Posted by: evanmcarlson | September 11, 2012

Welcome and an initial case study

Welcome to The Lasting Impact. We, a group of graduate students at the American University in Washington, DC will use this forum over the coming weeks and months to delve into the increasingly important world of public diplomacy in the study and practice of international relations.

Today, in a world where global inter-connectivity is breaking down the old paradigms in diplomacy where the elites of nations (political, economic and academic leaders) were the target audience for public diplomacy and allowing millions of new people to voice their concerns and influence international policy, the image that nations project to the world and how they interact with this new audience is more vital to successful foreign policy than ever before.

An interesting and entertaining case to begin with is the Galactic Empire of Star Wars. There are few regimes in history that have faced the same diplomatic challenges as they have. They rule the galaxy with an iron fist led by a dictator with an armor-clad militant right-hand-man, and are responsible for mass genocide and the destruction of an entire planet. Yet, they too engage what is a surprisingly successful program of public diplomacy. As they exist in a galaxy far, far away, bridging Murrow’s “last three feet” is an impossibility, so instead they have made new media a priority.


In terms of state sponsored, diplomatic twitter feeds, only the US State Department has more followers, yet in terms of klout score (a measurement of the impact and influence of an individual on social media) @deathstarpr scores a 78, while @StateDept scores only marginally better with 80. Given the aforementioned history of the Galactic Empire, this has to be considered an incredible diplomatic success.

So how have they been able to achieve this? Well, firstly they have followed what many practitioners of public diplomacy consider to be the golden rule: they tell the truth. At least, from a certain point of view. Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view, and so while they acknowledge their “misdeeds,” they work hard to provide their own context and perspective.

For example, one recent tweet read: “Pretty terrible that Luke, Leia and Han spent three films trying to kill a widower quadriplegic asthma-suffering war veteran.”

Or another: “U.S. debt hit $16 Trillion but there’s a solution: BUILD A DEATH STAR. Create jobs + point it at people and make them give you money!”

At a time when veterans are among the most respected members of the American community and the US debt and economy is a major area of political debate, these two tweets clearly show carefully considered and crafted attempts to influence the US audience.

Beyond that, the Empire seems to achieve what most governments can’t: they’ve managed to grasp the elusive “cool” factor. Most states are hamstrung in their ability to reach younger audiences by a deep concern for the content of their message. While this appears to be changing (albeit slowly), there remains significant red tape in terms of approval processes and they cannot achieve the casual tone that allows @deathstarpr to connect so well with the coveted 18-39 demographic.

This is illustrated here in the tweet, “Come to the Dark Side for the red lightsabers and power to shoot lightning from your hands, stay for the delicious cookies.”

With the focus of public diplomacy increasingly shifting to this younger audience, the Galactic Empire seems to have gotten the jump on the United States in terms of social media and they could yet prove to be a powerful force in international affairs in the 21st Century.


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