Princeton University Library Catalog

AMERICA’S ‘FRIENDS’: Social Media Use in U.S. Diplomacy

Haecker, Joshua [Browse]
Senior thesis
Slaughter, Anne-Marie [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
92 pages
Restrictions note:
Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Summary note:
The importance of Public Diplomacy in America’s diplomatic efforts continues to rise. In the wake of the Arab Spring – demonstrating the power of networks of people connected via the Internet – the U.S. State Department must embrace the need to reach out to such networks to effect lasting impact in their countries. While State-to-State diplomacy remains important, the growing interconnectedness of the world necessitates an understanding that the best way to connect to large groups of people is no longer via interactions with their government. The Office of Innovation at the State Department, under Alec Ross, has taken many laudable strides in this direction. They have hosted network development conferences in D.C. trained embassies in social media use, and helped create impressive numbers of public-private partnerships to produce results in potentially treacherous situations. Many embassies are also embracing Public Diplomacy through evolving Internet technologies. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, American assistance and disaster relief was largely coordinated through Twitter. In India, Zimbabwe, and Uruguay Embassy staffers (often the Ambassadors themselves) host weekly Facebook chats to engage with foreign nationals. Though Ambassador Robert Ford departed Syria because of safety concerns over a year ago, he still maintains a vibrant virtual embassy presence through Facebook and Twitter. However, there remains much work to be done. Despite the exemplary efforts of these Embassies, many more posts maintain only a token presence online, and nothing has been done to encourage them to improve. Furthermore, most stories of success exist in a vacuum, well-known to staffers at that Embassy and a some at the State Department centrally, but not shared with the 195 other Embassies that could take advantage of these best practices. Even in the cases where Embassies are committed to social media engagement, many do not understand how to target the message. They have embraced the misconception that they cannot speak to everyone, and thus just speak on those issues by which they find it easiest to connect. Instead, America’s diplomats should focus on speaking to an appropriate collection of followers, such that those followers then spread the message forward to the entire audience they aim to reach. A better understanding of how the networks in their regions operate will facilitate these improvements. Moreover, there has been too little analysis of quantitative metrics available for social media efforts. As such, many easily fixed problems are not being addressed. It is true that many Embassies that pursued social media aggressively from the outset did not have access to the types of metrics two years ago that are available now. This new data, available through companies such as Topsy and SimplyMeasured allow an in-depth look not just at who the audience is, but also what types of content resonate with them and generate the most interaction. There are several embassies that primarily use Twitter to share videos, photos and links, and while this may be appropriate for some audiences, it is not with all. The data show that several embassies pursuing this strategy are in countries with widespread mobile Internet availability, but without anything approaching the high-speed Internet connections taken for granted in the Western world. Absent this bandwidth, multimedia content is likely to be ignored, and worse, may signal a disconnect with the audience the Embassy is trying to reach. A better understanding of an embassy’s audience through the use of metrics, as well as a centralized system for documenting and sharing successes and failures, can help to inaugurate Public Diplomacy efforts into the 21st century.