Ways for Embassies to Engage America’s Youth

I recently saw a job posted by an embassy in Washington, DC, looking for someone to help with youth engagement across the United States.  Since this is an area I am passionate about, I immediately began brainstorming.  The three ideas that I think have the most potential utilize social media, Model UN, and teacher materials.

Most embassies already use social media as a tool for digital diplomacy.  Personnel could use that to engage with both students and teachers across the United States.  For example, I was able to have somebody from the Italian Embassy speak to my students via Skype (not exactly social media, but still a form of engagement via the internet).  Additionally, embassies, or their consulates, could hold Twitter chats.  If they have exchange programs, they could encourage students to post photos to Instagram or Flickr.

Model UN is an opportunity for students to be engaged in international politics, diplomacy, and global issues in an academic setting.  There are a number of conferences held across the country each year from coast to coast, including at least two in Washington, DC.  These would be great opportunities for embassies to hold sessions on their role in the world and international organizations.  As our school’s Model UN advisor, I try to set up trips to the consulates in Chicago when we attend the conferences there.  In the past, we’ve visited the consulates for Greece, Canada, and Mexico.  All of the trips were 1-2 hours long and provided students an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the respective countries.

Finally, one of the most effective ways to reach students is through their teachers.  Reaching one high school teacher, for example, means reaching approximately one hundred students.  If embassies had lesson plans on their country, relations with the US, or more, it would exponentially increase its reach among American youth.  For example, the UK embassy could create lesson plans for AP Comparative Government and Politics (as it is one of the six countries teachers are mandated to teach), AP US History, AP European History, AP English Lit, and so on.  When I taught my students about the UK under Thatcher, I used videos from The Specials and Madness.

These are just three ideas that embassies in Washington, DC, could use to engage American students.  If you’ve got any other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Thanks for reading.


Social Media in the Madison Mayoral Campaigns

In my previous post, I outlined the web presence of the Madison mayoral candidates, but now I want to delve a bit further into how they are actually using social media.  According to the Pew Research Center, 71% of online adults use Facebook, making it the most popular social media website, whereas only 23% use Twitter.  As such, when it comes to campaigns, social media can be a powerful tool to organize followers, inform them, and engage in discussions with possible voters.  It can be even more powerful if the candidates use their various accounts in conjunction with each other, not just as separate entities.  With three months until the April election, I expected to see websites and social media channels that work together to coordinate the candidate’s message.

Every candidate has at least one website, one Facebook page, and one Twitter account.  Generally speaking, the online base for a campaign is the website.  Accordingly, I would expect to see the Facebook and Twitter icons so that visitors could check those out in addition to the website.  Of the five mayoral candidates, only Bridget Maniaci has the icons to both Facebook and Twitter.  Scott Resnick and Paul Soglin have the Facebook icons, but Christopher Daly and Richard Brown have no icons.  This leads to two questions- 1) Why do Daly and Brown not have the links, and 2) Why is it that Maniaci is the only one to link to Twitter?  If candidates want to use social media to its full potential they should include the links to all accounts on their website’s main page and make them easy to locate on that page (not at the very bottom underneath the treasurer information).

As for Twitter, this particular social media site allows users to include a URL in their profile.  This is a great opportunity for candidates to link to their campaign’s main website or Facebook.  Only Maniaci and Daly take advantage of this opportunity- Daly links to his Facebook page, while Maniaci links to her campaign website.  Mayor Soglin has a link, but it is to his own website, Waxing America.

It would also be in the best interests of the candidates to change their Twitter profile to include something to the extent of “The official Twitter account for (insert name), candidate to become Madison’s next mayor.”  If not that, then briefly tell visitors about your ideas.  One way to do this effectively would be to use hashtags.  For example, “Candidate for Madison mayor. Supports #sustainability, #publiceducation, and #transportation.”  This way, candidates not only share a glimpse of what they believe in, but when any Twitter user searches for those hashtags, their profile comes up, thereby increasing their reach.  Along these lines, it would also make things easier for voters if candidates used just one Twitter account for their campaign.  Right now, Maniaci and Mayor Soglin each have two accounts, and it is unclear if either one is the official campaign account.

Since more people are likely to use Facebook than any other social media site, candidates should definitely ensure their accounts are full of information.  Unlike Twitter, Facebook has no character limit; therefore, candidates should expand on their ideas.  Besides the main campaign website, candidates should put their platform on Facebook.  They should also include links to the campaign website, other social media accounts, and ways to contact the campaign.

Social media can be extremely powerful, especially as a campaign tool.  In the race to become Madison’s next mayor, candidates should consider how they can use their accounts effectively to reach possible voters, inform them, and most importantly, engage with them in discussion.

Thanks for reading.

Madison Mayoral Candidates on the Web

Just as an FYI, here are the websites and social media accounts as of January 12, 2015, for the Madison mayoral candidates (in alphabetical order):

Richard Brown
Website: Richard Brown for Mayor
Facebook: Richard Brown for Mayor
Twitter: @RichardVBrown1

Christopher Daly
Website: Christopher Daly for Mayor of Madison
Facebook: Daly4Mayor2015
Twitter: @Daly4Mayor2015

Bridget Maniaci
Website: Bridget for Madison
Facebook: bridgetformadison
Instagram: bridgetformayor
Twitter: 1) @BridgetForMayor and 2) @BridgetManiaci

Scott Resnick
Website: Scott Resnick for Mayor
Facebook: Resnick for Mayor
Twitter: @sjresnick

Paul Soglin
Website: Paul Soglin for Mayor
Facebook: Paul Soglin for Mayor
Twitter: 1) @Paulsoglin and 2) @MayorOfMadison

I’ve also created a list of all the Twitter accounts.  Update, Feb 18, 2015: Now that the primaries have taken place and the candidates are down to two, I have removed the others from the Twitter list.

Note: I will update this page if a candidate changes or adds accounts.

The Things I Carry

When I left work for home this past Friday, it seemed to me that my backpack was heavier than usual.  As I pulled out the papers and books, I thought of Foreign Policy magazine’s feature titled “The Things They Carried” in which they interview somebody and explore the contents of their backpack/briefcase.  I thought doing something similar would give readers an insight into how my mind works.  This is the result.

The Things I Carry

Starting with the four papers in the upper left corner, I’ve got materials on NATO.  When NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gave his first press conference, it happened to be during my Government & Politics class.  I thought it would be a great opportunity for my students to watch the conference and discuss it afterwards, so what you see on top is the paper on which I took my notes.  Underneath the transcript of the conference (which I printed off because I wanted to go back over it thinking I might write about it) are NATO’s Strategic Concept and an article by Franklin Miller and Kori Schake titled, “NATO’s newest mission: Conquering its generation gap.”

To the right of my “NATO pile” is my “EU pile,” consisting of “A New Ambition for Europe: A Memo to the European Union Foreign Policy Chief,” and two documents from the European Commission on the new Juncker Commission.  I highly recommend the memo by Daniel Keohane, Stefan Lehne, Ulrich Speck, and Jan Techau, for anybody interested in the EU’s foreign policy.  The other two documents, “The Juncker Commission: A strong and experienced team standing for change,” and “Questions and Answers: The Juncker Commission,” were useful as I watched the changes taking place in Brussels.  For reasons I cannot explain, I find the EU (its history, institutions, foreign policy, etc.) to be extremely fascinating.  As such, I am constantly learning as much as I can about it.

To the right of the “EU pile” is a stack of three reports relating to transatlantic relations- Atlantic Currents: An Annual Report on Wider Perspectives and PatternsTransatlantic Trends: Key Findings, 2014; and The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: A Multilateral Perspective.  The first two reports come from the German Marshall Fund, a think tank devoted to strengthening transatlantic cooperation.  Out of the numerous think tanks whose websites I regularly visit, I find the GMF to be the most useful and enlightening.  If you are interested in transatlantic relations, you should definitely check them out.  The report on TTIP was just released, and given the importance of trade to the transatlantic relationship, I thought it would be wise to read it.

To the right of that stack is The Twitter Government and Elections Handbook.  Given my interest in how politicians, policymakers, and diplomats use Twitter, I wanted to make sure I had a copy of this.  It’s a fascinating insight into how Twitter thinks politicians and candidates for office should use Twitter.  It starts out with the basics of setting up an account and eventually gets into topics like engaging and mobilizing followers.  I’ve been trying to think of ways to bring this into my Government & Politics class but haven’t quite nailed down what I want to share.

Underneath that is a great article by Tobias Bunde titled, “Transatlantic Collective Identity in a Nutshell: Debating Security Policy at the Munich Security Conference.”  This is the one paper I haven’t gotten to yet; however, knowing Bunde’s work on transatlantic relations (e.g. @FutureNATO and his essay on future generations of Atlanticists), I’m sure it will be worthwhile and useful.

Underneath that, in the lower right corner is my trusty, school-issued MacBook.  All of my lesson plans, tests, and other school work is on this glorious machine.  Next to it is my external drive, which I found out to be extremely valuable after all of the files for one of my classes mysteriously disappeared.  The protective sleeve is usually home to a few stickers courtesy of my children.  In the past it has been home to Bucky Badger, but now Olaf the Snowman graces the cover.  I also have CD’s with materials from courses I no longer teach just in case I want to use a lesson for a current course.

To the left of that is the book Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age, by Steven Hill.  Any time I read a non-fiction book, I have to take notes, hence the notebook underneath.  Call it a bizarre quirk, but it’s important to me to jot down my thoughts and ideas/passages I want to remember.  I chose this book in particular because I recently picked up a copy of Lessons from Europe? What Americans Can Learn from European Public Policies, edited by R. Daniel Kelemen, and I wanted to read the Hill book first.  I think the U.S. has a lot to learn from European policies, but that’s for a future post.

The last pile in the lower left corner consist of four different assignments that need to be graded.  All of them are either essays or short-answers.  I try to do all school work at school (which is why I usually arrive two hours early), but I wanted to get as much done as possible before Thanksgiving break.

I know this may have seemed like a silly exercise, but I rarely share anything personal, and I thought this was a good way of doing so.  Maybe it gave you insight into the way my mind works, or maybe it showed you that I need to clean out my backpack more often.  Either way, one thing should be quite clear- I am passionate about transatlantic relations, and I hope to one day use that passion to maintain and strengthen them.

Thanks for reading.

Amb. Gérard Araud and the US on Twitter

France appointed Gérard Araud as their ambassador to the USA in September of this year.  After his tenure began, I started to follow him on Twitter and added him to my list of European ambassadors to the US.  I was immediately struck by his use of digital diplomacy and the fact that he replied to tweets; so much so, that I tweeted about it.

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This past week, however, I noticed that many of his tweets concerning the US sent a mixed message.  Some seemed to praise the relationship between the US and France, while others were fairly negative towards the US.  This got me thinking about the purpose not only of ambassadors and traditional diplomacy, but also the use of digital diplomacy.

Here are the two tweets that seemed fairly positive towards the US:

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Now for the “negative”:

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The message to me is this, “The US is important for the French economy, but it has some pretty messed up domestic policies.”  We use a system of measurement that very few people in the world use, our gun laws are horribly archaic and inept, and people in the US are not expected to live as long as our European friends.  Before I continue, let me be clear, I agree with Ambassador Araud’s attitude regarding our policies.  We need stricter gun control laws and better healthcare and other social policies.  I have no problem at all with the Ambassador’s positions.  My concern is whether or not this is the best way to go about stating these opinions on Twitter.

Let’s start with the purpose of an ambassador- the highest representative of one government to another with the goal of representing the home country’s interests and policies while perhaps trying to maintain and strengthen relations between the two countries.  Add to that the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ thoughts on digital soft diplomacy, “Our soft diplomacy is aimed notably at promoting France’s image and thus defending our economic, linguistic and cultural interests.”  In my opinion, there seems to be a disconnect between the Ambassador’s tweets, and the purpose of an ambassador in general and the mission of the French MFA.

Perhaps a more effective use of Twitter would have been to promote France’s gun control laws and other social policies.  If you’re going to criticize somebody, at least make it constructive.  Tell us why France’s policies are examples of good governance.  Explain to us how our two governments can work together to improve citizens’ lives on both sides of the Atlantic.  Make the case for the US to adopt the metric system instead of just, “Everybody else uses it.”  Tell us the secret of France’s success in having a longer life expectancy.  Is it due to the French healthcare system, social welfare policies, the diet?  This is a great opportunity for the Ambassador to tweet to Americans about French culture (I should also add that the embassy already does a great job of this with their website, French Culture and Education in the US).

Again, I agree with the Ambassador’s sentiments that we Americans can learn from the French, and from Europeans in general, when it comes to social policies.  I just wonder if perhaps he wants to rethink his use of digital diplomacy so as to not infuriate easily offended Americans (see for example Americans’ responses to Newcastle’s #IfWeWon campaign).

Thanks for reading.