A diplomatic tweet in my ear…
The 21st century has introduced us to a vast number of changes in the world, especially in means of technology and as an effect; we have seen how many sectors have moved from a traditional practice to one which is more hi-tech. The World Wide Web has become a very strong tool in this modernisation as it has made the world shrink; people around the world are closer in time and space. The revolution of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, it could be argued, is one reason for a growing urge for instant and constant information.
Diplomacy is not an exception in this type of modernisation. Lately we have experienced how it has moved from being a highly official thing practiced behind closed doors, far from the public eye, to something that we now continuously can follow and understand more easily. We owe many of our thanks to Twitter for this. At this platform, we are now able to follow, retweet, and write directly, not only to ambassadors across the world, but also to leaders such as Barack Obama, Pope Francis or Russia’s Prime Minister Medvedev.
The 144-character limited platform is being more and more used by diplomats, leaders, politicians, institions and organisations around the globe, and this new sensation has given us the new stylish term twiplomacy. It has opened up to a completely new level of diplomacy as this is a direct contact to the public and even with other peers (Burson-Marsteller, 2014). With this, they are allowed to communicate, at this point mainly to a younger audience, what is currently going on or important decision making in a different style and they can even be a bit more personal. However, it is not everyone who masters this way of limited communication and there is always the risk that a tweet goes wrong. There have been numerous occasions where tweets from officials have caused problems, even between states, which have resulted in need for negotiations (Wichowski, 2013).
But despite the risk of mistakes, diplomats are often encouraged to tweet because the wins are greater (Wichowski, 2013). As the PR and communication firm Burson-Marsteller has proved in recent studies, all leading international organisations in the world and an increasing number leaders tweet, which also proves for the demand for it by the public (Burson-Marsteller, 2013). If an organisation does not have an account, it loses the important contact with the community and risks being unnoticed. The studies also show that the number of followers does not necessarily go hand in hand with popularity of a tweet as the way of using pictures, selfies, hashtags, Q&A’s and so on, plays a big role in popularity which proves of the importance to actually understand the network (Burson-Marsteller, 2014). Additionally, this type of communication also works the other way around; the public is likewise able to communicate with the officials and therefore turns it into a two-way communication and people are now able to talk back and take part, which more traditional ways of communication such as TV, radio or magazines cannot offer (Seib, 2012).
Ae example of a particular event where Twitter, together with Facebook, proved to be valuable was during the Arab Spring, 2011. The protesters mobilised themselves for the uprisings using these platforms and the governments failed their attempts to prohibit the sites. And all this was online, for the world to follow (Huang, 2011).
British ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher has stated that he uses Twitter not only to reach out to the public, but also to collect information from other peers on the forum and he described how the platform was useful during the Arab Spring, how it made it easier to follow the events live, with tweets constantly rolling in from all sides of the conflicts. He strongly beliefs in the platform and as he puts it, finds it that diplomats ought to be ‘riding digital tiger’ as it is a trend that won’t fade (Fletcher, 2011).
Social media is a big element in our contemporary era as an ever increasing amount of people over the world gets access to internet. Twitter can undoubtedly be used as a powerful tool to raise influence and popularity. Here, diplomats, leaders and organisations are able to perform an efficient and direct public diplomacy. As technology moves forward and takes an ever bigger part in people’s lives, it will be more and more important tool to reach out and to actually bring themselves closer to the people. Additionally, as more leaders world-wide create accounts, it will offer an ever more complete platform for diplomatic matters.
Burson –Marsteller, @UNICEF, @UN, @Davos Are the Most Followed international organisations on Twitter – Burson-Marsteller Twiplomacy study finds, Novmber 20, 2013, http://www.burson-marsteller.co.uk/newsarticles/unicef-un-davos-are-the-most-followed-international-organisations-on-twitter-burson-marsteller-twiplomacy-study-finds-2/#sthash.qYe9xHCx.dpuf, accessed November, 2014
Burson-Marsteller, Twiplomacy Study 2014, 2014, http://twiplomacy.com/blog/twiplomacy-study-2014/#section-11, accessed November 2014
Fletcher, Twiplomacy- Riding the Digital Tiger, 2011, gov.uk, https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/twiplomacy-riding-the-digital-tiger, accessed Novemer 2014
Huang, Facebook and Twitter, Key to Arab Spring Uprising: Report, 2011, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/facebook-and-twitter-key-to-arab-spring-uprisings-report, accessed November 2014
Seib, Twiplomacy- Worth Praising but with Caution, Canadian International Council, October 17, 2012, http://opencanada.org/features/the-think-tank/comments/twiplomacy-worth-praising-but-with-caution/, accessed November 2014
Wichowski, Social Diplomacy, Or How Diplomats Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tweet, Foreign Affairs, April 5, 2013, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139134/alexis-wichowski/social-diplomacy, accessed November 2014