For those wanting to use soft power in foreign policy, social media offer intriguing ways to deliver messages to publics that may have been inaccessible in the past. International organizations such as NATO continue to assess ways that they can enhance their missions by relying at least in part on soft power – convincing rather than coercing.
The essence of soft power is communication – listening to target audiences and responding honestly, and then continuing the conversation. The two-way nature of this process distinguishes it from old-style methods, such as relying on radio and television broadcasting, which are one-way mechanisms for reaching broadly defined populations. A degree of political intimacy can be attained by social media that bring their users into a cyber-community.
Diplomacy that relies on social media has its rewards but involves considerable effort. Maintaining interactive venues requires funding and personnel. As publics around the world become increasingly empowered by the access they have to newer forms of media and broader information flows, they will expect this connectivity as a matter of course.
NATO has proved itself fully capable of delivering information via the Internet, and deputy assistant secretary general Stefanie Babst has cited the need for NATO to be able to “mobilize networks and public support to bring about concrete change.” This requires monitoring the world of social media to use the venues that have the most appropriate audiences – those that NATO needs to reach and listen to. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are just starting points; new variations on these messaging tools spring up constantly.
It is important to remember that using social media is not a game or passing fad. As the Arab Awakening that began last year has illustrated, these are political tools that can vastly enhance the mobilization capabilities of forces seeking societal change. For its public diplomacy efforts and its more conventional military tasks, NATO should continue to explore new social media options. These media make the exercise of both soft and hard power more effective, and are essential in making real the smart power on which NATO should rely.
Philip Seib is a professor at the University of Southern California and director of USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy. His forthcoming book is Real-Time Diplomacy: Politics and Power in the Social Media Era.
By Philip Seib
University of Southern California