The Foreign Service Journal - May 2017
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MAY 2017



Easier said

than done. How-

ever, other highly

regulated orga-

nizations have

figured out how

to do this, like the

banking industry

and the Depart-

ment of Defense.

Even the CIA has a

pretty funny Twitter

feed. Sometimes

they even post cat


So What’s the Fix?

A lot of things could be done. Here are

a few ideas worth considering.

First, tweak training.

Digital media

training should be both compulsory and

feature prominently in all PD prerequi-

sites. Tradecraft courses should also capi-

talize on the expertise of digital media

professionals from the private sector, as

FSI’s public speaking and press relations

curricula already do.

The goal should be to equip all PD offi-

cers with the basic technical skills to create

digital content across multiple platforms

andmanage baseline analytics. Clearly,

there are equipment and software consid-

erations, but one idea is to cover skills in

common, industry-standard production

and analytics technology like Hootsuite,

Adobe Creative Suite and others.

Second, have a cache of best prac-

tices at the ready.

There are missions

where courageous, tech-savvy officers

have done innovative, spectacular work.

Too often, though, we don’t know who

those officers are, what they did or how

they did it—so we miss a valuable chance

to learn from them.

The use of digital media in diplomacy

is in many ways an experimental field.

We can and should

find ways to capi-

talize on our own

experiments and

promote them from

the inside.

Third, restruc-

ture PD shops at


Here, State

can take a lesson

from the private

sector, where the

average com-


team would have

at a minimum a

creative director, a Web designer and a

graphic artist.

Imagine a scenario where a PD officer

oversees two or three local media spe-

cialists whose sole job is to create digital

content and track analytics. In addition

to their media production skills, these

professionals would have a deep under-

standing of the local media market, strati-

fied target audience, media consumption

habits, and language and cultural norms.

The officer would guide the content,

using data from the analytics to drive the

message forward while clearly linking it

to strategic mission objectives from the

Integrated Country Strategy. The aim is

to engage with audiences daily to create

communities of interest on matters of

U.S. foreign policy, not just publicize

ongoing embassy activities.

Fourth, reconsider hiring practices

for PD professionals.

Yes, I know: This

one may be total pie in the sky. But there

is just no denying that public diplomacy

is becoming an increasingly technical

field. The private sector certainly gets

this, and hires only the best people in

video production, graphics, marketing

and Web design.

So State should consider either mak-

ing the PD cone a specialist category,

or creating a new specialist career track

focused solely on digital production

and engagement. Or, at the very least, it

should hire people into the PD cone who

already have significant backgrounds

in communications fields like journal-

ism, broadcasting, marketing, campaign

managing and so on.

This would significantly reduce the

pressure to train officers in a field that

changes every day (and leave FSI free to

do what it does best: train Foreign Service

personnel in the art of being diplomats).

The Importance

of Leaning In

Let’s face it: the Cold War is over and

USIA is dead. It’s time to overhaul the

way we do public diplomacy. We are the

United States of America. We are lead-

ers in the field of branding, marketing,

advertising—we are better than anybody

at selling stuff. We have Silicon Valley,

we practically invented the internet,

and we are conquering the world with


Given this, we at the U.S. State

Department should be writing the book

on digital diplomacy—not wandering

the halls of the Harry S Truman build-

ing, lost somewhere between the Ralph

J. Bunche Library and 1993.

Nothing I’ve written here is a surprise

to anyone working in PD. The question

is, how do we get from knowing what the

problem is to actually fixing it? Person-

ally, I think that we FSOs should not

just stand around and wait for change

to come. We have the option, as Sheryl

Sandberg would say, to lean in and

advocate from the inside.

It’s important; there’s a lot at stake. In

the battle to win hearts and minds, we

cannot afford to be 20 years behind the