Thursday, October 9, 2008

State Department - Web 2.0 and the Next Generation of Diplomats

An article in today's Government Executive addresses a serious gap in the State Department's diplomatic corps:

If the State Department does not beef up its workforce, diplomatic programs will suffer and foreign policy will become more militarized, a new report warned.

"Today, significant portions of the nation's foreign affairs business simply are not accomplished," stated the report, released earlier this week by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center. "The work migrates by default to the military that does have the necessary people and funding, but neither sufficient experience nor knowledge. The 'militarization' of diplomacy exists and is accelerating... . The status quo cannot continue without serious damage to our vital interests." The report also studied staffing levels at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The report recommended that the State Department hire 4,735 more Foreign Service staffers and other key personnel between fiscal 2010 and 2014. New hires would be involved in core diplomatic efforts such as operating embassies and working with businesses and nongovernmental organizations abroad; engage in public diplomacy; administer economic assistance programs like those at USAID; and manage reconstruction and stabilization projects similar to ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those staffers would fill a 2008 shortfall of 2,400 employees, the authors said, and help State expand its activities while allowing more employees to receive much-needed training.

Based on a brief tour of the Internet, it appears as if State has a great start on using Web 2.0 and social media tools to attract the next generation of diplomatic staff. With this strong showing in the "wired world," State has the foundational resources in place to reach a broader, younger audience. Below is a survey of State's Web 2.0 tools and some practical suggestions for maximizing them:

1. State Department YouTube Channel: Very few government agencies have a presence on YouTube, so let's applaud State for being one of the first into this space. They have video from Secretary Rice, diplomatic efforts around the globe and even a public service announcement on illegal wildlife tracking from Indiana Jones (aka Harrison Ford):

However, one would never know they have this great resource from a review of their agency website. Recommendations: Put a prominent link to State's YouTube Channel somewhere on the home page. Create video content, such as interviews or special interest stories that feature 'legends' among the diplomatic corps. Cross-link to the DipNotes blog and Facebook pages.

2. DipNotes Blog: DipNotes is another great foray into the world of Web 2.0 for State. The blog does a great job of informing the public about important issues related to US foreign policy. It's still a bit Web 1.0 insofar as it "pushes out" information rather than interacting and collaborating with the foreign relations community or other public stakeholders. Also, DipNotes is not geared toward recruitment as it does not include information related to a career at State. Recommendations: Create a forum for public discussion about US foreign policy. Engage citizens in a conversation by asking questions on the blog and encouraging comments. Insert cross-links to the YouTube Channel to further promote awareness of State's web-based, information sharing activities. Keep rotating authors among your diplomatic corps, posting articles that emphasize their day-to-day experiences.

3. State on Facebook: One word: Wow. The State Department has no fewer than eight Facebook pages:

> Official State Department Face Book Page
> Careers
> Careers in Foreign Affairs Group (over 2,000 members!)
> Bureau of Consular Affairs
> Diplomatic Security Group
> Diplomatic Security Jobs (limited activity)
> US Embassy: Japan (packed with great information - maybe the best of the bunch!)
> US Embassy: Lebanon (not much here)
> US Embassy: Uruguay (Spanish)

In looking at the comments and discussion forums, visitors are asking excellent questions and providing information on additional Facebook pages created by embassies throughout the world. Although these sites have varying levels of content, State still gets a solid "A" for reaching out through this medium. Recommendations: Combine the duplicate Careers and Diplomatic Security sites. Make sure there are links back to DipNotes and YouTube channel. Replicate the excellent content found on the Japanese embassy page and the use of country-specific languages a la the Uruguayan embassy site. Be sure to implement the suggestions and new links from your users on your discussion forum. Some of the information was provided over two months ago and updates are not yet present.

4. Democracy Video Challenge: Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James Glassman launched the State Department’s Democracy Video Challenge on September 15 at U.N. headquarters. The contest, which asks aspiring filmmakers to complete the phrase “Democracy is …,” seeks to engage the world in sharing ideas about how democratic principles work -- or could work -- around the world. The award: a trip to the United States for gala screenings of their films and meetings with film industry professionals. Recommendations: Post the top videos on State's YouTube channel. Use these videos for a viral marketing campaign on TV and the Internet to drive people to the career Facebook page or blog. Good work having the link to the DipNotes blog on this page and providing a chance to follow DipNotes on Twitter. Also, the explanation of social networks is a nice touch.

5. DipNotes on Twitter: Basically, this Twitter presence points Tweeple to the DipNotes blog as it's updated...which seems to be almost daily. Recommendations: Encourage and promote current Foreign Service Officers to tweet appropriate activities of a daily basis. Consider rotating the people so that an individual gets a good sense of the life of an ambassador.

6. Diplopedia Wiki: From Wikipedia:
billed as the Encyclopedia of the US Department of State, Diplopedia is a wiki running on the State internal Intranet, called "OpenNet". It houses a unique collection of information pertaining to diplomacy, international relations and Department of State tradecraft. The wiki may be used by U.S. foreign affairs agencies domestic and abroad with State intranet access. It is also available to the US Intelligence community and other national-security related organizations using the Intelink-U network as a mirrored, read-only archive. Both sites are rated by the government as Sensitive but Unclassified. The wiki on either network is not open to the public. Recommendations: Keep it private and keep it going. Our national security and diplomatic effectiveness depends on it.

7. State on Flickr: In addition to having several photos on DipNotes, State has an RSS feed to photos on Flickr. Recommendations: Consider doing a mash-up with Google maps and link the photos to specific countries where the individuals are serving. Also, include photos from these places along with links to more information about those countries with an eye toward increasing public awareness about our global neighbors and our relationship with them.

8. State Podcasts: The State Deparment has a series of podcasts, including Daily Press Briefings and Top Stories, messages from Secretary Rice, Iraq: Stories of Success, The Daniel Pearl Murder, Policy Podcast, and information on the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Each of them is available in multiple RSS feed formats. Recommendations: Consider creating a series of podcast interviews with ex-pats and foreign officers living aboard to capture their experience of living beyond our borders.

What suggestions do you have for improving the State Department use of Web 2.0? I will be delivering a briefing to some State staff members next week and could provide feedback in real time. In addition, with State's significant use of several social media, the compilation of lessons learned for them could be useful for other agencies seeking to implement these tools to improve their communication with constituents and recruiting the next generation of public servants.


Anonymous said...

Izabel said...

Thank you for the great write up! I thought should tell you about some of new Web 2.0 initiatives we began this month.

The Department of State has recently launched some new social networks for Public Diplomacy. We have the Co.Nx Project on Facebook which is where we hope to build out a community of people interested in engaging in discussions we host through our online chat tool. We have also launched the social network on the Ning platform to discuss international exchange issues. This site has a complement on Facebook. These sites went live at the beginning of October. We are actively looking for people to join and more imporatantly to start talking and sharing with us!

The Department recently hosted a panel discussion on education titled, "Education without Boundaries" in Second Life. We had over 40 in world participants from all over the world. This was the fourth in a series of pilot events the Department has produced in Second Life in conjunction with the University of Southern California. The Department will continue to explore using virtual world technology for Public Diplomacy and expects to hold at least one more Second Life event this calendar year.

Andrew Krzmarzick said...

Hi Izabel,

Thanks so much for providing a bit more information. I learned about your Ning rollout earlier this week from Bill May and Anna Mussman, for whom I delivered a short workshop on Web 2.0. Next Tuesday at 11:30, I'm presenting the same workshop to the Youth Programs Division.

I'm a Fan of the groups at Facebook and will be sure to check out your Ning community. I would encourage you to post these same comments or even enter a blog response yourself over at

Also, I wasn't aware of your activity on Second Life until the conversation this've been relatively quiet about it! If I were to add to my recommendations, it would be that you cross-reference these other sites everywhere you have a presence...that way agencies and your constituents can know that you're taking the lead with Web 2.0/social media in the public sector! Others can learn from you and get on board....

Thanks again for commenting,