Over the last few years, the term “digital diplomacy” has become a buzzword. Several articles, research papers and surveys have explored how governments and international organizations use the Internet and social media to achieve their strategic goals in foreign policy.

Working as a consultant and trainer for government agencies, Foreign Affairs ministries and international organizations, I have developed the belief that diplomatic activity needs to evolve in order to deal with the current international scenario, in which multiple actors – networks of citizens, NGOs, multinational companies, grassroots movements – have the power to influence the decision-making processes, not least through the new communications technologies. “Likes”, “Retweets” and “Hashtags” are no longer only for private exchanges among people, but can shape the global agenda.

The disruptive social, political, economic and cultural changes that information networks have unleashed demand a thoughtful rethinking of diplomacy. This does not mean replacing negotiations with exchanges of tweets, but complementing traditional foreign policy methods with new tools that fully leverage the interconnected world in which we all live.

Diplomacy has always had to adapt to changes. This time, however, the challenge is extremely demanding because embracing social media requires governments to review their traditional one-way communication style, build an open dialogue with citizens worldwide and embrace bottom-up ideas. The most valuable aspect of social media is not just the opportunity to reach new audiences and disseminate targeted messages more effectively, but the ability to increase mutual understanding between governments and citizens worldwide.

mutual understanding

Tweeting about foreign policy in less than 140 characters, answering questions on Facebook or presenting a video chat on YouTube can be hard to accept for professionals who have historically worked behind closed doors. However, ignoring these tools or thinking that social media is just a passing phenomenon would be a huge mistake. To perform their tasks effectively, diplomats need a deeper understanding of the online platforms that citizens around the world use daily to gather information, consume news, discuss ideas, build relationships and interact with institutions.

My new book The Digital Diplomacy Handbook. How to Use Social Media to Engage with Global Audiences is different from any of the material that has been published so far. It is the first practical guide that does not merely talk about digital diplomacy, but explains step-by-step how to do it. It provides diplomats, international officers, public diplomacy scholars and communications professionals with tactics and tips on how to use social media to engage with global audiences.

The book offers detailed explanations of how to monitor the web, filter relevant information, identify prominent influencers, design global social media strategies, develop compelling content to engage multicultural audiences, manage online conversations and master the main social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others.

Ten years ago, this list of skills would have been unfathomable for a diplomat. Today, it simply features the up-to-date basics of good communication. And good communication has always been, and still is, the essence of good diplomacy.

This article is an edited extract from the introduction of Antonio Deruda’s new book “The Digital Diplomacy Handbook. How to Use Social Media to Engage with Global Audiences”.