Twitter as Tool of Diplomacy: Lessons Learned from Other Foreign Ministries

In her keynote speech delivered in front of Indonesia’s largest blogger community on 9 October 2016, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Mrs. Retno Marsudi emphasized the importance of social media as a tool for diplomats to obtain timely information and represent Indonesia abroad. Mrs. Marsudi further said that “the biggest mistake is if we are not on social media to do diplomacy.”

The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) indeed had realized the significant role of information technology in diplomacy since the early 2000s. As part of its organizational reform, the MOFA in 2002 established the Directorate General of Information and Public Diplomacy. The creation of this directorate general indicated that the MOFA had already developed clear vision on the way diplomacy would be conducted in the future.

Compared to foreign ministries in some other countries, however, the use of social media as tool of diplomacy by the Indonesian MOFA is still moderate. To understand this trend this paper focuses on the utilization of Twitter, one among the most influential social media platforms, by foreign ministries in selected countries. The US Department of State maintains ten Twitter accounts in ten different non-English languages namely Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Spain, Portuguese, Russia, French, and Turkey. With those Twitter accounts the US Department of States can disseminate information in a more effective way as the contents are presented in the audiences’ respective language.

Regarding the content, the Twitter account @francediplo_EN maintained by the French Foreign Ministry can be used as a good example. The account’s name indicates that the interface language is English. The use of English in this account also signifies the intention of the French government to better penetrate the wider global audience. This account has been disseminating various information about France from several perspectives, from France policies on certain issues to cheese varieties produced by that country.

Another example is @IndianDiplomacy, the Twitter account created by the Indian Foreign Ministry. This account has been disseminating various information about India. Like @francediplo_EN the language used in @IndianDiplomacy is English. The use of English as the interface language shows the intention of the Indian government to reach the wider global audience.

The other feature is the presence of guideline and code of conduct on the use of social media. The United States Department of State, for example, published Foreign Affairs Manual regarding to the use of social media. The manual contains guidelines for (1) conducting internal and external collaboration within the ministry as well between the ministry and other Federal Government agencies; (2) conducting diplomatic activities with non-U.S. Government organizations and individuals on controlled-access Web sites that are not available to the general public; (3)  using social media for official consular, public affairs and public diplomacy activities on Web sites that are available to the general public; and (4) using social media or engaging in activities that are of official concern to the ministry.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) also published Guidance of Personal Use of Social Media for its members. The AFSA clearly mentions that they support the use of social media but, at the same time, emphasize that but any form of communication – via social media, telephone, e-mail, or just old-fashioned conversations – is governed by social norms and etiquette, and requires good judgment and common sense.

After reviewing how other foreign ministries use social media as tool of conducting diplomacy, three lessons learned can be drawn as follow:

  • Clear guidance on the use of social media is a defining element of digital diplomacy. Such a guidance is essential to avoid misuse of social media by employees as well as to enhance the effectiveness of its utilization in achieving the goals. It is interesting to note that the Indonesian MOFA has not published such a guidance.
  • Other foreign affairs ministries maintain more than one Twitter account. Each account has its specific contents, audiences, or even language. Disseminating various kinds of information through one social media account will raise question about effectiveness. The Indonesian MOFA, on the other hand, currently maintains only one official Twitter accounts at the organizational level.
  • The main objective of the use of social media as tool of digital diplomacy is to disseminate information to the global audience. Indeed, disseminating information to the domestic audience is an important element of transparency. The main target of any social media campaign, however, should be the global audience.

Based on those lessons learned, three recommendations can be proposed as follow:

  • The MOFA should develop a comprehensive guidance on the use of social media as tool achieve goals in diplomacy. This guidance should contain, among others, code of conduct for both official and personal use of social media; technical aspects such as standard of account’s name and nomenclature of official accounts; and sanctions for social media misuse.
  • The MOFA should create more than one official Twitter account. The current account can be used effectively to share information to the domestic audience. To reach the global audiences the MOFA should create another account with English as its interface language.
  • The MOFA should establish an inter-unit task force to develop contents of social media campaign and strategies to disseminate them. This task force regularly develops, for example, infographics about Indonesia’s commodities, investment opportunities, and tourist destinations. The task force then sends the said contents regularly to all Indonesia’s diplomatic and consular missions along with the timetable of uploading of the contents. This concerted effort will enhance the effectiveness in disseminating information about Indonesia to the global audiences.

The Foreign Minister – in the speech quoted at the beginning of this article – has laid the ground for the improvement of the use of social media as tool of diplomacy. Now it is the task of the related stakeholders in the MOFA to implement it at the technical level. Reviewing recent development within the MOFA, adopting the above policy recommendations will significantly improve the effectiveness of Indonesia’s diplomacy in this digital era as part of the effort to achieve goals in foreign policy.

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Beyond Maritime Diplomacy: Foreign Ministry’s Roles in Implementing the Indonesian Ocean Policy

On February 2017 the government issued the Presidential Decree on Indonesian Ocean Policy (IOP). The decree was designed to achieve the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision of Indonesia as a sovereign, advanced, independent, strong maritime nation that is able to provide positive contribution for peace and security in the region as well as to the world.

The IOP contains seven pillars and one of them is maritime diplomacy. The inclusion of maritime diplomacy as one pillar of the IOP can be seen from two points of view. First, it underlines the significance of the international dimensions of the policy. The government, by incorporating maritime diplomacy, realized the key role of international cooperation in supporting its efforts in accomplishing the GMF vision. Second, considering that contribution to regional and global security is mentioned as part of the GMF vision, the inclusion of maritime diplomacy is indeed a necessary. It is impossible to put the IOP in the global context without diplomacy.

The inclusion of maritime diplomacy as well as the presence of the world ‘global’ in the title of the doctrine indicates that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has huge tasks and responsibilities in the implementation of the IOP. To analyze how the MOFA can significantly contribute in achieving goals of this policy, first we have to look at the definition of maritime diplomacy as stipulated at the IOP. Maritime diplomacy is defined as form of foreign policy implementation which is not only related to maritime aspects at bilateral, regional, and global levels; but also related to the utilization of maritime assets, civilian and military, to fulfill national interests in accordance with national laws and international law.

The above definition indicates the prominence of security-based approach in maritime diplomacy. Such a prominence is also reflected in seven strategic policies to conduct maritime diplomacy explained at the Presidential Decree. Those strategic policies are focused on leadership on maritime cooperation, regional and global security, norm-making, maritime boundaries, submission of extended continental shelf, representation in related international organizations, and verification of names of islands.

Considering this security-based approach, it is important to note that the MOFA should take roles beyond maritime diplomacy. MOFA’s tasks and responsibilities in implementing the IOP should not be limited to conducting maritime diplomacy but engaging to the other six pillars. The main consideration behind this view is the fact that the international dimension of IOP is not only related to security aspect but also, not less importantly, economic aspect. MOFA’s main responsibility in conducting maritime diplomacy, therefore, should not undermine its important roles in the other six pillars.

After reviewing the definition of maritime diplomacy in the context of IOP, the following policy recommendations are proposed to answer the question of how the MOFA can significantly contribute to the implementation process. First, the MOFA should integrate the goals of IOP in its programs. That is to say that the MOFA should be able to incorporate IOP’s strategic policies and plans of action into its existing programs and activities at bilateral, regional, and global levels. To do so the MOFA should develop clear guideline on how its organizational units as well as Indonesia’s diplomatic and consular missions can incorporate the IOP into their respective programs and activities. The MOFA can assign its research and policy development unit – in collaboration with other related units – to develop the said guidance.

Second, considering that the MOFA has the main responsibility in conducting maritime diplomacy, it should also develop a comprehensive guideline on seven strategic policies on maritime diplomacy as emanated in the Presidential Decree. The MOFA should identify existing mechanisms – at bilateral, regional, and global levels – that can be utilized to achieve IOP goals. The MOFA, for example, can use existing maritime-related forums in ASEAN and the UN to promote IOP goals. When necessary, the MOFA may also develop new mechanisms to further implement the IOP.

Third, as stated earlier that the MOFA should go beyond maritime diplomacy, it is important for the Ministry to define its contribution in the other six pillars of IOP. MOFA’s possible contribution in each of those pillars can summarized as follow.

  • Marine and human resources development

The MOFA can contribute by providing analysis on good practices and lessons learned from other countries than have been at the advanced stage on this particular area. The MOFA can also seek technical assistances from related international organization to further enhance marine and human resources development in Indonesia.

  • Maritime Security, Law Enforcement and Safety at Sea

The MOFA can play a leading role in negotiations related to this issue at bilateral, regional, and multilateral levels.

  • Ocean Governance and Institutions

The MOFA can contribute by actively participating at norm-setting negotiations to ensure that Indonesia’s national interests on maritime issues are accommodated in the norm.

  • Maritime Economy Development

The MOFA can contribute by integrating the goals of IOP into its economic diplomacy. Promotion of Indonesia’s maritime commodities, investment opportunities, and maritime tourist destination should be designated as main priorities.

  • Sea space management and marine protection

The MOFA can play an active role in negotiations related to this issue. Main goal to achieve is to ensure that Indonesia’s national interests are proportionally reflected on the outcomes.

  • Maritime culture

The MOFA can contribute by providing good practices and lessons learned from other countries on how to develop good maritime culture.

To conclude, the IOP is a comprehensive policy comprises goals, policies and plans of action in various sectors. Collaboration among stakeholders in the key to ensure the effectiveness of its implementation. To significantly contribute, the MOFA should implement a holistic approach. The MOFA should not restrict its roles and responsibilities only in the pillar of maritime diplomacy. The MOFA has a lot to offer in the other six pillars. We have to bear in mind, however, that the significance of MOFA’s contribution will depend on how it can develop a clear guideline. Without a guideline MOFA’s role will only be sporadic and unsustainable.