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Social Engagement: How Technology is Changing Traditional Rules and Roles

By now, most netizens understand that social media is enabling us to expand our personal influence by reaching broad and specific groups of online actors. The big question is not how social media is driving organizations to change how often and how directly they communicate with their audiences and markets. What is too seldom discussed is how social media is changing the way specific actors play their public roles and the responsibilities that they must now incorporate into their positions as a result of communicating via social networks. 

Arturo Sarukhan [@Arturo_Sarukhan22h], Mexico’s former Ambassador to the US, crafted an engaging article in March 2013 for The Huffington Post. In it, he explains how social media is changing the way governments, NGOs, and civil-society institutions engage their audiences — and more directly, how social media requires them to do what they previously have done differently, with more openness, transparency, and flexibility. 

Among many of the critical insights by the man who is credited with helping transition diplomacy from the backroom to the online platform are the three drivers he believes are shaping how social media is advancing digital diplomacy and transforming traditional diplomatic practices for crafting public policy. He identifies these drivers as:

  1. Listen and analyze.
  2. Correct and impact.
  3. Empower and transform.

While these may not seem groundbreaking, what he calls for is: That diplomatic actors must put themselves out in the public area, speak directly to their audiences, and take full responsibility for what they say. With such an approach, diplomats will generate authentic trust and will receive honest feedback that allows them to shape their approaches to diplomacy and inform the policies they craft and support. Perhaps most important, it will help remove one of the key frustrations in dealing with governments: the obstacle of access to key actors. Read Mr. Sarukhan’s article here:

Although social media is overwhelming in the sheer volume of information it disseminates, it is enabling us to craft narratives that are more accurate, more complex, more authentic, and in the end, more trustworthy. And because it is, it can help diplomats and the people they serve to bring to light solutions that help permanently alleviate some of the critical ills affecting communities worldwide. The online communication can have more influence than an army of 1,000 and the financial support of US$5 billion. It has the potential to persuade, to engage, to motivate, to inform, to enable listening, and to empower voices long silent from social marginalization.  


Joseph Dennis Kelly

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May 2018
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