Interesting new book on both the strategy and challenges of volume facing public diplomats:
This very fact of reliance on social media points to another facet of 21st Century public diplomacy, the need to cope with an extraordinary volume of activity. Virtually every article speaks in some fashion of the issue of volume. In Shanghai the American pavilion had to cope with 50,000 visitors a day. Before a visit by President Obama to Ghana the Embassy sponsored “Ask Obama a question” on its website and got 300,000 responses. When Embassy Brasilia had a two-hour web chat 40,000 individuals participated. These are stunning numbers. It is, of course, beyond the capacity of any one embassy or indeed of the entire United States government to deal with 300,000 questions. The new technologies make it possible to reach extraordinary numbers of individuals; particularly among youthful age cohorts, but to make these technologies truly interactive is beyond our ability. Indeed just reading this volume of messages, let alone assessing the significance of the messages being sent would be a challenge for which there is no obvious solution. This is, of course, a core public diplomacy issue: how to measure success. It is easy to quantify the numbers of tweets sent and received, of postings on interactive blog sites or the numbers of Facebook friends of a particular Embassy. But what do these numbers mean and how can we be sure that we are reaching those who can impact American policies and interests or that we are changing attitudes towards the United States in a positive way?
A second constraining factor, which emerges in many of these articles, is the question of language. One of the final sentences of Walter Douglas’ piece on PD in Pakistan is telling. “English”, he says, “can be a pernicious influence” His Embassy had relied overly on the English language media in Pakistan and had ignored the Urdu media. He and his team changed that and set up a daily analysis of the vernacular media. Here, however, one of the key shortcomings of American PD becomes apparent. Embassy Islamabad must rely almost entirely on locally employed staff to do this monitoring and analysis. Similarly in the examples from Bahrain and Baghdad, while the Embassy has Arabic-capable officers working on PD, the managing of the social media falls on the local staff.