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Public Diplomacy Takes On Social Media: 21st Century Statecraft


The U.S. Department of State”s social media presence extends around the world, thanks to U.S. embassies, consulates, and other missions. U.S. diplomats now receive social media training—called 21st Century Statecraft—before they head out on assignment. Some diplomats have readily embraced and begun using online tools such as Facebook and Twitter to share their message.

What is 21st Century Statecraft?

Public diplomacy   social media

Public diplomacy takes on social media

It is a key initiative started by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to work with traditional foreign policy tools. The idea is to fully leverage the networks, technologies, and demographics of our interconnected world.

In other words, it’s the State Department acknowledging the power and usefulness of social media as a necessary part of their diplomatic toolkit. Yet the department is doing more than just talking the talk; it’s also walking the walk.

For the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft month (January 2012), department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland took questions from the public selected from their 10 official Twitter accounts using the hashtag #AskState. She also conducted a Twitter briefing every Friday in January.

Did you know that the U.S. State Department has 10 official Twitter feeds? They are in in Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu. The department also has a Facebook page, a blog (DipNote), a YouTube Channel and a Flickr account.

According to NPR, here are the numbers:

  • U.S. State Department Twitter accounts: 195
  • Facebook accounts: 288
  • Foreign language Twitter feeds: 11 (Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu)
  • Twitter followers for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice: 130,000
  • Twitter followers for U.S. Ambassador to Japan, John Roos: 49,000
  • Twitter followers for U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney: 28,000
  • Twitter followers for U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul: 16,000

Some Excellent Examples:

Despite evacuating Syria for security issues, that country’s U.S. Ambassador, Robert Ford, has continued using Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with and help shape the events within the country and stay in contact with Syrian citizens. Even before leaving Syria, embassy staff regularly used social media; Ford would routinely answer questions from Syrian citizens on Facebook.

The U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, has been using social media to counter an attack from the Russian press. He also starred in a  to introduce himself to the Russian people. He tweets in Russian and English and communicates regularly through Facebook.

In December 2011, the State Department launched a “virtual embassy” in Tehran, Iran. The United States hasn’t had an embassy in Iran since the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution when embassy officials were held hostage for more than a year.

The virtual embassy is the usual website, but it does have some posts targeted to Iranian citizens as well as information regarding visas and studying in the United States. However, the Iranian government blocks the embassy site, making it very hard for the average citizen to access it.

Like the rest of the business world, the State Department (which is really just a business itself, right?) has figured out that continuous innovation will keep it at the forefront of their industry, enabling broader, quality information-sharing and engagement.

If you want to see a complete list of all the embassies, consulates and other State Departments in social media with links to their sites, please visit the U.S. Department of State Facebook page.

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