CPD Perspectives Paper Examines Twitter Public Diplomacy in Research and Practice

Jul 17, 2012

In the latest CPD Perspectives paper, titled "Practicing Successful Twitter Public Diplomacy: A model and case study of U.S. efforts in Venezuela," U.S. Air Force Public Affairs officer Erika Yepsen examines the role Twitter can play in public diplomacy, and how current policy needs to adapt to enable government to capitalize upon the benefits of the technology to engage effectively online. It proposes the opinion leader network model as a method to achieve successful engagement over Twitter, and examines this model in practice through a case study of U.S. Embassy Twitter engagement in Venezuela. It also uses a methodology for analyzing Twitter that reviewer Anoush Rima Tatevossian calls "both robust and replicable," making this paper particularly relevant for practitioners and researchers of Public Diplomacy 2.0.

Read the entire paper here.

CPD Perspectives is a periodic publication from the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, and highlights scholarship intended to stimulate critical thinking about the study and practice of public diplomacy.

Review of Practicing Successful Twitter Public Diplomacy

by Anoush Rima Tatevossian, CPD Research Fellow 2010-12

Erika Yepsen’s study on Twitter diplomacy is a useful addition to the growing body of “Public Diplomacy 2.0” scholarship and research. At the heart of the paper is the recognition that Twitter is an utmost two-way communication network, and yet not enough is understood about that particular network environment by public diplomacy practitioners to make engagement valuable. Indeed, the thorough introductory segments of the paper give a sophisticated summary of relevant theories, and a discussion on the mechanics and realities of communication networks in the Information Age.

The stated dual goals of the paper are to define successful Twitter public diplomacy, and to propose the “Opinion Leader Network Model” as a method for Twitter engagement. Yepsen looks to conversation in the Venezuelan Twittersphere, and the U.S. Embassy’s presence in it (or, lack there of), as a case study in which to test the opinion leader model.

The bulk of the paper documents her unique research methodology and process, which included scoring the influence of users by using several free and available online tools, and conducting detailed content analysis of over 10,000 Tweets to determine which Venezuelan Twitter users would be the most relevant for public diplomacy engagement.

Her research ultimately shows that the U.S. Embassy is not engaging with the most influential people on Twitter in Venezuela, raising an interesting and provocative question about whether current policies even allow for the pursuit of two-way communication, or whether public diplomacy practitioners and planners generally still think of social media as another broadcast media opportunity. These questions certainly warrant further exploration and research.

This method of identifying influential opinion leaders on Twitter which Yepsen offers is both robust and replicable, and would be useful in the toolkit of any public diplomat developing, or refining, his or her Twitter strategy: whether it be for tactical listening, strategic listening, or to actually venture into the terrain of two-way engagement.

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