Digital Diplomacy Colors the AppStore RED

On November 17th, I posted one of my most viewed posts “Gaza Shells Israel on Twitter” where I tried to make the point that the lack of Israeli presence on Twitter is harming the country’s public diplomacy efforts in light of the latest round of hostilities between Gaza and Israel. I simply said: “Israel is the startup nation and the hub of technological innovation – Don’t ask them for photos, don’t create hashtags that no one searches for. Develop a simple, visual, location-based app that would enable people to share real-time alarms/sirens, rocket shells and of course photos and tags that will help them share their experience with everyone in the world, and not just their own circles.”

Surely enough, today, only two days later, an app named “Tzeva Adom” (literal translation: Color Red, which is the name of the sirens sounded throughout the country when a rocket is fired in its direction) appeared in the AppStore!

color red siren app israel

The Tzeva Adom App as appears in the AppStore

Funnily enough, I learned about it from an article on Ynetnews, reporting that Knesset (Parliament) Member Gila Gamliel from the Likud party currently in power, called upon foreign ambassadors posted in Israel to download the app in order to “get some understanding of what is going on in Southern-Israel”.

Whether this was a direct result of my post, a spark of common sense or lessons well learned on the go, it is interesting to see the growing understanding of the importance of digital diplomacy and how to utilize it as part of the overall diplomatic effort.

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Gaza Shells Israel On Twitter

My uniform is ironed, folded and ready for the anticipated call from my unit. After barrages of rockets from Gaza to Israel, it was time to retaliate. Many Israelis, who were getting tired of the situation, kept posting memes and updated their statuses expressing their wish to block rocket attacks and get back to normal life. It was at a certain point that the government decided to strike back, and has been doing so in surgical, pin-pointed airstrikes designed to stop the rockets by exploding them in mid-air as well as pounding at Hamas, its leadership and its infrastructure.

On Facebook, you couldn’t help but notice the heartwarming gestures of people living in the central and northern parts of the country, offering their homes and sending warm wishes to the 1 million civilians within rocket range. But soon after, rockets started falling in central Israel, making it 5 million civilians under rocket range, exposed to physical danger as well as much frustration, confusion and anxiety.

Israelis love Facebook so much that they forget there is a whole world out there which isn’t comprised of family and friends and who doesn’t necessarily support, understand or even know the slightest thing about what is happening now between Gaza and Israel. I noticed many of my friends, calling their friends and fans to post photos and testimonies of the rockets flying over their heads so that “the whole world will see”.

gaza fires rockets on israel

“The Foreign Ministry calls upon the citizens of Southern-Israel to send videos, photos that show your lives under rocket threat”

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked civilians to email them videos and photos so that they may use them to create posters, memes and clips that will serve as advocacy materials in the public diplomacy efforts to keep the world informed and to maintain the first time ever general support of Israel and the opinion that Hamas launching daily, if not hourly rocket attacks from Gaza to Israel is the direct cause of this escalation.

But you see, the conversation is on Twitter, not just on Facebook. If Facebook is a social network, then Twitter is a source of information to all, at any given time, on any topic.

gaza shells israel on twitter

Gaza & Israel, or should we say just Gaza, on Twitter

Israelis, as opposed to Palestinians, don’t use Twitter. And when it comes to Instagram, they seem to keep the tags very local. This simple truth leaves the 4th battle field totally neglected.

A quick scroll down the twitter feed using the tags #Israel or #Gaza will show exactly who is shaping and controlling the conversation. No matter how many advocacy groups and governemt organizations will try to contribute, it is the people, in this case the Palestinians who control the Twittersphere simply because it isn’t used by Israelis.

As I wait to be called for duty, I would like to call upon the Foreign Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces and everyone interested mobilizing civilians to keep the world informed:

Israel is the startup nation and the hub of technological innovation – Don’t ask them for photos, don’t create hashtags that no one searches for. Develop a simple, visual, location-based app that would enable people to share real-time alarms/sirens, rocket shells and of course photos and tags that will help them share their experience with everyone in the world, and not just their own circles.

The concern of a location based app revealing to Hamas the exact location of where the rockets fell I s understandable. So is the fear of encouraging people to take pictures of rockets when they should be running for shelter. But the thing is that, Hamas will know whether you tell them or not, and people will be taking pictures of rockets anyway…

Once again, the best speakers and the people themselves, the moment you do it for them, you lose the ears and the hearts of your potential audience which is not yours, it’s in fact, theirs.

Resisting Temptations: 10 Lessons learned

We all have different considerations that lead us to choose whatever business we are in. Whether it is for financial benefit, a passion or a deeply rooted sense of mission, the hard work we invest makes us venerable to criticism and makes us at times, and yes, emotional.

I admit, I have made quite a few mistakes by allowing those who I like to call taunters (after the ‘French Tounter’ in Monty Python’s Holy Grail) get to me while trying to engage on Facebook, Twitter and sometimes even on Quora.

Having the urge and the ability to respond directly has taught me a few valuable lessons which I am happy to share with you:

  1. Count to 10. A lot has changed since childhood but that tip is still very relevant, even with the need for quick responses.
  2. Anything you say can and will be retweeted against you.
  3. Just because they “like” you, doesn’t mean they’ll always like you.
  4. A back and forth conversation on our timeline can be left for those who really like you and would gladly comment for you.
  5. Your own personal sense of humor or irony can alienate fans who identify with the message but not with its delivery.
  6. The account you manage is not your own. The way you navigate the conversation is part of your brand strategy and reflects on it, not your personal feelings.
  7. Your taunter is not targeting you personally, but they will be happy to use your emotional outbreak just for fun. They are either bored out of their  mind or there with a deliberate intention to criticize your brand/organization/country with no real wish for a dialogue.
  8. Welcome your critics. The human need to be noticed is a large part of how and why social media has grown to these dimensions. Censorship repels even the loyal fans and lessens the engagement.
  9. You can’t always predict or control where that comment/tweet or post will end up.
  10. If your fans are ganging up on a taunter, calm the discussion down, even if you agree with them. But seriously, don’t  give a person or a comment more attention than they deserve. That will only make them want to keep doing it.

At the end of the day, when managing public diplomacy, and particularly digital diplomacy,

monty python french taunter

“Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time”

there are always 3 groups you typically interact with:

  1. The “Persuaded” – Your supporters who will like, share and comment positively if the agree or won’t comment if  they don’t, just to save face (your face).
  2. The “On the Fence” – Those who either have no opinion or are trying to establish one. Put them at the top of your priority list and tip them over to your side.
  3. The “No Matter What You Say, You Suck” – those will always be around, and you will never persuade them, especially if you insist on letting them drag you into confrontation. So just keep your level of engagement at minimum and let their arguments against you gain you the sympathy of the “on the fence” crowd, the solidarity of the “persuaded” crowd and let it work to your advantage.

Always remember that being wise is much more important than being right. Let others do your lobbying, beyond the time it consumes of you and the potential slips of the type, it is in your best interest to mobilize others on your behalf. Especially if you represent a government, because the mere fact that you are the government puts a damper on your credibility.

Trying to Define Digital Diplomacy

Being in the field of digital diplomacy, talking about it and wanting to write about it has driven me to Google ‘digital diplomacy definition’ every once in a while. Guess what. Every time I do it, I come across the same things:

  1. An opening sentence that reads ” There is yet and official definition for digital diplomacy” (mine included)
  2. “The differences between diplomacy and digital diplomacy are…”
  3. Stories and articles by or about professionals who engage citizens in the name of the government via their own websites and social media networks.

At first I thought it to be the fact that the field is still in its infancy and that no one is ready to set something in stone when it is still crystallizing. Interestingly enough, even the ancient practice of defense/military diplomacy doesn’t yet have an official definition.

I am in no position to try to define digital diplomacy. But I do hope that by sharing some of my thoughts I will be able to contribute to the work process of whoever steps up to the challenge and is accepted by most.

Let’s take a look at a few simplistic definitions of diplomacy and see if and how digital diplomacy applies to them.

Diplomacy:

  • The art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations.
  • A process of conducting activities with tact in order to bring about good relationships.

Public Diplomacy:

Any of the ways in which a country or organization communicates with citizens in other societies as opposed to diplomacy carried out between 2 or more national governments.

Defense and Military Diplomacy:

Peaceful application of military and defense resources to contribute to the development and maintenance of a country’s foreign relations via attachés who help facilitate agreements, treaties, visits joint drills and other forms of peaceful military engagement.

Given those definitions, is it safe to say that digital diplomacy is a form of public diplomacy in which a government engages citizens in other societies? Yes.

Can we also say that it is a means to facilitate activities (‘with tact’) in order to bring about good relations between countries? Yes.

Can it also be said that peaceful application of military resources to the development and maintenance of a country’s foreign relations can also include secure online portals, messaging, instant messaging, forums and information shares? Yes.

Can we also include a government’s engagement with its own citizens, as well as UN and consular corps diplomats’ online engagements into this whole one-to-many conversation? Yes.

I don’t want to get too wordy, but I did promise to dig deep… So I will be taking these definitions apart separately in future blog posts. Hopefully giving more answers than posing questions.