Ever since the industrial revolution, technology has been at the forefront of all major changes in our lives. With the advent of the Internet, the whole world has had to play catch up in a variety of significant ways.
Born from our need to communicate, social media has forced us into an environment where things can no longer be as they were. And just as it changed our careers, lives, entertainment, and interactions, it has also changed politics. Twitter, especially, hit hard and forever transformed the rules of the game, be it diplomacy and even media as a whole.
It is certainly “a rule breaker,” as described by Turki Al-Dakhil, ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the UAE. The typical manner in which diplomats and renowned politicians respond to major events around the world has changed. Speeches have turned into tweets, and urgency is now more important than ever. Eloquence is found in brevity, the art of showing the right emotions and the right perspective in the least amount of words, or rather characters.
The challenges now are speed, globalization, and eloquence. For any important figure on the political scene, actions need to be prompt and timely. Once the response-worthy event happens, you need to act quickly. Everyone knows it only takes a few seconds to tweet, so being late is not easily forgiven, and a delay for just one day can be taken as a negative stance on an important subject.
The sheer strength of one tweet from a well-followed figure on the political scene can be as powerful as a very costly public announcement or speech.
Next comes globalization. Once you tweet it, everyone around the world can access it, and Twitter can even translate it for them if they do not understand your language. In a matter of seconds, you can make your views known to the whole world. While that is a privilege in terms of access, it makes for a huge challenge in terms of making your point across language and cultural barriers and standing for your principles without offending anyone.
Finally, the key challenge is eloquence. You only have 280 characters to make your point, so you need to find exactly the right words that can deliver your message without the risk of being negatively construed. While it is theoretically easy to respond and clarify any misunderstandings, it still remains a highly difficult task to convince people that this clarification was always your true intent, and even more difficult to get people to read the response in the first place.
However, these challenges are mandatory, as the world’s nations now consider digital diplomacy as an integral part of their foreign affairs policies. Countries such as the UK and the US have teams and departments solely dedicated to this part of their international relations strategies. Even here in Saudi Arabia, we are seeing great efforts to improve the country’s digital diplomacy.
Digital diplomacy starts at the foreign ministry level, but branches down to the embassies located around the world. On both levels, it is an essential and effective tool by which countries can attend to their affairs and maintain a positive image. It offers countries a prompt and effective communication channel to improve their global relations.
Additionally, the sheer strength of one tweet from a well-followed figure on the political scene can be as powerful as a very costly public announcement or speech. This reduced cost gives countries better maneuverability, especially when addressing smaller issues.
In a way, digital diplomacy is to countries what digital marketing is to companies. It includes proximity to audiences, building relationships, and branding, and in this day and age, no country can survive without it.
• Effat Alsaraj is a multimedia storyteller, a media advisor and an inventor.