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Social Media & Public Diplomacy

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Author: Anshumali Saxena

(The Author is Managing Partner Interactiveye. www.interactiveye.com, Business Transformation, Brand & Digital Delight Strategist, Social Innovation/CSR , Consultative-Sales-Success; Expert, Trainer, Teacher & Creative Writer: 25+ years global & pan India success-experience)

 

National security complexities encompass key areas of government’s ongoing public diplomacy initiatives where multiple social media channels are leveraged both as listening tools and also to disseminate targeted information. Informed public diplomacy aimed at building secure nation is aimed at both domestic and foreign publics, and strategies for dealing with such publics are easily distinguished from the domestic socialization of diplomacy. Nevertheless, separating public affairs (aimed at domestic audiences) from public diplomacy (dealing with overseas target groups) is increasingly at odds with the ‘interconnected’ realities of global relationships. It is commonly known that information directed at a domestic audience often reaches foreign publics, or the other way round, but the relationship between public affairs and public diplomacy has become more intricate than that.

 

 

Leveraging different social media platforms to engage with one’s own domestic constituency with a view to foreign policy development and external identity-building is now an integral part of the public diplomacy strategy of countries. Social media driven public diplomacy is no altruistic affair and it is not a ‘soft’ instrument. It can pursue a wide variety of objectives, such as in the field of political dialogue, trade and foreign investment, the establishment of links with civil society groups beyond the opinion gatekeepers, but also has ‘hard power’ goals such as alliance management, conflict prevention or military intervention. As a diplomatic method, public diplomacy is far from uniform and some public campaigns have little to do with international advocacy. Public diplomacy is increasingly using social media to become more prominent in bilateral relations and also to be actively pursued by friendly and our own nation’s development agenda aligned international organizations. Public diplomacy’s national variant is more competitive, whereas multilateral public diplomacy can be seen as a more cooperative form of engagement with foreign publics.

 

Public diplomacy is no altruistic affair and it is not a ‘soft’ instrument. It can pursue a wide variety of objectives, such as in the field of political dialogue, trade and foreign investment, the establishment of links with civil society groups beyond the opinion gatekeepers, but also has ‘hard power’ goals such as alliance management, conflict prevention or military intervention. As a diplomatic method, public diplomacy is far from uniform and some public campaigns have little to do with international advocacy. As mentioned above, public diplomacy is increasingly prominent in bilateral relations but can also be actively pursued by international organizations. Public diplomacy’s national variant is more competitive, whereas multilateral public diplomacy can be seen as a more cooperative form of engagement with foreign publics.

 

Referring to the latter, foreign policy experts rightly point out that its advantageous in making civil society-building activities go viral on social media with the goal of promoting good governance as an activity explicitly coming from host country and its connected initiatives with other democratic societies across the world. Thus social media driven public diplomacy can be useful for nation’s brand building internally and externally. This has a great positive impact on public morale and patriotism amongst domestic publics that acts as a deterrent to terrorists and their sympathisers engaged in divisive and terrorist activities.

 

Public Diplomacy for Building & Sustaining Mutuality of Inter-Nation Trust

 

In intra nation and inter nation cultural relations’ interactions, the new age social media driven public diplomacy’s focus is increasingly on engaging with foreign audiences rather than selling messages. Thus, social media savvy foreign policy and public diplomacy experts now build on mutuality and the establishment of stable relationships instead of mere policy-driven monologue campaigns, on the ‘long haul’ rather than short-term needs, and on winning ‘hearts and minds’ and building trust amongst different publics – nationally, locally and internationally.

 

Social media enabled public diplomacy’s new emphasis affirms today’s global security reality that the familiar divide between cultural and information activities is actively  being eradicated: cultural exchange is not only ‘art’ and ‘culture’ but also communicating a country’s thinking, research, journalism and national debate. In this perspective, the traditional areas of cultural exchange become part of a new type of social media enriched international communication. Thus the growth of forward looking  ‘public diplomacy’ becomes a reaction to the close connection between national foreign and domestic policies, cultural, press and information activities fashioned by the emergence of the new social, economic and political realities and emerging geopolitical necessities.

 

Foreign Diplomacy and the Ordinary Individual

 

Diplomacy is the management of change and diplomatic practice today not only deals with transformations in the relations between states, but progressively it also needs to take into account the changing fabric of people-to-people transnational relations. For diplomats the host countries’ civil society matters in a way that was inconceivable only a generation ago. The ordinary individual is increasingly visible in the practice of diplomacy, particularly in the areas of public actions’ monitoring and forward looking public activism-diplomacy and consular relations. People have always mattered to diplomats, but this point has taken on a new meaning. Social media driven democratization of information access has turned citizens into independent observers as well as assertive participants in international politics.

 

Thus, one of the new agendas of diplomacy is to leverage loosely organized groups of individuals. Issues at the grassroots of civil society have become the bread and butter of new-age diplomacy at the highest levels. Foreign ministries increasingly take into account the concerns of ordinary people – and they have good reasons for doing so. The explosive growth of non-state actors in the past decade, the growing influence of transnational protest movements and the meteoric rise of the new social mass media platforms have transformed official diplomacy’s freedom of manoeuvres. Non-official players have turned out to be extremely agile and capable of mobilizing support at a speed that is daunting for rather more unwieldy foreign policy bureaucracies.

 

The wider public turns out to be an even harder target for diplomats. Foreign publics do not tend to follow agreed rules, nor do they usually have clearly articulated aims. Many diplomats continue to be baffled by the elusiveness and apparent unpredictability of public groups in foreign civil societies, which makes this challenge of public diplomacy a real one. Working with ‘ordinary people’ and building consensus for parent country amongst foreign publics using available social media platforms and public lobbying experts and peace-loving think tanks should be the focus of India’s new age diplomatic corps.

 

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