Members of the private and public sectors in Ottawa — public affairs professionals, civil servants and a few politically engaged folk — were invited to attend a video session with U.S. Department of State‘s Policy Advisor for Innovation Ben Scott last week. Mr. Scott, spoke about the transformations happening in social media, technology innovation, and foreign policy.

The discussion was fascinating and included a crash course on the evolution of diplomacy from traditional forms (gov-to-gov diplomacy and gov-to-people diplomacy though mass media) to what he called eDiplomacy (people-to-people and people-to-gov diplomacy) brought about by new forms of democratized digital communication and engagement, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 21st Century Statecraft.

It’s been quite a process for the bureaucracy. Among the many challenges are the speed at which information and relationships evolve, the rate of change in regional and digital culture, and the shifts in attitudes with respect to desired tone and level of participation.

Diplomacy no longer works as a one-size-fits-all initiative. And, perhaps the greatest challenge is the reality that anything said in social media can be interpreted as an official statement on the public record (including retweets which many view as a form of endorsement).

This all means the State Department has to find ways to short-circuit internal processes and politics. They’ve also discovered it’s no longer practical to confine understanding to regional issues and their populations. They must know the audience at both the macro and micro levels and learn how to communicate and engage with them. Success is about consistent proactive communications rather than a series of isolated transactions. The State Department is also becoming more creative in the way it uses social media to disseminate information and promote events. Social media must be considered “out of the gate” rather than after the fact.

In wrapping up his presentation, Mr. Scott offered these recommendations.

  • Map your information environment
    • regional tools
    • language/tone
    • relationship between traditional and social media
  • Become a consumer of social media
  • Cultivate a network of networks (through other participants and influencers)
  • Be creative with your content

Thank you to the U.S. Embassy Ottawa for inviting me and other members of the local community to this event.