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Obama Team Effectively Utilizes Online Social Networking for Public Diplomacy

Jul 7, 2009

Through the use of new technology, President Obama has made it clear that when he speaks in Ghana this Saturday, July 11, he intends to move from monologue to dialogue as the U.S. State Department opens up venues for greater public participation in the conversation.

The U.S. State Department expects an outpouring of people from all over Africa. They also recognize, however, that there will be millions who would like to be present and will not be able to attend. In an effort to further reach out to all Africans, they have created several different venues for citizen participation.

To begin with, President Obama has participated in pre-Ghana conversations with African citizens even before he embarked on his most recent oversees trip. He has spoken with AllAfrica.com, where Africans were given the opportunity to ask Obama questions and receive answers. He will also take questions from here and other sources in radio interviews when he arrives in Africa.

Additionally, the White House team for new media has created multiple platforms to encourage responses. These include text messaging with unique country codes, a Twitter feed (#obamaghana), and Facebook online chat for the event. Each of these venues promotes citizen participation in shared public spaces.

Finally, the U.S. Government has encouraged members in virtual worlds to pick up the event and host their own conversations. In Second Life, I have been participating with a group that is convening interested citizens for a conversation discussing what it means to be a global citizen and how technology has created a new virtual public sphere to develop a marketplace of ideas. These places offer individual citizens the chance to articulate their views and suggest viable solutions.

In short, these initiatives demonstrate the very best potential for new technology to facilitate public diplomacy for dialogue and citizen engagement. It allows Obama to answer tough policy questions in ways that encourage maximum participation while strategically influencing the general African population. No other U.S. Administration has thus far been either willing or able to create such an open public network.

And despite this "new media" push, there continues to be an emphasis on even more ubiquitous means of communication such as radio to acknowledge those who are on the other side of the digital divide.

In terms of public diplomacy utilization of new technology, this outreach is one of the most progressive in U.S. history. Of course, this openness is certainly easier to pursue when a President can expect tremendous support and high approval ratings in target regions.

Comments

Interesting to see this evolution of public participation in disseminating information. The old government and traditional news media filters continue disappear. And this is still just the beginning. The next step is the full live video and audio webcast from your i-phone.

Good luck with your Second Life conference and thanks for the update.

Tori,
Good post but I suggest the Administration is not yet "effective" as much as they are "active" in their use of social media. We are too prone to focus on our small audiences. True that public diplomacy works on one person at a time but the ultimate purpose of public diplomacy is not to engage that individual but to create an ambassador or proxy within other networks, online or offline. The real measure of effectiveness is far beyond the immediate, or tactical, success.

Also, your last two paragraphs are spot on. Regardless of the digital divide, new media or any technology isn't a panacea, just like radio - the new media sixty years ago - was not a silver bullet. The cross-over from old to new and back again is tremendous so to focus simply on 'new' media in the wired world can be just as dangerous as focusing on 'new' media in the less wired world.

Thanks for the comments.

Matt, I agree - active is a good word to describe the social media use. Either way, it is certainly pushing engagement to a more involved level. I think engagement is the first step towards creating those important citizen ambassadors. Especially if they feel their voices are heard.

As a note, the virtual world event will be this Saturday, July 11. Join us in Metaplace: http://metaplace.com/Interval
5:00 AM Pacific.

Hi Tori:

Interesting post. Interesting because it makes me wonder how effective can Social Media be in reaching out to people in Africa? Who will it reach and will it serve the intended purpose? I am just curious about the engagement model that is being used while connecting with people from Africa, Asia (read non-western societies) because the reach of social media is limited in these countries ... and you correctly identified the digital divide. So, there has to be multiple levels of engagement with social media 'possibly' providing the push to the target group which then 'spreads the word' through other mediums.

Best regards,

Madhur

http://www.softpower-madhur.blogspot.com

Tori,
Good post but I suggest the Administration is not yet "effective" as much as they are "active" in their use of social media. We are too prone to focus on our small audiences. True that public diplomacy works on one person at a time but the ultimate purpose of public diplomacy is not to engage that individual but to create an ambassador or proxy within other networks, online or offline. The real measure of effectiveness is far beyond the immediate, or tactical, success.

Best regards,
Matt from target locations

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