The Rise of Social Media: A New Frontier of Diplomacy #6


   Maximizing Social Media for Indonesian Diplomacy

With more foreign ministries, including Indonesia, lining up to embrace and integrate social media sites in their communication and public diplomacy, the question now is what measures Kemlu has to take in order to maximize the benefits derived from effective use of social media in enhancing economic and cultural diplomacy.
            Undoubtedly, there are several strengths that Kemlu has in relations to the use of social media in enhancing Indonesian diplomacy, which can be described as follows: 
  1. Many Indonesian diplomats are very familiar with social media. ‘Digital divide’ in terms of level of familiarity with these interactive platforms might be present, but the majority of diplomats have their accounts in at least one of the popular networking sites. 
  2. Dedicated directorates dealing with information and media, including multimedia, and public diplomacy have been established, along with the internal institutional reform within Kemlu. Further empowerment has to be conducted, nevertheless. 
  3.  Well-established infrastructures in Kemlu enable diplomats and other staffs to enjoy good internet connections at the office, thus facilitating them in using social media for official use.  
However, some weaknesses have also been identified, which, among others, consist of: 
  1. The absence of clear and formal policies regarding the use of social media in the conduct of diplomacy poses a certain level of uncertainty for those who want to utilize these outlets.  
  2. Limited human resources who are in charge of Kemlu’s engagement in social media hamper its active participation and swift responses, particularly with numerous accounts, pages and sites to manage. 
  3. Insufficient budget allocation for further development and active engagement of Kemlu through social media hinders its ability to introduce innovative approach and adapt to the dynamics of this digital diplomacy. 
As previously mentioned, the opportunities present, among others, can be described as follows:
1.              Social media sites provide spontaneous and direct interaction with friends, families, colleagues and even strangers. Despite time differences and vast geographical space, they enable people to get in touch with a large number of people instantly, as long as both parties have access to internet connections. This will help Kemlu build extensive networks and expand its public diplomacy effectively.
2.            Social media helps spreading information easier, faster and farther, as showcased by  Twitter and Facebook which reach a global audience in real-time.
3.            Social media can be use as one of the analytical tools to get better and deeper understanding towards people from different cultures and backgrounds. Their perspectives and aspirations will help shaping the relevant policies and programs.
            When it comes to threats, considering the eternal factors that might hinder this process further, the following factors have been identified as such: 
  1. As social media outlets are open platforms, engagement with them has the potential to be negative. Ill-fated users might divert or even destruct the outreach and interaction process between Kemlu and other users, as they post detrimental comments or inputs. 
  2. Different level of participation and engagement, whether as an institution or on personal basis, might create confusions to users while communicating with Kemlu or Indonesian diplomats 
  3. The risks of ‘losing control’ over certain issues and/or policies are imminent as public’s responses can be unpredictable sometimes. Open discussions towards particular topics should ideally support the targeted goals set by Kemlu. 
  4. Different landscape of information societies and e-culture in various countries significantly impact the level of responsiveness and acceptability of people towards information disseminated through social media.
From the deliberations given above, it is safe to conclude that digital diplomacy has indeed brought fundamental change in the way governments interact with public and social media, as one of the marvels of the advance of ITC, is regarded as one of the effective tools in disseminating ideas, policies, ideologies, and even political influence, to a wide sphere of mass public. But the use of social media is not, and cannot be, a substitute of traditional face-to-face diplomacy. It is also argued that while social media has not changed the objectives of foreign policy, it has somehow changed what people expect from the government.

Opportunities to engage people directly and to have dialogue with them do, in fact, exist to social media. The ability to carefully manage and maintain responsiveness to users’ interests is crucial. Therefore, strategies for using social media as part of public diplomacy efforts should focus on creating engagement that will encourage interaction and foster interests in long-term period.

The great potentials of the use of social media is yet to be optimized in promoting Indonesia’s economy and cultural diplomacy. As social media’s greatest contribution to public diplomacy occurs when it creates potential for continued engagement and dialogue, the need for understanding target audiences and conveying information in a long–lasting and user-friendly ways is imperative.

Diplomats can definitely play more active roles in promoting economy and cultural diplomacy through social media. Either on personal level or in a formal setting, experiences show that many Indonesian diplomats depicting their personal passions and commitments towards Indonesian cultures, values and economic potentials, have positively attracted the attentions of public.

For Kemlu, ignoring the exponential impact of social media is no longer an option. Like it or not, we have to admit that social media outlets do contribute to the conduct of foreign policies and approaches used by government officials, including diplomats, in connecting with people. Therefore, creative model of public diplomacy which utilize social media should be developed and implemented.

If managed well, the benefits of engaging these new media outlets can outweigh the costs, as well as the challenges and risks emerged from this interaction. For rather ‘soft’ or neutral issues such as those related to economy and cultural diplomacy, active engagement through social media will help promoting the ideas, policies, and events related to the issues at hand.

Clearly, our own ‘21st century statecraft’ is a work in progress. Even though ICT has yet to be fully embedded into the conduct of Indonesian diplomacy, but it is indeed a viable tool diplomats could use to further promote Indonesian economy and cultural diplomacy. Larger conceptual shift may be required with regard to the use of social media, but small steps involving formulation and implementation of effective strategies on embracing and integrating social media in the conduct of diplomacy will be a good start.

Well, I hope this article will be beneficial for all of us, particularly myself...a lot we can share, more we can do...

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