Monday, February 28, 2011

Tools and tactics and tweets, oh my!

Last week in class Chris Dufor (or Professor Hayden? Sorry my notes aren't clear on this) said social media is a "tool" for Public Diplomacy and not a "tactic." Therefore social media isn't a PD strategy in and of itself, but it can be part of an overall PD strategy. I completely agree with this statement, social media on its own won't make other countries listen to you or like you any more, but they can be used in order to connect with people and try to send messages to a wider audience than was previously possible. As we discussed in class, having many people in the State Department and other government agencies tweet and/or blog, just to get them on social media, won't help to enhance US PD efforts, and, also as we discussed, could even serve to complicate or confuse messages.

Social media also can't be the only tool used because so far we aren't really sure what makes some social media campaigns successful while other similar ones are not. Some of it depends on the context of the particular situation, for example in Egypt, social media helped to bring together and publicize the revolution that toppled Mubarak (but was not the only factor). Social media was also widely used during the 2009 and more recent protests in Iran and did help to organize and publicize the message, but as we know those protests have not toppled the Iranian government. The difference in outcomes here seems to be closely tied to the governments' willingness to use force against its own people and control of the military and other resources. In Egypt, the army and other security forces did little to intervene (although police are said to have been part of the pro-Mubarak rallies/clashes) and therefore the protests were able to continue and grow. In Iran however, it is clear that Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard have no qualms about using force on protesters and making sure dissidents are silenced. Libya has been somewhere in the middle, with Gaddafi using force against the opposition, but unable to put down the revolt as he does not have complete loyalty within the weak military structure he (ironically) created to prevent a military coup. These examples show that while social media can clearly play a role in social movements, it alone can not overthrow a government. The same would hold true for a public diplomacy strategy.

In addition, it seems that many governments and companies are hoping on the social media bandwagon because they think it will bring them instant results. However, as we've talked about PD isn't just something that can be done with quick fixes and short-term solutions. There has to be something to sustain the message and relationship that it builds. Unfortunately, in large part due to the internet, officials, managers and consumers expect and want instant results for everything, often overlooking the long-term consequences of doing so. I feel that I see this all too often in US government, at home and abroad. It would cost a lot of money in the short-term to fix the problems with our nations roads and bridges, so no one wants to authorize it for fear of raising spending. However, the costs of the consequences of not doing so could be far far higher in terms of human and economics costs. Case in point, the 2007 Minneapolis, MN bridge collapse. Short-term results are needed too, but shouldn't be done at the cost of long-term effectiveness.

There is also the question of how to measure the "results," as we saw in the case study of the US Digital Outreach Team. The team did seem to be effective in reaching audiences, but there wasn't much evidence that they were actually changing their attitudes and opinions toward the US. In addition, there is no way to determine if those who "lurk" in these forums are being affected by the message and the posts are written only by those who have very strong opinions on the subject. They are reaching many more people than those who engage with them online, but it is helping? Does it even matter that those people are reading the DOT's posts? Is the number of page hits indicative of a successful campaign? (short answer, no) Maybe the government will get a million people to watch a YouTube video about America's positive attributes, but does that change anything? Millions of people have also watched videos of a sleep walking dog running into a wall and babies eating lemons and that doesn't change anything about society (other than the fact that we can now procrastinate and waste time by watching videos on Youtube). Many many people also joined groups on Facebook to "Save Darfur," but did that do anything to help the people there (who don't have Facebook, so they won't see it as some kind of solidarity stance). Social media is only part of the strategy, there needs to be a more personal way to interact and have people take action in order to change minds.

No comments:

Post a Comment