By Keith Dinnie, Founder, Brand Horizons
Public diplomacy – which may be defined as reaching out to audiences beyond the diplomatic corps and government in the receiving state – poses a number of challenges that embassies must address. Whilst the concept of public diplomacy is relatively well established, the quality and effectiveness of public diplomacy programmes in practice fluctuates wildly from one embassy to another.
Three of the key issues to consider in public diplomacy include the influence of individual ambassadors; the use of celebrities; and the appropriateness of using social media.
The attitude and behaviour of individual ambassadors can influence not only the effects of public diplomacy programmes, but also the very existence or otherwise of such programmes. When an ambassador actively supports public diplomacy activities and encourages other individuals within the embassy to contribute their ideas and energy, the results can be impressive. On the other hand, when an ambassador frowns on such initiatives, inertia sets in. A diplomat at an embassy in Washington D.C. informed me recently that his suggestions to implement public diplomacy initiatives were flatly rejected on the grounds that “It is not the government’s job to promote our country”.
Public diplomacy attempts to engage with the general population in foreign countries. To this end, celebrities can play a powerful role in establishing perceptions of the country which they are from. For example, within Japan, public perceptions of Estonia are based exclusively on one person – the sumo ozeki Baruto, a successful and hugely popular sumo wrestler who comes from Estonia. Baruto regularly appears at events designed to cement relations between Estonia and Japan, and his presence is valued by the Embassy of Estonia in Japan. Other embassies, however, do not reach out to their diaspora – celebrities or otherwise – and thus miss out on what may potentially be the only means by which they will generate interest in their country amongst foreign populations.
The use of social media is an emerging trend in public diplomacy programmes. High profile social media brands such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube offer countries as well as individual diplomats the opportunity to reach wider audiences than ever before. The best known example of a country embracing a user-generated content approach to social media is the Curators of Sweden campaign, in which each week a different Swedish citizen is allowed to curate the @Sweden national Twitter profile. The stated objective of this campaign is to promote interest and confidence in Sweden around the world. However, the downside to the campaign is the risk of individual citizens tweeting offensive content. Such a hands-off approach to public diplomacy may not be appropriate for most countries. firstname.lastname@example.org