digital diplomacy’ on Twitter, leaving the mantle of being State’s primary “face” on social media on the shoulders of @AlecJRoss, although, to be fair, dozens of other staffers, embassies and officials are on Twitter now as well, from @USMariaOtero to UN @AmbassadorRice.

I’ve posed a question about the State Department’s official stance on the Stop Online Piracy Act, since its passage would seem very likely to directly impact its Internet freedom policy and funding for circumvention technologies. If State takes the question, they’d post it on their YouTube channel.

Below, I’ve embedded a Storify that includes a sample of many other questions that have been asked to date: