Crowdsourcing tips and ideas for digital diplomacy

Let’s create a collaborative ecosystem for diplomacy

By Andreas Sandre*

Crowdsourcing is booming. From the efforts to map damages in stricken areas after Hayian in the Philippines in late 2013, to engaging the public in the discovery and preservation of history, crowdsourcing platforms are becoming everyday tools in many sectors. And why not for diplomacy -- or rather, digital diplomacy?

Wikipedia ( is one of the most successful results of crowdsourcing, with millions of articles compiled by millions of users. As of September 2013, Wikipedia was ranked as the 9th most popular site on the internet for desktop & mobile platforms with 116,835,000 visitors. Of these, about one out of 15,000 contribute five or more edits, and of those, a stable 10% contribute more than 100 edits each month.

Inspired by Wikipedia, in 2006 the U.S. Department of State’s Office of eDiplomacy -- celebrating its 10th anniversary this past year -- launched Diplopedia (, an internal knowledge-sharing platform, one of the many crowdsourcing projects it runs today. Diplopedia is an online encyclopedia of foreign affairs information that can be edited by any of its users.

"To be effective, today's diplomat must convey a deeper understanding of his or her country beyond the international headlines," reads a 2010 study on Diplopedia by Rice University. "When you allow staff to create and edit entries, you are allowing a greater product that can be easily shared over time."

Many governments, think tanks, and foundations are now using crowdsourcing platforms to gather and assess information. The idea is to include more voices in the process, whether it’s for crowdsourcing ideas for new initiatives, to include the public in the policy debate, or to gather data.

This is the reasoning behind this article, whose content was crowdsourced from users on social media platforms.

There are many articles and blog posts out there on how to use digital tools to build and engage networks and make the diplomatic process more inclusive -- and I have written extensively on social media and innovation in foreign policy. But the idea of digital diplomacy is exactly to include all audiences in the debate, while nurturing an open discussion.

Ambassadors and diplomats have embraced digital tools at various levels, from using Twitter and Facebook, to exploring tools like MapBox to map offices and services around the country; from Storify-ing events and initiatives, to experimenting with GoogleGlass at public functions. To events like #SIDD -- or the Stockholm Initiative for Digital Diplomacy ( -- this past January, to which I had the honor to participate. The Stockholm event, hosted by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, served as an important step to creating a veritable ecosystem where ideas can be shared and where the digital diplomacy community can meet and open itself up to new interlocutors, including developers, creatives, techs, journalists, communicators, and much more.

The opportunities are endless and organizations like the Digital Diplomacy Coalition ( and the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy ( are dedicated to share innovative ideas, best practices, and more among the diplomatic community in Washington DC and elsewhere.

From a simple idea, this crowdsourcing experiment evolved into a veritable collection of ideas and tips for digital diplomacy practitioners by digital diplomacy practitioners — and what a better outlet to publish them than Medium, a place for “Everyone’s stories and ideas.”

The following have contributed to this article:

• Andra Alexandru (@AndraAlexandru) – Co-Founder of
• Andreea Hanganu (@hanganuandreea) – Co-Founder of
• Daniella Fisher (@DaniKFisher) – Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis
• Stéphane Le Mentec (@SLeMentec) – Embassy of Canada to France
• Matthias Lüfkens (@Luefkens @Twiplomacy) – Burson-Marsteller, Digital Practice Leader
• Fernando Márquez (@feromalo) – Enova
• Martha McLean (@mjmclean) – Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
• Jarrett Reckseidler (@jarrettreckse) – Mission of Canada to the EU
• Nicolas Sabourin (@NicolasSabourin) – Embassy of Canada to The Netherlands
• Scott Nolan Smith (@ScottNolanSmith) – Co-Founder of the Digital Diplomacy Coalition & Head of Digital Diplomacy at the British Embassy in Washington DC

Disclaimer: Views expressed by all participants in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of their employers.

Here are their ideas, tips and advice we have collected:

By Jarrett Reckseidler (@jarrettreckse) – Mission of Canada to the EU

It is important to understand that digital diplomacy is not a little pet project for bored diplomats with too much time on their hands. There are fundamental shifts in power taking place in the world right now, not just from West to East, North to South, developed to emerging, but also from traditional hierarchies to citizens and networks of citizens. As Alec Ross so rightly put it, "the 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak". Within these traditional power structures, info-hoarding and information "gate-keeping" are keys to influence. The IT and social media revolutions have broken apart that model, establishing a new paradigm where info-sharing, collaboration, and leveraging connections and networks is key to power and influence. The traditional gatekeeper can now be easily bypassed. Moreover, policy issues can no longer be compartmentalized into nice little isolated stove-pipes: nearly every policy issues is now cross-cutting and multi-faceted in nature.

Governments and foreign ministries are not immune to the above phenomena. The complexities of 21st century policy challenges require a 21st century diplomatic response. It is no longer enough for diplomats to deal almost exclusively with other foreign ministry counterparts or other government officials. Successful diplomacy and advocacy requires a sophisticated and strategic leveraging of multi-stakeholder networks to amplify influence.

That said, digital diplomacy is simply a means to an end, and not an end in itself. It represents another tool in the diplomatic toolbox for achieving foreign policy, commercial, and sectoral goals. So what is the value-added of digital diplomacy?

I would identify the following:

1. Listening & policy input - Like any organization, foreign ministries do not have a monopoly of smart people and good ideas. New technologies provide an excellent means to harness valuable new policy input into the policy- and decision-making process. Good policy is ultimately about the quality of policy inputs. The more you understand the dynamic and fully consequences of a policy option, the greater the chances that you will make fully-informed policy decisions.

2. Networking - All diplomats understand the value of networking and expanding one's list of contacts. At a classic diplomatic event, you may be able to cultivate around ten new contacts. On Twitter for example, with the same time or energy you can easily meet hundreds of relevant contacts, and often the all-important "less-than-usual suspects" with policy influence.

3. Amplification - One of digital diplomacy's greatest attributes is the amplification possibilities it provides for communicating core advocacy messages to a large and diverse audience. If the average social media has 170 "friends" or "followers", then one single "tweet" can reach upwards of 10,000 people via "second degree of separation". And the figure rises exponentially more for every extra degree of separation after that.

4. High reward for little investment - As most foreign ministries struggle with the maintenance of their voice and influence in this a of fiscal restraint and government cutbacks, digital diplomacy offers an extremely cost-effective way of achieving advocacy objectives, fostering policy innovation, and enhancing the foreign ministry brand as a dynamic and forward-looking organization.

By Scott Nolan Smith (@ScottNolanSmith) – Co-Founder of the Digital Diplomacy Coalition & Head of Digital Diplomacy at the British Embassy in Washington

It is important to remember that digital diplomacy is not separate from diplomacy. It is not a solution to the world’s problems, nor a catch all to being a great diplomat. Digital technologies, however, do present new tools and opportunities for diplomats to do their jobs better, and for foreign ministries to achieve their goals in new ways. Digital technologies provide an additional set of tools to the wider diplomatic toolkit. Digital, particularly social media, allows governments to be more engaging, to listen more and broadcast less. It's no longer about ‘the audience,’ it’s about the communities you engage with and become a part of.

By Jarrett Reckseidler (@jarrettreckse) – Mission of Canada to the EU

One of the major obstacles to full digital diplomacy engagement for most foreign ministries is a corporate culture of risk aversion. Foreign ministries have traditionally been conservative institutions, who functioned according to a rigid hierarchical and command-and-control style structure. As illustrated above, however, that model is no longer fully conducive to power and influence in the 21st century. As eloquently stated by Ferguson Hansen of the Lowry Institute in his study on "ediplomacy@State", "The to either embrace the advantages and opportunities ediplomacy presents or to be passive and be shaped and sidelined by this latest technological revolution".

As all Silicon Valley companies know, innovation requires a certain tolerance for failure and risk. The US State Dept under the leadership of Hilary Clinton did a wonderful job of differentiating between what she termed a "diplomatic misdemeanor" and a "diplomatic criminal offence". In other words, to "no longer sweat the small stuff" since experimentation yields higher rewards. The key of such a shift is trust: for an organization to harness fully its human capital potential by empowering its employees to use their "presumed competency" and "situational judgment", including in the social media sphere.

The core message for any overly risk-averse organization is this: any small setback endured on the path to digital diplomacy engagement is far outweighed by the opportunity dividends of engaging; in other words, you have more to lose by not engaging in terms of missed opportunities.

By Nicolas Sabourin (@NicolasSabourin) – Embassy of Canada to The Netherlands

Before you go public, spend some time to develop a list of themes, persons or institutions that you would like to follow, and look for them on Twitter. Create lists and set up a dashboard on a platform such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. Listen to what the people you follow have to say, take note of their interests, and think about how you can engage them with your tweets. Twitter is a formidable tool for diplomacy in that it allows you to build a community of followers/followed that suits your needs and your interests, but you have to get to know that community and have something to offer in return if you are to benefit fully from interacting with it.

By Martha McLean (@mjmclean) – Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

You have risen to the position you have due in large part to your knowledge, experience and networks. Your voice matters on the diplomatic stage and is now a welcome addition to online dialogues. Global issues affect us all and your voice can extend beyond the borders of your accredited territory(ies). You are contributing to a dialogue and being part of a community.

1. Twitter is simply another tool in your diplomatic arsenal (phone, face-to-face, email, meetings etc.)

2. Find a mentor within your embassy or your peer network, don’t be afraid to ask and learn.

3. Learning how find, filter, and listen will make it enjoyable and exciting;

4. Listen to what others are saying; pay attention to/critique how they’re engaging; (other diplomats in your city/country, #digitaldiplomacy)

5. Be curious, be yourself. Share and seek based on your interests.

6. Enjoy!

By Matthias Lüfkens (@Luefkens @Twiplomacy) – Burson-Marsteller, Digital Practice Leader

Don’t rush into social media without some basic training. Twitter is probably the best tool to learn social media engagement in ‘private mode’. Set up a protected Twitter account, mutually follow a handful of your colleagues and start “test tweeting” for a couple of weeks. Ask your social media trainer and your team to cast a critical eye on your tweets. Once you are comfortable with the platform and its 140-character limitation delete the “test tweets” and go public. At Burson-Marsteller we have designed a Tweet Academy workshop to help our clients master the tool.

By Matthias Lüfkens (@Luefkens @Twiplomacy) – Burson-Marsteller, Digital Practice Leader

Follow and connect with your peers. @Twiplomacy has a number of useful Twitter lists of embassies and diplomats around the world. You can either subscribe to the lists for your reading pleasure or better pick your peers and follow them to connect on Twitter. Start by following all your peers and colleagues in your city. Twitter will not replace face to face meetings, phone calls or emails but it’s another communication channel you should use. Once mutually connected with your peers you can send Direct Messages via Twitter, which are far more effective than email. Don’t worry about following too many people. You don’t have to read all their tweets. For better Twitter reading you should create lists of must-read accounts instead.

By Stéphane Le Mentec (@SLeMentec) –- Embassy of Canada to France

Don’t be shy on Twitter and take this opportunity to feed the needs of your followers.
Be relevant: listen and then engage with your community. Twitter is not a one-way communication tool. You’re not talking to an audience, you’re talking to other social media actors. Do not be inactive or voiceless: Twitter is surely an effective tool in terms of monitoring but, above all, it is all about taking part in a global discussion.

By Nicolas Sabourin (@NicolasSabourin) –- Embassy of Canada to The Netherlands

Unless you are a pop star or Alec Ross, do not expect to attract huge numbers of followers as a diplomat. Quality matters more than quantity, and what matters -- if what you want to do is diplomacy -- is to have the right influential people in your community. Don’t worry when you lose some followers, it’s a normal attrition process: followers less interested in interacting with you will regularly unfollow you, but your list of followers will progressively become more relevant and aligned with the issues you discuss on a regular basis. That said, you don’t want to be preaching in the desert and one of your objectives on social media is probably to reach a wider audience: there is a number of ways to increase the reach of your tweets (hashtags, timing of posting, using links and photos etc.): keep them in mind and spend an extra minute on each tweet to make sure it will be as effective as possible.

By Andra Alexandru (@AndraAlexandru) and Andreea Hanganu (@hanganuandreea) – Co-Founders of

You regularly meet new people face-to-face in meetings and events that are part of the target audience you want to reach online via social media. That is why it is worth adding to all the embassy branded materials (from business cards and emails to roll-ups and banners) the Twitter handle, the Facebook page name, the YouTube channel etc., and even the hashtag you want people to follow, whether it is related to a major event you are organizing or one generated by the Ministry.

Digital is also about personal interactions. Apart from getting a relevant base of followers and interacting with them online, make sure you take the time and meet bloggers and social media activists offline. Invite them to events, to special briefings at the embassy or participate in social media dedicated events yourself! There may be few instances that bloggers cherish more than given the priviledge to meet diplomats and high level officials who <<speak their language>>. You will gain extra visibility, loyal friends and a strong foundation for future online campaigns.

By Fernando Márquez (@feromalo) – Enova

Innovation is neither analog nor digital, it’s methodological (it’s related to strategies, and not merely with tools).

Even if social media holds strategic potential for enhancing communication tactics, there is no guarantee that it is (or will be) used that way. The reality is that more often than not it’s used only for broadcasting (transmitting, sending, spreading, promulgating information to audiences), and not necessarily for communication (understood as interaction or engagement between social actors, ie, communities).

My suggestion: don’t highlight the technology, and rather focus on the design of the engagement process.

In other words, the focus should not be primarily in the medium or communications technology, but in how messages (communication strategies and tactics) are structured / tailored. Furthermore, the target audiencie/community is the one that should define both (the messege and the means of contact, influence and persuasion to be used; be them traditional or novel).

“’Google before you tweet’ is the new ‘think before you speak’.” Author unknown.

By Nicolas Sabourin (@NicolasSabourin) – Embassy of Canada to The Netherlands

It can be difficult to bring all staff on board when social media is seen as the “pet project” of a single section, generally Public Affairs. Make sure that mission management - the Head of Mission if possible - is personally engaged and instructs all sections to contribute. Identify some “social media champions” who understand the value of social media in the diplomatic work, and give them some freedom to experiment. As they find best practices and start to show concrete positive results, they will convince their peers to embrace this new tool. Official accounts are good and often necessary, but don’t hesitate to promote individual, “professional” accounts of staff to complement them and further expand your mission’s reach in social media; the resulting array of accounts will be bigger than the sum of its components.

By Stéphane Le Mentec (@SLeMentec) – Embassy of Canada to France

Engage other diplomats in your mission with social media: Set up a social media committee to brainstorm and develop some “diplotweeps”, create in-mission social media trainings… Public affairs will help but it’s highly recommended to share with diplomats working on various issues: Trade, Politics, PA, Immigration, Visa… You’ll all benefit from your experience and your specific needs and interests.

By Daniella Fisher (@DaniKFisher) – Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis

For Consuls General, social media presents a valuable opportunity to engage with territory influencers, as well as the general public. Diplomats are far less common outside of the national capital, and the public in your region is likely to be curious about you.

So - what might you post? Think about social media as a window into who you are and what you do as a diplomat. Tweet photos from cultural and trade events. If you read an interesting and relevant article, share a link to it. Chime in when you see an interesting conversation occurring - people will be flattered that you are paying attention.

In addition, if you represent your country in multiple states, provinces, or regions, social media can be a way to remain connected to those in more distant reaches of your territory. Follow those whom you meet in real life, or those whom you might like to meet on your next trip to that area. Follow elected officials, reporters who have interviewed you, and executive directors of major NGOs in the region. On Twitter, you can mention and thank people with whom you meet while you’re on trips within the territory.

Above all, if someone interacts with you, don’t miss the chance to interact back!

By Daniella Fisher (@DaniKFisher) – Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis

Follow: In advance of the event or meeting, look up and follow the person with whom you’ll be meeting, the organization or coalition of organizations sponsoring the event, the president or chair of the organization or event, and influentials who you know will be in attendance.
Find the hashtag: Usually this is on the organization’s conference website or twitter feed. Before the meeting, using this hashtag, direct a tweet to the main organizers. They may retweet it - granting you exposure to their followers - to promote their event and highlight your participation. While there, include the hashtag in your posts during or about the event so it can be seen by others also in attendance.
Schedule: Using a tool like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, or Buffer: Consider scheduling some posts in advance - news articles relevant to the topic of the event, mentions of fellow attendees, etc - so you ’re not tethered to your mobile device while you are there.
Be responsive: If someone engages with you on social media during the event, be sure to acknowledge and respond to their outreach. After the event, just as you would enter new contacts’ information into your contact management system, look up, and follow, the people you met on Twitter. Send a ‘wrap-up” tweet – “I enjoyed meeting with @statelegislator today to talk about trade and security – Thanks!” or “Learned more about partnership between (host country) & (your country) at #exportdevconference!”

by Matthias Lüfkens (@Luefkens @Twiplomacy) – Burson-Marsteller, Digital Practice Leader

1 Don't tweet what you eat, but tweet as you eat, ie three times per day - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
2 .@replies will only be seen by all your followers if you put a dot before the @ (aka 'dot replies') - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
3 Be personal. However, unless you are the president of the USA keep your private life out of your Twitter feed - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
4 Don’t tweet about the weather, unless you’re English or your business is The Sun - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
5 Be human, however keep your emotions under control - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
6 Tweet positive. Don’t vent your anger on Twitter - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
7 Never use foul language. - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
8 Be brief. Don’t exceed 100-120 characters; leave space for retweets (RTs) - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
9 Be short and to the point - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
10 The best tweets are often the shortest - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
11 The most popular tweet ever had only three words and a picture - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
12 A tweet with exactly 140 characters is called a "Twoosh", but it's often impossible to retweet. See - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
13 Following someone doesn’t mean you must read all their tweets. Create lists for curated Twitter readings. - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
14 Create and follow lists #Curation - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
15 Are your staff on Twitter? Creating staff lists helps you monitor what your employees are tweeting - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
16 Create a monthly editorial calendar and a weekly/daily tweet sheet - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
17 Lost for words? Tweet historic events or historic quotes... - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
18 Don’t forget to send Holiday Greetings via Twitter, cheaper than a greetings card - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
19 Use different Twitter clients for your personal and corporate Twitter accounts to avoid accidents - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
20 #Multiple #hashtags will make your #tweet #difficult to #read - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
21 #LongHashtagsAreAnnoyingAndPointless - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
22 It is ok to make spelling mistakes but proof read your tweets before sending: - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
23 Read your posts out loud via @shortstackjim @socialmedia2day - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
24 Know when to use a comma. Spelling matters via @shortstackjim @socialmedia2day - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
25 Mom This is How Twitter Works - Learn the basics: - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
26 Use or or get your branded URL shortener to shorten links - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
27 Don’t buy followers via @SGH_Marketing @SocialMedia2day - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
28 Use a Twitter client such as @Hootsuite @Tweetdeck via @andrewriesen @socialmedia2day- @BMdigital #TwitterTips
29 Never make people laugh - unless that is the intended outcome via @softwarehollis @socialmedia2day- @BMdigital #TwitterTips
30 Social media doesn't have to be time consuming via @BradleyESmith @socialmedia2day - @BMdigital #TwitterTips
31 Make your tweets RARE: Relevant, Articulate, Reliable, Enabling via @TheTweepleQueen @socialmedia2day
32 Don’t make a crisis out of a tweet - @BMdigital #TwitterTips

* Andreas Sandre is a Press and Public Affairs Officer at the Embassy of Italy in Washington DC. He is the author of Twitter for Diplomats” (February 2013) and has contributed articles on foreign policy and digital diplomacy to numerous specialized publications, including the DiploFoundation, the Global Policy Journal, and BigThink. The views expressed in this article are the author's only and do not necessarily reflect those of the Embassy of Italy. Find him on Twitter: @andreas212nyc



Comms + policy. Author of #digitaldiplomacy (2015), Twitter for Diplomats (2013). My views only.

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Andreas Sandre

Comms + policy. Author of #digitaldiplomacy (2015), Twitter for Diplomats (2013). My views only.