In Cowan and Arsenault's 2008 article, Moving from Monologue to Dialogue to Collaboration: The Three Layers of Public Diplomacy, it is argued that all three methods of communication mentioned in the title are necessary in effectively reaching the people of other nations. With the rise of websites such as Facebook and Twitter, public diplomacy practitioners are increasingly moving their initiatives to the social media arena. But does it always work?
By definition, social media is not meant for monologue. The ability to comment and to voice one’s opinion on a subject is what makes websites likes Twitter and Facebook so popular and interesting to millions of users. In this way, it is more difficult to control how a message will be received and understood by an audience that can be as diverse and spread out as anyone with internet access. This lack of control can unnerve those who might be more accustomed to “older” forms of public diplomacy, but I don’t think it needs to, if we approach it with the right expectations. Public diplomacy initiatives must have a space in social media, because that is where populations in 2012 are effectively congregating, but the way that these populations are addressed needs to change to fit the method of communication.
Social media is used much more comfortably when managed as a dialogue with the anticipation of a response. For example, because social media allows others to respond instantly, it can hold public diplomacy practitioners to higher levels of accountability. Transparency becomes even more important when there is less control over the message. However, as is true of any dialogue, it’s not always positive or productive, but if communicators believe in the entity they represent, it gives them the greatest ability to connect confidently and honestly with the public. It’s also important to recognize that in many cases, for every negative remark, there will also be a supporter waiting to defend and champion your cause.
Perhaps most interestingly, public diplomacy initiatives have found ways to incorporate social media into collaborative efforts between nations. In Fall 2007, an initiative funded by the State Department brought American University students in the School of International Service in Washington, D.C. into contact with students studying at the Modern College of Business and Science in Oman and the University of Bahrain. In this online course co-taught by Prof. Alexandra Parrs and Prof. Bram Groen, the students were required to work together across cultures and time zones. The students used facebook, email, and skype to complete the assigned projects and communicate about their research. While they certainly encountered challenges related to cross-cultural communication, as well as a few struggles with the technological aspects of the course, it seemed to be a good experience that will prepare them well for their future professional endeavors. The professors agree that this type of partnership is growing and the students seem to have benefitted from building academic relationships with those in a vastly different culture. It is their hope that associations such as this one continue to expand and receive state and institutional support. (For more on this particular project: http://www.american.edu/sis/imi/imq/upload/GroenParrsIMQFall2010.pdf)