Connecting in the time of Covid-19: US Embassy Moscow

With a global pandemic and lockdowns in many countries, U.S. diplomats have to find different ways to engage with people in their host countries. In this PDx episode, GW student Olivia Estes interviews Karl Stoltz, Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Moscow, Russia.

Together with the challenges of the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship, Karl and his Public Affairs team have had to be very creative in coming up with content for virtual programs that would appeal to the Russian public who are stuck at home. He even recruited family to participate in a presentation on American music!

Karl also recounts his previous posting to Moscow, right before the fall of the Berlin Wall; and crises he has experienced in other countries. Karl is a Senior Foreign Service Officer who joined the service in 1986 and has served in Washington, D.C., Europe, Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific. Karl was the GW Visiting State Department Public Diplomacy Fellow, 2018 – 2019.

Please enjoy this PDx episode on Connecting in the time of Covid-19: US Embassy Moscow.

Other PDx episodes are available here.

Social Media Icons

The Do’s and Don’ts of Doing Public Diplomacy on Twitter

By Kaitlyn Angrove, M.A in Media and Strategic Communication ’20

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become many people’s main sources of information, connection and entertainment. Their vast user bases and the ability to post almost anything without it being censored or fact checked, gives pundits, politicians and average citizens, the feeling of invincibility. Anyone can post their opinions and “insights” about politics and governance with the chance of it being picked up and reposted by journalists, influential figures or people with large follower counts.

The State Department and Public Diplomacy Actors must now deal with a constant stream of misinformation, disinformation and the highlighting of content that is harmful to one’s agenda. Twitter appears to be a platform in which many PD people and institutions have trouble managing.

As a Media Manager, I often see people struggling with how to navigate Twitter while supporting one’s agency, reinforcing helpful narratives and dispelling harmful rhetoric. These do’s and don’ts aim to alleviate any guesswork that you may have.

  1. DO engage with content posted by people outside of the PD Sphere.

A retweet by the Embassy of Ireland in America.

Tasked with posting on behalf of an Embassy, Government Department or appointed official is no easy task. For many it is natural to spend time retweeting and posting “safe content,” that is posts from other verified embassy accounts, elected and appointment officials from your own government, and posts that have been preapproved by one’s communications team. This pattern makes official accounts look impersonal, cold and out of touch with how Twitter is used by the general public. By searching for specific key words or favorable hashtags, official accounts can highlight tweets that are both favorable to their communications strategies and read as authentic.

  1. DON’T retweet content without investigating the individual’s profile and past tweets.

Just as it is important to post and repost content that comes off as personal and is mission driven, it is imperative that you examine the account that you are reposting from and are highlight to your followers. A Twitter user could post a wonderful comment about a speech that your ambassador gave at a recent event, the impulse would be to retweet that positive account, as is. The problem with doing so is that you must be 100% confident that the all the other public tweets from this user are appropriate and would not bring damage or embarrassment if found. A solution is to take a screenshot of the tweet, blur out the username and then repost the image with your comment. This can protect the privacy of the tweeter who might not have expected the additional attention that an official account retweeting you can bring and protects you from being connected with inappropriate or off brand tweets.

Pixelate usernames using free online tools or photoshop.

  1. DO strategically subtweet

The subtweet is a post that refers to a specific user, topic or tweet by another user without directly mentioning them or tagging them in the tweet. While it is most used as way to be passive aggressive or sly on twitter, the subtweet can have another function for those in public diplomacy. There are times when an embassy, ambassador or government official wants to reply to a tweet directly to correct information or retort the narrative that another user is giving for a series of events. The problem with replying or reposting the tweet with the user information blocked out, is that you then give credence to a narrative or idea that you are trying to disprove! Instead of drawing attention to it, craft a tweet that supports your narrative and incorporates news values i.e. topics that lead to more digital impressions.

  1. DON’T use official accounts to promote political messages that harm the work of PD actors in the field.

 

 

This tweet produced by the official Department of State twitter might play well to an American base, specifically conservatives, but does not take into account preexisting narratives that Muslim Americans and Muslims around the globe may hold. By using the phrase “Islamic Revolution” the state department is suggesting that Islam is the reason behind Iran’s human rights abuses, instead of acknowledging that terror is done around the world in the name of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, etc. An interpretation of Islam that is counter to what millions of Muslims practice around the globe is the reality in Iran. This tweet reinforces the narrative that western governments see Islam as an inherent problem, one that needs to be solved and that its followers need to be freed from.

Here’s what the State Department could have tweeted:

41 years ago, saw a regime change in Iran that has resulted in great harm to many of its people. We will continue to support Iranian Americans and Iranians as a whole as they work towards a government that is more reflective of its people and of democratic values.

While there are dozens more tips that I could share, I will leave you with one last thought.

When tweeting, focus on amplifying messages which support your goals without giving undue credence to those that don’t.

> The author has also written on Strategic Narratives involving Canada and Saudi Arabia. .

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not express the views of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.

Taking a look back

As this year draws to a close, IPDGC would like to recap some of our activities of the Fall semester. We hope that you’ve had the opportunity to attend some of the events:

Your Country, Our War: The Press and Diplomacy in Afghanistan, September 25.

Asia Centre: Fake News Legislation in Southeast Asia, October 17.

Work-Life Balance in a 24/7 Organization panel, November 7.

Please do support IPDGC in the year ahead!

Mark your calendars for the 2020 Walter Roberts Lecture featuring Joseph S. Nye. The talk will be on “Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy”, to be held on Thursday, January 30, 2020, at the GW Elliott School of International Affairs.

More information HERE.

Our latest PDx interview: Chris Wurst on 22:33 stories

In this episode of PDx, we interview Chris Wurst, the director of the Collaboratory at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), U.S. State Department.

Chris also founded the 22.33 podcast which features first-person narratives and anecdotes from people who have been involved with ECA exchange programs. The first season launched on January 2019.

Each week, 22.33 brings tales of people finding their way in new surroundings. With a combination of survival, empathy, and humor, ECA’s innovative podcast series delivers unforgettable travel stories from people whose lives were changed by international exchange.

Listen to the PDx interview with Chris Wurst here.

 

How ISIS seduces European Muslim women–and what Europe can do about it

Why are so many Muslim women in Europe susceptible to ISIS propaganda? Many of them join ISIS to commit jihad, or violence in the name of the “sustained struggle” to advance Islamic extremism. In 2014, about 18 percent of all European ISIS members were female. As of August 2017, experts believe the total number of women is more than 550. But are women brainwashed by the Islamic State or choosing jihad of their own free will?

Many Muslim women in Europe are enticed by ISIS’s recruitment videos and social media presence. ISIS portrays the Caliphate as a utopian land where ISIS’s very narrow view of Islam is strictly enforced. ISIS uses Hollywood-level video production and a social media strategy which rivals any Silicon Valley startup. On social media, women members of ISIS promise their women viewers a fulfilling life married to a devout Muslim man in the Caliphate. These women leave discrimination and alienation in Europe to support jihadis in Syria—or to take jihad into their own hands.

But why are ISIS recruitment efforts so effective? Answering this question requires an overview of how Muslim women are excluded from European society. For example, many French people do not consider a Muslim immigrant living in France to be “French, ” regardless of citizenship. A “French” identity includes Western clothing, language fluency, and a desire to assimilate. The French government and mainstream media view national identity narrowly—“traditional” so as not to make white French citizens uncomfortable.

Immigrant Muslim women are marginalized and their religion, way of dressing, and race are always at the forefront of their minds. They are forced to define their “Muslim” identity as incompatible with their “French” identity. Many choose to perceive themselves as “Muslim” rather than “French” in a nation that shows them time and time again that they do not belong. Taub calls this phenomenon “identity choice.”

ISIS uses these cleavages created by the French government to target French Muslim women who want to wear religious coverings and marry a devout Muslim man without being cast as a social pariah. Recruiters appeal to women fascinated by extremism and enamored with escaping France to join the Caliphate. By creating media channels apart from the French mainstream, ISIS can control the slant and message of their posted content to target and lure.

The divergence of media outlets can explain why recruitment videos spread like wildfire.

Model for Blog Post

The fork in the road: ISIS creates a sophisticated rival of mainstream media, which garners attention from the women who embrace this romanticized extremism

 

However, ISIS’s savvy productions only explain part of the phenomenon.

ISIS’s chosen messenger? Other women.

British women recruiters are master strategists at romanticizing life under ISIS: they catch more flies with honey than they do with vinegar. ISIS women reach out to other women by creating News Frames of the propaganda. Through a process called framing, they shape and interpret the content of ISIS videos and social media posts to win the upper hand in reaching French Muslim women—their target audience.

The most powerful way to frame ISIS propaganda is to create a utopian image of the Caliphate that is consistent with what many Muslim women have already determined to be their ideal society.

Women recruiters can frame ISIS propaganda to convince a woman that joining is in her own best interest. Here’s three ways how:

 

  1. They display their elite status in the Caliphate as wives and mothers and invite other women to emulate them.

 

  1. They provide detailed instructions on how to use weapons, travel to Syria, and even commit jihad.

 

  1. They distort the concept of women’s “empowerment” to mean challenging western gender norms and joining all-women brigades.

 

By glorifying this active role for women, recruits develop an affinity for a Caliphate ready to welcome them with open arms.

Despite its recent territory losses, ISIS still manages to release a few recruitment videos. Nations committed to countering violent extremism cannot fight fire with fire: instead of sensationalizing the videos and perpetrators to the public, European officials and mainstream media outlets must disseminate content that exposes these recruitment tactics that put women at risk.

In addition, French society must broaden their definition of “European” to include Muslim immigrants. In order for this shift in public opinion to occur, European mainstream media needs a new approach: discussing Muslim women as French citizens or residents, not permanent outsiders. Media accomplish this goal by at the News Frames stage of the model above.

Elected officials in Europe must rise to their higher calling as public servants and unite citizens of all religions and national origins under a new “European” identity. Factionalism may be good for getting votes, but this tactic has succeeded at the expense of Muslim women’s livelihoods. This is the most difficult and far-reaching change to implement, as the model suggests.

If France better integrates its immigrant communities, French Muslim women can emerge from the margins of society. ISIS’s power to prey upon these women diminishes when women can practice their religion, wear garments of their choosing, and access education and employment opportunities.

ISIS’s glossy social media images will lose their luster for the many women they once seduced. The news frames won’t be as effective for Muslim women immigrants once Europe stops treating them as “the other.”

Caveat: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

4 Tactics for PA, PD, and Principal Officers on Twitter

 

Both public affairs (PA) and public diplomacy (PD) officers have the privilege of representing a greater principal actor in whatever position they hold. This was the case with President Obama, having Samantha Powers one of  his PD officers, and Josh Earnest as one of his PA officer; it is also the case with President Putin in Russia, and it is the case today under President Trump. However, the communication channels have changed for each of these actors in the new administration with the prominent role social media now plays, particularly Twitter, when speaking or tweeting with foreign and domestic publics. The constant use of the platform by President Trump has allowed him to create a sense of personal connection with reporters, constituents, and even international leaders, alluding to real-time and unfiltered content, but also weakening the role of the PA and PD officers who have a pervasive role of communicating policy. By analyzing the tweets from the current administration’s officials, President Trump (@POTUS), US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley), and Press Secretary Sean Spicer (@PressSec), each will give inside unto how the three should represent themselves and their policies on a social media platform such as Twitter.

The “I” in Team

President Trump has a unique role apart from the others because of the fact that he initiates the policies the other two advocate. For this reason, it is incredibly important for anyone in the role of the principal actor, as he is, to speak directly for himself. Out of the 238 tweets sent out in the first 70 days of the administration, 47 of which seem to be written by the president himself (using I, my, or me). In comparison, Spicer never used a pronoun in reference to himself, but Nikki Haley did. Seven of her 74 tweets in the same time period were about topics related to herself, from moving to New York to meetings she held. These personal pronouns are important for public diplomacy officers because of their ability to provide independent perspectives on the role they represent – this simple communication tool allows an audience to perceive a unique voice. Had Spicer or a public affairs officer used these pronouns, his primary audience of reporters would no longer use him as a source who is close to the principal actor they truly want information on.

Distance from the Principal

25 percent of the active user population on Twitter are journalists, therefore allowing Spicer the opportunity to speak with his most direct audience quickly. His credibility as a PA officer, comes from two things: proximity to the president, and ability to control the message of the White House. This represents the 129 tweets out of 225 total related directly to the president. The second aspect however, as mentioned above, can sometimes be interrupted when the principal actor, or President Trump in this case, tweets his own messages without putting a message through the office of the Press Secretary. Not including the messages using personal pronouns, the @POTUS account wrote 144 more in third person or spoke about the administration more broadly. On the other hand, Haley is also able to distance herself. Although she does represent the government which the president leads, as a principal officer, or head or a mission, she can refer to him less, as can other PD officers reference principal actors less, as seen in her two tweets about the president.

Personality

In addition to the importance, or lack, of showing personal use of the account, it is equally relevant to discuss mentioning personal topics on particular accounts. PD officers have the greatest ability of the three to show personality through their tweets because it allows them to portray to their followers knowledge of culture in their host country. Haley tweeted 25 times about topics such as her new favorite song, a television show she just watched, or her dog, Bentley. As she is representative of her own perceptions of the US actions, she is not as subservient as Spicer does to the President. Spicer does not have any tweets about personal matters. President Trump has one tweet about the Super Bowl, even signed DJT which occurs in seven other tweets – three of which were about the US generally, two about his role, and two about the media. While the principal actor may show personality in his tweets, as in the case of the Super Bowl, the 47 tweets mentioned above that speak directly about the president are a better use of this tactic. This allows any communications officers to direct audiences to the tweets for official opinions about important topics.

Foreign publics

While there are many other ways to analyze the tweets of leaders, from work related topics, family related, relaxed use of hashtags, etc., the last topic of importance to the PA, PD, and principal agent is communication with foreign leaders. As Twitter has a world-wide platform, it is impossible to contain messaging to just one part of the world. Therefore, a large part of tweets should be directed at foreign publics, but in different ways for each of the roles. From a PA standpoint, with the example of Spicer, it was appropriate for the small number of 19 tweets to discuss foreign affairs or meetings held with foreign leaders because his position is not to represent the foreign publics, but the principal. An even smaller number however, was that from President Trump. Only nine of his tweets related to issues of other countries. This may be due to the fact that he is yet to travel out of the country and is only taking meetings or calls in the US. Haley on the other hand had 33 percent of her tweets focused on foreign leaders and publics. This increase is due mostly to her face-to-face interaction with foreign diplomats every day. The real reason is the Haley’s mission is to represent the U.S. to foreign bodies, whereas Trump as part of his America first doctrine has focused mostly on domestic issues. However, this can also lead to problems when overlapping with personal content such as f the tweet from March 8, 2017, “On what will be an intense day on N. Korea and Syria, this was a sweet way to start the day…”Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. Happy Wed!” This could be seen as inappropriate when discussing such a serious topic.

Changes to make

From each of these four factors, there are many tips for future PA and PD officers as well as their principal actors. Social media can spark revolutions, but it can also be misconstrued. For example, on February 9, 2017, Spicer spoke at a daily briefing when he received a question about why the president tweeted one topic, but not another to which he responded, “you’re equating me addressing the nation here and a tweet?” As a spokesperson for the principal, PA officers must simultaneously contain a message, while maintaining credibility. Not only were the tweets of his principal actor discredited, so was the method, and the message at large.

On another note, to spread a message on a world-wide scale as Twitter can, it is important to connect with the audience you want to see the message. In many cases, this is foreign publics, whether these actors like it or not. Because seventy-nine percent of Twitter accounts are held by users outside of the United States, and over 68 percent of world leaders hold accounts, it is important for each to follow and be followed by foreign leaders. President Obama was criticized for following only three foreign leaders – Nikki Haley is following Prime Minister Netanyahu aside from President Trump, Spicer is only following the president, and President Trump is not following any foreign leaders.

 

Disability Diplomacy: Raising Awareness to Make the Invisible, Visible

At some point in your life, you have probably been asked, “If you could have one wish, what would it be?” Some people might answer the ability to relive one day; others desire to win the lottery; and some wish to have an unlimited amount of wishes. Then there are people who might have more modest wishes such as simply to be accepted and understood by others. This would certainly be the case among individuals who have invisible disabilities, such as one of the many types of mental health illnesses. One of the ways to help these individuals feel more accepted and understood is to raise awareness of invisible disabilities at the government level.

 

The State Department does a great job on their website promoting different initiatives for people with visible disabilities. However, they need to focus more on initiatives for people with invisible disabilities, such as mental health illnesses. One in five adults experience a mental health condition every year, affecting family, friends and communities. According to new estimates released by the World Health Organization, depression, an invisible mental health disability, is the largest cause of disability worldwide. The State Department website might consider creating more programs and social media campaigns to ensure more awareness and acceptance of mental health disabilities are seen in the US and thus, around the world.

 

The United States signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, becoming the first country in the world to adopt legislation condemning discrimination against people with disabilities. In 2008, the US expanded the depth of this act to reach around the globe, creating the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations. In 2014, an excellent blog was written identifying a gap in mental health diplomacy awareness. Nonetheless, the same gap remains three years later, and this gap is especially visible on the State Department website.

 

Currently, there are many different initiatives for programs including people with disabilities on the State Department website: #withoutlimits social media campaign, Paralympic sports games, and exchange programs in other countries helping vision impaired and paraplegic individuals. Each program has many accompanying videos or images, some of which are shown below.

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 2.10.05 PM
Photo Credits: State Department

 

It is easy to tell that these individuals above have a disability because they are visible. The woman in the first image is blind and is shown hugging her Seeing Eye dog. The second photo portrays a paraplegic man in a wheelchair playing basketball. Finally, the last photo shows a blind person, wearing sunglasses, and somebody in a wheelchair smiling at some type of conference.

 

What if the images were replaced by images such as the ones shown below?

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 2.10.12 PM
Photo Credits: Flickr

 

These people do not have visible disabilities, but they do have invisible ones. Will Smith has ADHD, Demi Lovato has bipolar disorder, and the people in the middle have ADHD, dyslexia, and other invisible conditions. Highlighting celebrities and real people with these invisible disabilities in images could help raise awareness and create more tolerance by eliminating individuals from feeling ostracized by others.

 

Additionally, the State Department could cosponsor programs with NGOs for people with invisible disabilities abroad, such as the World Health Organization and International Medical Corps. The World Health Organization works directly with governments to improve the health of the people that they serve. Their Mental Health Action Plan for 2013 to 2020 outlines the need “to recognize the essential role of mental health in achieving health for all people,” placing an emphasis on the importance of prevention. The International Medical Corps is known for providing aid during humanitarian crises and has enacted mental health and psychological programs in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. A partnership with these organizations and the State Department can help to raise awareness and provide direct help to communities all over the world.

 

The State Department can also work directly with embassies to raise awareness across the globe in this area. Influential community leaders with invisible, mental health disabilities could sponsor arts or sports programs and the US State Department could incorporate press from these co-sponsored programs into their website. An example of this type of program would be to have singer Demi Lovato, one of the celebrities above, host a music event for people with and without invisible disabilities. In this instance, music would be used as a way to bridge people together and the State Department could document these connections through press on their website. Promoting cultural events can help change the stigma felt throughout a culture and allow people the opportunity to become more tolerant. The culture change needs to come from governments, whom people look to for guidance.

 

The State Department could incorporate more about invisible disabilities into their #withoutlimits campaign too. Individuals struggling with mental health disabilities can share their stories of perseverance, and have their videos featured alongside the stories of individuals struggling with visible disabilities. On World Mental Health Day, Tuesday, October 10, the State Department could launch a new social media campaign, starting with a webinar series. They could pull together people who have mental health disabilities from around the world and have them speak about how it impacts their lives and what they have done to overcome their disability. The State Department can also work with embassies to create a resource page for people in the US and abroad to highlight resources in their countries. It is beneficial to all countries to have people with disabilities as active members of society.

 

Finally, the State Department could do more to promote their Deployment Stress Management Program, which is located within the Bureau of Medical Services in Mental Health Services. This program provides information, education, and treatment for Foreign Service officers and their families while they are serving the State Department. Creating blog posts about the program or promoting it on social media could help increase the quantity of information on the Internet, thus helping to raise awareness and normalizing invisible disabilities within State Department employees and their families.

 

By showing that disabilities come in all shapes, sizes and visibilities, the lack of acceptance associated with mental health disabilities can be reduced. More awareness and understanding can be created throughout the world.

 

Caveat: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.

It’s a New World: Rewriting Donald Trump’s Twitter

It’s no secret that the prominence and importance of social media has grown tremendously in the last decade. Facebook, Instagram and particularly Twitter have become key tools in political engagement of all sorts. Candidates, journalists and extremist groups alike have seen the outreach level of Twitter, and have used this engagement to build networks and create a narrative for themselves. Donald Trump has been revolutionary in his use of Twitter by engaging with his electorate directly. We haven’t seen a president use Twitter this much and by his own hand. Due to Twitter’s international presence, his tweets can have an enormous impact on the United States’ diplomacy initiatives worldwide. Therefore, we offer his team some guidance about how to potentially better their messaging abroad.

While many have criticized President Trump, few have presented real solutions. I believe that the issue isn’t with Trump’s use of Twitter, but how he uses it and the impact of his word choice and slant. In order to make Twitter a public diplomacy tool, President Trump might step back and consider editing his tweets with a foreign as well as domestic audience in mind. This would require input from officials closer to foreign audiences We offer some examples of potential edits to some of Donald Trump’s more challenging tweets.

Tweet:

 one

Donald Trump in this tweet defends his executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”. The media largely covered the executive order as a ban on Muslims. His tweet, whether purposefully or not, continued the media narrative instead of projecting President Trump’s intent, which is well defined in the order name. Due to its perpetuation of a ban and not an action taken in the name of national security, Donald Trump’s tweet fails to counteract the prevalent narrative. This tweet creates a mismatch in rhetoric regarding the intentions and logistics of the executive order.

Edit:

two.png

This kind of language helps clarify the intention and helps elucidate and promote a narrative of protecting the nation from dangers abroad. It also directs away from the media narrative of discrimination on the part of the executive branch. This tweet also steered away from the use of the term “radical Islamic terrorism”. This key erasure of Islamic from that term points to the root of the problem this order aims to solve, which is violent extremism, and the danger it poses to the United States.

Tweet:

three

Here, President Trump reacts to the 9th circuit court decision to not reinstate his executive order. The intent behind this tweet is decently sound, however the word choice and combative nature give it a harsh undertone. In his questioning of this decision, the tweet challenges the checks and balances system of our three-branch model of government. Donald Trump demonstrates a doubt in the structure of the US government, which could potentially compromise our confidence and high ground when fighting for true and functional democracies internationally.

Edit:

 four

First and foremost, this revision comes out and expresses Donald Trump’s respect for the court system that his original tweet calls into question. This way, he is not only showing respect for the system, he remains a part of it by expressing his intent to continue in the constitutional process. The edit expresses his commitment to the initiative, as it keeps the original language of the second part of the tweet.

Tweet:

five

In this tweet, Trump compares the meetings his staff had with Russian officials with formal meetings between two presidencies. He diminishes the strength of the presidency, as he questions the legitimacy of the enumerated power of the president to act on the part of the United States internationally. Without these powers, the public diplomacy initiatives worldwide are compromised, as the executive is the key to these processes. This poses a threat to his own presidency, as it reflects on the branch overall, and less on the Obama administration individually.

Edit:

six

In the realm of public diplomacy, it is important to make the distinctions between diplomatic relations and potential international tampering. This Tweet isn’t the best reflection of President Trump’s dedication to preserving to dignity of the office of the presidency. We recommend against posting it at all, especially given the current ongoing investigation.

I hope President Trump can take these instances into account moving forward. It is a new reality with Twitter right at our fingertips, and adjusting is an important part of a presidency. Bringing in a communications team to fully develop these messages before they click send should become a consistent plan going forward.  I hope President Trump can take into account the public diplomacy implications of these 140 characters.

Caveat: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.

Event Recap: Challenges in the New Public Diplomacy Environment

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In honor of the Centennial of Walter Roberts’ birth, the Institute for Public Affairs and Global Communication and the Walter Roberts Endowment organized a panel on Challenges in the New Public Diplomacy Environment.

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Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs Frank Sesno reflecting on Walter Roberts’ career

Honoring Walter Roberts and Navigating the New Media Landscape: Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, Frank Sesno, introduced the program by recounting the contributions Walter Roberts has made to public diplomacy in general and George Washington University in particular. Mr. Sesno described how the new media age has transformed our lives, changed the way we obtain and share information, how we organize, mobilize and win. Each person now sustains a unique news feed and serves as his or her own executive producer, which upends old assumptions. The notion of objective journalism, of gate keepers, and even the notion of fact itself is being challenged as never before. Changes in public diplomacy reflect these changes in the real world, which the four panelists addressed.

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Professor Robert Entman discussing updates to his political communication cascade model

U.S. Media Diplomacy and Foreign Opinion:   Emphasizing that there is nothing more practical than a good theory, George Washington University Professor Robert Entman presented an updated model showing how information cascades from elite government circles through the media to the public and back again in feedback loops complicated by the growing power of social media. It is difficult enough to explain when and why Americans support U.S. policy as leaders try to spread their interpretations or frames through a hierarchy of networks, complicated by the ability of leaders to now bypass gatekeepers such as the media by addressing the public directly through social media. Persuading foreign publics to adopt pro-American frames becomes even more complicated as more communication paths form. Foreign leaders and the elites need to be motivated and have the power to spread pro-American frames to their public and gatekeepers. The public needs to be receptive to these frames as well for public opinion to be moved. The challenge is particularly acute in countries and publics hostile to the U.S. but even in close allies the multiple paths and networks for information to flow complicate the mediated public diplomacy efforts of the modern diplomat.

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Macon Phillips outlining the three key challenges facing Public Diplomacy at the Department of State

Connecting People to Policy – Leveraging Digital Tools/Social Media to Advance U.S. Foreign Policy: Macon Phillips, Coordinator of the United States Department of State Bureau of International Information Programs described three challenges facing public diplomacy at the Department of State: 1. thinking of policy in terms of objectives. Setting well defined, achievable objectives allows one to have an effective strategy and to measure success. This involves moving from telling people what they need to know to what they need to do. 2. Identifying priority audiences to achieve these objectives, which will affect even something as minor as putting together the traditional guest list. 3. Maintaining relations. One must maintain relationships and develop trust. The thousands of alumni of our international visitor and educational exchange programs should be viewed as allies and not just alumni. Nurturing and maintaining relationships will inoculate contacts, making them more resistant to disinformation. This will allow the USG to be less reactive and more proactive – a much better strategy.

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André Mendes discussing how the BBG has progressed despite facing public diplomacy challenges

Reaching global audiences – A changing saga of platforms, paradigms, censorship and ever narrower echo chambers: André Mendes, Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors André Mendes outlined three challenges.  The first is budgetary, reaching out to the world while following Congressional and other mandates requiring continued investment in certain areas and technologies.  The second is overcoming censorship with some of the most sophisticated censorship in the area of online software.  BBG has the world’s largest anti-censorship operation with one trillion hits while continuing to overcome short wave and satellite censorship from countries such as Ethiopia and censorship of all kinds from countries ranging from Mali to Russia.  The third challenge is the echo chamber effect, the fact that people naturally gravitate towards information they already believe in.  The problem though is that every search we perform creates a micro environment as ads, articles, and preferences are directed to what we already like.  The objective of online platforms is to make money by gathering clicks rather than to inform.  Individuals from all corners of the world know that they can make money by generating clicks on our preferred platforms by writing articles that will outrage us even if not true.  We are all willing accomplices by participating.  Finally, Mr. Mendes described the progress the BBG had made in the last seven years, from 165 million monthly followers, mostly in radio to 270 million today, half TV and half radio and digital platforms.  Given that this expansion has occurred under budget cuts of 150 million in an environment in which media in general is shrinking this is one of the world’s great success stories.

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Andrea De Arment giving insights on how digital diplomacy can and must be transformed

 Public Diplomacy in a “Post-Truth” World: Andrea De Arment, incoming Information Officer and Spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu Andrea De Arment emphasized that diplomats need to make the tough transition from a reliance on facts and figures to the realization that most people paying more attention to what people care about: feelings, personal beliefs, culture and religion.  To be truly effective, PD professionals need to be at the table when policy is being made to make the decision makers aware how a given policy will be perceived in various regions of the world.  One cannot be served a plate made in the policy making sausage factory with the mandate to make people think it is delicious.  Successful public diplomacy must engage so that diplomats don’t just push out information but listen to what is coming back.  Digital diplomacy also needs to entertain in a strategic manner.  Soft diplomacy grows audiences but one needs to go where the audience is to engage.  This requires leaving the safety of the walled compound to engage with the public to close the last three feet to use E Murrow’s phrase.

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Discussion Session: The discussion session revolved around issues of building trust both within institutions and with the public at large.  Our partners can carry our message sometimes even more effectively than we can, which is particularly important when working with hostile publics.  Diplomats need to use social media not only to transmit messages but to listen and to engage in the necessary give and take which builds relationships.  The best way to inoculate oneself from Fake News is build relationships of trust and to be credible sources.  To keep up with rapid developments, the State Department needs to move from a default clear to a default open culture, which will improve efficiency and motivate employees.  To be effective, one must have well defined goals of what success looks like, which also allows one to identify failure more easily.  One needs to change in order to survive but innovations should not be made for innovation sake but to more effectively support U.S. policy goals.

Public Diplomacy Social Media Techniques and Audience Targeting

U.S. public diplomacy campaigns can be even further enriched by integrating advertising audience targeting and engagement tactics into the existing diplomatic digital and social media strategy and execution. Tapping into these tactics will build on the strong foundation that is already set in the social media landscape by the U.S. Department of State in their current digital diplomacy strategy.

Certain online audience targeting tactics come to mind when reviewing current Embassy social media content. Digital diplomacy messages shared by the numerous U.S. Embassy accounts can be boosted with compelling visuals. Several posts contain visuals automatically selected by the Facebook algorithm from the website the U.S. Embassy is sharing in the post. These click through links all direct the audience to a Department of State website, and thus the visuals belong to the Department as well. The U.S. Embassy should consider uploading the visuals as part of the post directly, as the Facebook algorithm frequently does not select the best visual from the click through link for the purpose of the post. Selecting the visual and uploading it directly will give the U.S. Embassy the greatest amount of control with respect to what information the team is emphasizing to the audience. Posts with such visuals, whether photos, infographics or graphs, are proven to perform at higher engagement rates, no matter the industry, and the Embassies should share content with such compelling visuals in order to work on securing higher levels of engagement.

Next, a call to action (i.e. Learn More, Discover the United States, See Additional Photos, etc.) will naturally entice the audience to click through to the links provided and engage further with the content from the U.S. Government. The links should direct the audiences to more detailed information of the official position on the topics at hand. This is an opportunity to expand upon the content shared in a limited 140-character tweet or short Facebook post, and every effort must be made to motivate the audience to click on the link to continue the engagement past the initial post.

Finally, using varied language, or copy, with wording closely aligned to the Embassy’s goals and target audiences will speak volumes. While I am not in a position to know the exact target audiences of the Embassies, I take issue with the catchall approach the social content currently seems to employ. A foreign population is a challenging audience, and it would serve my presumed goal for the Embassy of increased engagement with social media content to segment and more specifically target the desired audiences. Several desired audiences that the Embassies might want to target in their communications include the educators, students, law makers/politicians, elites or societal influencers, and the general population of the country where the Embassy is hosted. Engagement happens when a member of the target audience is inspired by the message to respond. Doors open when strategies and tactics are used to speak directly to that target audience as opposed to an entire population.

Our U.S. Embassies around the world shared relevant and detailed information leading up to the historic U.S. Election in 2016 across their social media channels. Take the U.S. Embassy in South Africa as an example – several Facebook posts were publicly shared to explain more about the Electoral College, election vernacular, and voter fraud potential. These topics are all of interest to South Africans, particularly with the recent South African Municipal Election still fresh in their minds. Yet, this outsider believes the messages could be even further refined and targeted to different but equally important audiences for the U.S. Embassy, such as the lawmakers or the educators in country. Reworking the content in these posts is a relatively straightforward process, and one that can be easily incorporated into the ever-expanding analytics and graphics group at the Department of State.

The Embassy’s post about the Electoral College aims to share important information about the essential process by which the U.S. President is chosen. Unfortunately, the Facebook post has little energy and direction for the audience to grasp, particularly with the use of quote marks, which invite speculation into the interpretation of the statement.

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Figure 1: Screenshot of U.S. Embassy South Africa Facebook post on November 8, 2016, captured on November 22, 2016 3:45PM ET

The leading question used in this post can be built upon by using more specific and varied language to align the post with the intention of reaching a certain target audience. Audiences need to be spoken to directly with appropriate vernacular and thought-provoking issues to entice engagement and understanding. The Embassy could rework the post to say, “Why does California have more Electoral College votes than Alaska? The Electoral College is at the heart of our democratic voting process, yet most Americans still need a refresher on the puts and takes of the system. Take a look at this post to gain deeper insight into the inner workings of American voting this election season: [link]” in order to accommodate this recommendation when looking to engage with a general population of local South Africans.

Secondly, this post’s image was selected by the Facebook algorithm from the link shared. It is a superb photo to use in the post – the iconic New York Rockefeller Center ice skating rink with the red Republican and blue Democrat map of the United States is a captivating visual for those interesting in learning more about the United States. However, this photo can be further emphasized by use of the direct image upload feature on Facebook to show the full visual and share an intentional emphasis of the photo.

A second post by the U.S. Embassy in South Africa focused on the use of election vernacular and how foreign audiences should interpret the meanings of those terms within the context of the U.S. General Election.

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Figure 2: Screenshot of U.S. Embassy South Africa Facebook post on November 7, 2016, captured on November 22, 2016 3:45PM ET

Again, the “coattails” visual contained in this post is dynamic and illustrative of the topic at hand, but the viewer is unable to enjoy the full effect as only two-thirds of the image is shown. By uploading the image directly into the post, the audience sees the entire image, including the full politicians with the election confetti and balloons, and knows that the visual directly corresponds to the post content.

Additionally, the topic of United States election vernacular could be an enjoyable educational experience, particularly for the audience of South African government workers and educators alike, yet the copy used in the second part of the post is devoid of excitement. The language is stiff in the opening sentence “You’ll hear American commentators use some strange words to talk about the ins and outs of the U.S. election,” as if it is being held back behind a wall that only cautious, appropriate copy is allowed to pass through. Injecting additional punctuation, adjectives and calls to action will jazz up the language and entice more readers to stop and read the post, and then perhaps even engage with the post to learn more. Careful selection of this language is of course required, but even a simple “Take a glance at this quick guide to the three most common phrases used by Americans around Election Day: [link]” would help to encourage additional engagement with the Embassy post, particularly with an elite or political audience short on time and needing a quick update on the latest U.S. Election slang.

Finally, the third post I’ve selected from the U.S. Embassy in South Africa’s Facebook page centered on the potential for voter fraud.

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Figure 3: Screenshot of U.S. Embassy South Africa Facebook post on October 24, 2016, captured on November 22, 2016 3:45PM ET

This post is perhaps the most in line with the recommendations I suggest for further enhancing the effectiveness of the posts. The language is more intriguing to the South African audience, given the direct connection to the current discussion revolving around fraud in South African government, and includes a direct call to action to read the article by clicking on the link to learn more.

All of these U.S. Embassy South Africa posts use click-throughs to the Share.America.gov, a website populated with State Department content which is “the U.S. Department of State’s platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”[1] This platform is an excellent representation of a dynamic, mobile-optimized website where the audience can expand their knowledge about official policy positions and current actions taken by the U.S. Government on the topics of the posts.

These three tactical approaches to refining social media content directly correlate to the strategy of furthering engagement with local populations and improving retention of U.S. policy positions. Each tactic can be further supplemented with the use of paid promoted posts in the social media platforms. A relatively small amount of dollars can go a long way to specify the audiences targeted by each message execution (certainly when compared to the cost of an exchange program or speaking tour, for example). The greatest measurements that would clearly portray an improvement in Embassy posts are engagement rates, impression numbers, click through measurements and the like, all of which are only available to the individual account managers and not this outsider. I urge the Department of State to consider these ideas in order to implement upgrades that further enhance audience targeting, segmentation, and resulting engagement throughout their online diplomatic strategy, including both paid and non-paid options.

The views expressed within are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of George Washington University.

[1] https://share.america.gov/about-us/

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