Latest Research: Public Engagement Model to Analyze Digital Diplomacy on Twitter

Our latest research, Public engagement model to analyze digital diplomacy on Twitter: A social media analytics framework has been published in the International Journal of Communication.

Abstract:

Social media’s pervasiveness has created new demands for openness, transparency, real-time communication, and public engagement in diplomacy. In this study, we analyze public engagement strategies for diplomacy on Twitter that were employed by a German ambassador. By applying a text analytics approach, we explored the ambassador’s tweets’ core themes, how people reacted to those tweets, and what type of topics received higher engagement for 2 years. Eight themes emerged from our analysis of the tweets: democracy, politics and law; society and culture; conflict and violence; personality; environment and health; economic and social development; personal life; and embassy affairs. By analyzing the tweets’ content, we present a public engagement model (PEM) for social media communication by highlighting 3 key factors that promote online public engagement: self-disclosure, positive attitude, and inquisitiveness. Results suggest that over 2 years, the German ambassador was a highly engaging personality in Pakistan, with around 4,369 interactions and highlighted positive diplomatic communication on Twitter. Tweets were positive, courteous, respectful, personalized, interactive, and direct.

The paper can be downloaded here.

Introduction

Most communication campaigns strive to achieve favorable effects on their publics. Such desirable outcomes may include creating awareness about products, services, and policies, in addition to engendering positive opinions and behaviors (Dozier & Ehling, 1992). Social media provides even greater avenues to connect with the public. Its pervasiveness has created new demands for openness, transparency, real-time communication, and public engagement, especially for diplomatic communication.

A growing number of diplomats use Twitter to communicate daily with global audiences and their counterparts (Duncombe, 2017), thus reducing the gap between individuals and government representatives. The affordances of Twitter make the network unique for various purposes, such as political engagement and discussions (Ahmad, Alvi, & Ittefaq, 2019; Schroeder, 2018; Vergeer, 2017), and enabling two-way communication (Choi, 2015). In an age of abundant misinformation and fake news (Khan & Idris, 2019), diplomats or representatives of a country take a direct role in being active on online social networking sites to further their countries’ official narratives. This Internet-based people-centric engagement is starkly different from the more centralized and closed diplomacy of the past (Cull, 2010).

Politicians, government officials, diplomatic missions, embassies, and ambassadors are increasingly active on social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Weibo, and YouTube (Dodd & Collins, 2017; Jiang, 2016; Strauß, Kruikemeier, van der Meulen, & van Noort, 2015). Most notable of such Twitter interactions were the ones surrounding the former U.S. President Donald Trump, which has often been seen as inappropriate for American digital diplomacy. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua reacted to Trump’s negative tweets by stating that “addiction to Twitter diplomacy is unwise” (Huang, 2017, p. 1). We cannot thus underestimate the positive and negative power of such social platforms. Although Twitter is an essential tool for digital diplomacy, research about how ambassadors engage in public diplomacy via social media in the Global South is scarce. Some studies have shown that Western embassies have not effectively used social media for diplomacy and seldom engage in direct interactive communication (Strauß et al., 2015).

In this study, we reveal how the German Ambassador to Pakistan, Martin Kobler, communicated via Twitter for diplomacy that led to public engagement. Ambassador Kobler served in Pakistan between 2017 and 2019, was very visible in traditional (television and newspapers) and social media, and had more than 200,000 real Twitter followers. A large Pakistani English language daily, Dawn, stated that “German ambassador tweets his way to the hearts of Pakistanis” (“This Isn’t Goodbye,” 2019, p. 1). In an interview with Global Village Space magazine, he said that he had used Twitter before for political messages, but here in Pakistan, he did it differently (Minhas, 2018). Ambassador Kobler had not only attracted considerable media attention, but the effects of his interactions on Twitter have also even been visible offline. For example, he has engaged the Pakistani community in real-life activities such as planting trees, recycling trash, and holding social gatherings. Especially for a country like Pakistan which has received negative media portrayal in the Western press for security issues over the past two decades (Shabbir, 2012), such bold and open engagement (online and offline) of an ambassador from a major European country is unprecedented and has been received with great enthusiasm.

Over the years, social media use has been increasing in Pakistan. Users, particularly the younger ones, are actively engaging online and interacting with personalities and brands (Ida & Saud, 2020). Twitter is among the top 10 most used social and mobile networks in Pakistan, and most of the country’s Internet and social media users are between the ages of 18 and 34 years (Kemp, 2019).

Based on an understanding of digital public diplomacy, we propose the public engagement model (PEM) to analyze the public engagement strategies on Twitter that were employed by the German ambassador. By applying a text analytics approach, we analyzed the core themes of Ambassador Kobler’s tweets, how people reacted to those tweets, and what kind of topics received higher engagement over two years. Through this study, we enrich the public engagement scholarship by highlighting three significant factors in the proposed PEM that promote online public engagement: self-disclosure, positive attitude, and inquisitiveness.

The following themes were identified from the tweets by the German ambassador:

A. Democracy, Politics, and Law

B. Society and Culture

C. Conflict and Violence

D. Personalities

E. Environment and Health

F. Economic and Social Development

G. Personal Life

H. Embassy Affairs

In this study we propose the Public Engagement Model (PEM). The PEM comprises three factors, Self Disclosure, Positive Attitude, and Inquisitiveness as antecedents of public engagement via social media.

We believe that a further factor leading to higher levels of digital engagement is in social media
posts that ask a question and summon curiosity. We term this factor as inquisitiveness. Building on these factors, we propose the PEM comprising self-disclosure, positive attitude, and inquisitiveness factors. Major postulates of the PEM for public communication are discussed below.

Self-Disclosure
Self-disclosure is defined as “any message about the self that the person communicates to another”
(Wheeless & Grotz, 1976, p. 338). In offline contexts, self-disclosure has been shown to offer various
benefits in terms of higher satisfaction, trust, and solidarity (Martin & Anderson, 1995). It offers the potential
to improve relationships. Especially in the context of social media, self-disclosure stimulates feedback
(Imlawi & Gregg, 2014).

Positive Attitude
A positive attitude is a desirable trait in public relations (Kang, 2014). The positive orientation of Twitter posts can further attract positive reactions from users. Research has shown that positive interactions with online entities can lead to a more positive attitude and greater or higher user engagement. Thus, it is expected that a positive attitude reflected in social media posts can further promote positive active engagement from users.

Inquisitiveness
Inquisitiveness has been defined as “examination or investigation” or curiosity (“Curious,” 2020). Inquisitiveness implies a presence of interest, inquiry, search, and probing behavior reflected in the wording of the tweets or social media posts. While research in this area is scant, anecdotal evidence suggests that questions effectively drive action and help gain attention (Smarty, 2020). On seeking a post phrased as a question, users may be instinctively inclined to find an answer (Lammon, 2020). In diplomatic communication, we noticed evidence of tweets by the German ambassador that asked users a question or elicited an opinion. Such inquisitive posts have the potential to spur a conversation.

Conclusion

Factors such as trust, satisfaction, positive word of mouth, and loyalty are some of the antecedents of engagement (Kang, 2014). Others have outlined the role of relationship-building as an essential component of engagement on social media (Kodish & Pettegrew, 2008). Furthermore, factors that can build online relationships and engender engagement are self-disclosure and humor (Imlawi & Gregg, 2014). Positivity is also an essential factor in promoting social media engagement (Strauß et al., 2015). Dodd and Collins (2017) suggest public relations engaging message strategies for public diplomacy that consists of appealing to emotions, involving particular points of view, and calling to action.

Statecraft in the 21st century is challenging in various ways, but social media open new arenas for governments to directly engage audiences. Ambassador Kobler’s public diplomacy with the Pakistani public through Twitter presents a classic case of how high levels of engagement can be elicited through foreign audiences using social media messaging that is open, direct, positive, and inquisitive. In a developing country, social media messaging for public diplomacy by an ambassador, among other themes, can be centered on topics such as democracy, politics, and law; personal life; economic development; environment and health; and society and culture. The German ambassador’s main themes on Twitter are centered on building goodwill between countries and can be adapted and used as a part of a digital engagement strategy for diplomatic communication in other countries. Just as these themes are relevant in a developing country such as Pakistan, state representatives in other countries can rely on social media messaging that is engaging and builds positive goodwill between nations.

Despite Germany and Pakistan having diverse culture, society, and foreign policy, Ambassador Kobler became one of the most beloved ambassadors to Pakistan. He achieved high engagement levels on Twitter with 4,369 interactions and posted 778 original tweets, retweets, and pictures, posing questions to the locals, and using hashtags to cover important topics. He also responded to questions and mentions, enabling two-way communication with his audience, portraying a positive image of Pakistan, and encouraging the two countries to build closer ties. The main engaging topic was society and culture, which highlighted Pakistani food, traditional Pakistani clothing, and iconic places such as Lahore, Gilgit Baltistan, and Multan.

Many would view Ambassador Kobler as a charismatic personality. He used themes that touched his Pakistani audience’s hearts and minds on Twitter, appealing to emotions involving particular points of view and calling to action either explicitly or implicitly, creating a successful digital engagement strategy.

Overall, this research offers an empirical analysis of the actual usage and themes of engagement that led an ambassador to have over 200,000 followers on Twitter, demonstrating that Twitter is an imperative tool of digital diplomacy. The study has various strengths: It identifies the drivers of public engagement, provides a guideline for diplomatic communication that engages the public, and the research can be useful and applied beyond public diplomacy in other domains. Nevertheless, the study has its limitations. Our focus was on active engagement only.

Future research can employ novel techniques to study passive engagement, which usually forms the bulk of social media engagement (Khan, 2017). Moreover, a comparison of diplomatic communication via social media of other ambassadors can also help expand knowledge in this interesting domain. Considering the significance of the PEM, future research can also parse out the contributing factors using different research methods for various social platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. For example, research scholars can also delve into social network analysis technique to explain the structure of the network and investigate the linkages among different actors.

The research can be cited as follows:

Khan, M. Laeeq, Ittefaq, M., Pantoja, Y., Raziq, M., and Malik, A. (2021). Public Engagement Model to analyze digital diplomacy on Twitter: A social media analytics framework, International Journal of Communication, 15, 1741-1769, https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/15698

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