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The rise of hybrid diplomacy: from digital adaptation to digital adoption


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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced diplomats to embrace virtual platforms and to learn to combine virtual and physical meetings in their work. In this article, we investigate how this process has taken place and with implications for the conduct of diplomacy. Specifically, we ask how diplomats have adapted to the transition to the virtual medium, what lessons have they learned from this, and how these lessons may inform the conduct of diplomacy in the post-pandemic period? We argue that diplomacy is about to enter a new phase, which we call hybrid diplomacy, in which physical and virtual engagements are expected to integrate, complement and empower each other. We begin by distinguishing between digital adaptation, a forced process brought about by external changes, and digital adoption, a strategic decision by diplomats to use specific technologies towards specific goals. Building on the results of a survey disseminated to 105 diplomats during the pandemic, we then examine how diplomats have adapted to the virtual medium and what challenges they see facing as they transition to the post-pandemic phase. While responders largely agree that virtual interactions are not a good substitute for physical diplomacy, we find strong support for the continued mix of virtual and physical meetings. They enable diplomats to maintain working procedures, collaborate with their peers from around the world, and continue negotiations that began offline. We conclude with a discussion of the technological and social factors that may inform the shape of hybrid diplomacy.
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The rise of hybrid diplomacy:
from digital adaptation to digital adoption
International Aairs 98:  () –; : ./ia/iiac
© The Author(s) . Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Aairs. This is
an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (
licenses/by/./), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work
is properly cited.
Almost two years have passed since the COVID- pandemic first compelled
diplomacy to move online. Beginning in March , the doors of ministries of
foreign aairs (MFAs) and multilateral institutions were closed, embassies were
urged to lie dormant, and diplomats were subject to social isolation and quaran-
tine. Despite the suddenness of the transition, the process appears in retrospect to
have worked surprisingly well. ‘Zoom diplomacy’ has by now become a routin-
ized extension of face-to-face diplomacy, being used for convening high-level
meetings between world leaders, for organizing sessions of the UN General
Assembly, or for arranging bilateral engagements at the MFA level. As physical
diplomacy is becoming feasible again, the question that diplomats now face is
whether virtual meetings will become a permanent feature of diplomacy. Diplo-
mats want to know whether the skills they have struggled to learn over the past
two years will be of any use once the pandemic is over. In other words, is there
life for virtual engagement after the pandemic? Specifically, we ask, how have
diplomats adapted to the transition to the virtual medium, what lessons have they
learned from doing so, and how might these lessons inform the conduct of diplo-
macy in the post-pandemic period?
In our answer, we argue that diplomacy is about to enter a new phase of
digital transformation: one of what we call hybrid diplomacy, in which physical and
virtual engagements are expected to integrate, complement and empower each
other. We contextualize the argument by tracing the evolution of the previous
two waves of digital transformation of diplomacy (social media and strategic
communication), and examining the similarities and dierences between past
patterns of digital adaptation and the current wave. The pace and shape of hybrid
Julian Borger, ‘Biden–Xi virtual summit: leaders warn each other over future of Taiwan’, Guardian,  Nov. ,/nov//xi-biden-virtual-summit-us-china-conflict-taiwan-
hong-kong. (Unless otherwise noted at point of citation, all URLs cited in this article were accessible on  Jan.
Patrick Wintour, ‘Bye bye bilaterals: UN general assembly to embrace Zoom diplomacy’, Guardian,  Sept.
zoom-diplomacy; Isabel Bramsen and Anine Hagemann, ‘The missing sense of peace: diplomatic approach-
ment and virtualization during the COVID- lockdown’, International Aairs : , , pp. –.
United Arab Emirates MFA, ‘UAE and Greece host virtual edition of their nd Strategic Cooperation Forum’,
 July ,///---uae-greece.
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Corneliu Bjola and Ilan Manor
International Aairs 98: 2, 2022
diplomacy will depend on how well MFAs manage the transition from adaptation
to adoption; that is, from learning how to integrate physical and virtual presences
under pressure, by trial and error and improvisation, to doing so in a more delib-
erative, strategic and systematic manner. For some, hybridity will probably remain
a desirable aspiration hindered by technical challenges and institutional resistance.
For others, hybrid diplomacy may well become second nature, allowing them to
pursue their foreign policy goals fast, eectively and with confidence. Yet our
results suggest that the transition from digital adaptation to digital adoption is
hardly linear, which means that most diplomats will probably locate themselves
somewhere in between these two positions.
To gauge diplomats’ reactions to the arrival of hybrid diplomacy, the study
follows a survey-based inductive methodology designed to gather data about the
professional virtual experiences of the responders during the pandemic, to identify
possible patterns in the observed data and to use these patterns to construct gener-
alizable theoretical insights. An inductive approach is particularly suitable for this
type of research for a very practical reason. Just as governments and the general
public failed to anticipate the seriousness of the pandemic in its early stages, one
would also expect diplomats to have been taken largely by surprise by its sudden
arrival and the abruptness of the transition to the virtual medium. Consequently,
their reactions were inevitably organic, with no predefined reference points, and
focused on learning how to adapt to the new circumstances. Creating meaning
from such complex data is a task that inductive analysis is designed to do well.
To this end, we collected responses from  diplomats representing about 
countries around the world. The survey sample included  per cent women and
 per cent men with the following age distribution:  per cent under , 
per cent between  and , and  per cent above  years of age. About  per
cent of responders were senior diplomats at the rank of ambassador or minister
counsellor,  per cent were senior MFA ocials (head of division/department,
chief digital ocer), and the remaining  per cent were of lower rank (first,
second or third secretaries or attachés). Participants were recruited using a snowball
sampling method, between October  and January , and those preferring
not to be identified by name were given the opportunity to remain anonymous.
The survey was conducted online, in full compliance with the relevant academic
ethical guidelines. The survey data were processed using the analytics software
Tableau, which allowed us to generate analytical insights from visual representa-
tions of the entire dataset.
The article is structured in four parts. First, we review previous studies
examining the impact of digital technologies on diplomats’ work and their insti-
tutions. Second, we introduce the concepts of digital adaptation and adoption, and
trace their recent evolution within MFAs. Third, we discuss our methodology and
present the findings of our survey of  diplomats who discussed their experi-
ences of conducting virtual meetings during the COVID- pandemic. Fourth,
David R. Thomas, ‘A general inductive approach for analyzing qualitative evaluation data’, American Journal
of Evaluation : , , pp. –.
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The rise of hybrid diplomacy
International Aairs 98: 2, 2022
building on these findings, we examine two key dimensions of digital adoption,
technological and social, and reflect on how they may facilitate or hinder MFAs’
eorts to embrace hybrid diplomacy in their future work. We conclude with
a brief discussion of the implications of the ‘third wave’ of digital adoption in
international aairs. The study makes three distinct contributions to the literature
on digital diplomacy: methodologically, it draws on data gathered from a much
larger and more diverse sample of diplomats than previous studies; conceptually,
it oers a novel framework (adaptation vs adoption) for understanding the process
by which digital technologies are absorbed into diplomatic practice; empirically,
it oers unique findings about the areas in which hybrid diplomacy is perceived
to be most eective.
Going digital: what does it mean?
The past decade has seen diplomats’ growing use of digital technologies in a
process often referred to as ‘digital diplomacy’. Since , diplomatic services
have experimented with establishing virtual embassies, creating social media
channels to interact with foreign populations, launching smartphone applica-
tions, establishing new digital task forces, assembling big data units, revamping
communication procedures in multilateral organizations and writing their own
algorithms. Evidence of how well digital diplomacy has entrenched itself in the
work of MFAs is apparent in the routine use by diplomats of social media, websites
and smartphone applications to comment on, and attempt to shape, public percep-
tions of crises as they unfold.
Scholarly work has attempted to illustrate the process by which digital technol-
ogies aect diplomats and their institutions. For some, this relationship is shaped
by the digital functionalities and aordances that enable or constrain diplomatic
action, for instance in the context of international negotiations. Studies examining
social media have also focused on the type of content that diplomats can publish,
or how social media helps overcome the limitations of oine diplomacy during
peace negotiations. For others, social media have altered the space within which
diplomats communicate, engage and collaborate with each other—or even the
logic and working procedures of diplomatic institutions, which now seek to copy
those of media institutions.
Corneliu Bjola and Marcus Holmes, eds, Digital diplomacy: theory and practice (Abingdon: Routledge, ); Ilan
Manor, The digitalization of public diplomacy (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, ).
See Philip Seib, The future of diplomacy (Cambridge: Wiley, ); Efe Sevin, ‘Digital diplomacy as crisis
communication: Turkish digital outreach after July ’, Mexican Journal of Foreign Policy, vol. , , pp.
See Rebecca Adler-Nissen and Alena Drieschova, ‘Track-change diplomacy: technology, aordances, and the
practice of international negotiations’, International Studies Quarterly : , , pp. –.
See Emily T. Metzgar, ‘Is it the medium or the message? Social media, American public relations and Iran’,
Global Media Journal: , , pp. –; Lina Khatib, William Dutton and Michael Thelwall, ‘Public diplo-
macy .: a case study of the US digital outreach team’,Middle East Journal: , , pp. –.
See Constance Duncombe, ‘Twitter and transformative diplomacy: social media and Iran–US relations’,Inter-
national Aairs: , , pp. –; James Pamment, ‘Digital diplomacy as transmedia engagement: align-
ing theories of participatory culture with international advocacy campaigns’,New Media and Society: , ,
pp. –.
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From a normative perspective, Hopke and Hestres have argued that digital
technologies even ‘democratize’ diplomacy, as they empower non-state actors and
the public at large to challenge the authority of diplomatic institutions and the
state, a view also shared by Bos and Melissen. In the same vein, Bjola, Manor and
Adiku have argued that social media have had an ‘empowering eect’ on diaspora
communities in their relationship with the diplomatic institutions of countries of
origin, leading them to develop variable configurations of political, economic and
cultural engagement with MFAs and embassies. At the same time, the democ-
ratization thesis requires strong qualification, given the eorts made by state and
non-state actors to weaponize social media for political purposes, and the di-
culty that governments and MFAs have experienced in their attempts to contain
the toxic eect of digital disinformation.
Importantly, digital technologies also have the power to prompt certain behav-
iours among users, thus changing the patterns by which they interact. These behav-
iours permeate into MFAs once diplomats adopt digital technologies to organize
their daily routines. Hedling and Bremberg have observed, for instance, that
digitalization has led to a change of expectations in respect of both what counts
as diplomatic action and who counts as a diplomatic actor. On a more critical
note, Bramsen and Hagemann have challenged the ability of virtual platforms
to shape behaviour in peace negotiations. While they agree that technical aor-
dances are crucial for conducting Zoom diplomacy eectively, they neverthe-
less see little potential for virtual meetings to replace physical meetings in peace
diplomacy. In their view, the key ingredients for creating a ‘sense of peace’, such
as trust, understanding and togetherness, cannot be fostered by virtualization. The
latter can help increase accessibility, equalize interaction and enable more frequent
meetings, but it can also disrupt interaction and challenge confidentiality.
While these works have merit, their focus is on researching how digital technol-
ogies inform and shape the conduct of diplomacy. The fact that digital technolo-
gies can constrain or enable diplomatic tasks and objectives, alter the landscape in
which diplomacy takes place or induce behavioural change speaks volumes about
the multifaceted and incisive eect these technologies increasingly have on diplo-
matic practices and institutions. What is less clear, however, is how these digital
technologies capture MFAs’ attention in the first place, and why some of them
are subsequently selected to become part of the repertoire of instruments through
 Jill E. Hopke and Luis E. Hestres, ‘Visualizing the Paris climate talks on Twitter: media and climate stake-
holder visual social media during COP’, Social Media and Society : , , pp. –; Michèle Bos and
Jan Melissen, ‘Rebel diplomacy and digital communication: public diplomacy in the Sahel’, International
Aairs: , , pp. –.
 Corneliu Bjola, Ilan Manor and Geraldine Asiwome Adiku, ‘Diaspora diplomacy in the digital age’, in Liam
Kennedy, ed., Routledge handbook of diaspora diplomacy (Abingdon: Routledge, ).
 Spencer McKay and Chris Tenove, ‘Disinformation as a threat to deliberative democracy’, Political Research
Quarterly : , , pp. –.
 Edda Humprecht, Frank Esser and Peter Van Aelst, ‘Resilience to online disinformation: a framework for
cross-national comparative research’, International Journal of Press/Politics : , , pp. –; Corneliu
Bjola, ‘The ethics of countering digital propaganda’, Ethics and International Aairs: , , pp. –.
 Elsa Hedling and Niklas Bremberg, ‘Practice approaches to the digital transformations of diplomacy: toward
a new research agenda’,International Studies Review: , , pp. –.
 Bramsen and Hagemann, ‘The missing sense of peace’.
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which diplomats carry out their tasks, activities and strategies. In this article, we
argue that oine events play an important role in shaping the trajectory of digital
More specifically, we describe the evolution of digital diplomacy as a two-stage
process consisting of digital adaptation and digital adoption. External events
sharpen MFAs’ interest in the power of digital technologies; their use generates
new and potentially disruptive methods of diplomatic engagement, and this in
turn inspires MFAs to selectively adopt and institutionalize the newly discovered
digital approaches in their work. Digital adaptation is an externally induced process
in which oine events require that diplomats embrace new digital technologies.
Adaptation is a rapid process that brings about great change immediately. Digital
adoption, on the other hand, is an internally reflective process by which diplomats
and diplomatic institutions try out and assess digital technologies, and choose
which ones to embrace in support of their foreign policy goals. By unpacking
the conceptual dierence between digital adaptation and digital adoption, and
explaining how the interplay between them shapes the evolution of digital diplo-
macy, this study seeks to provide a more nuanced understanding of how MFAs
function in the digital age and, within this context, how the COVID- pandemic
has contributed to the rise of hybrid diplomacy as a novel method of diplomatic
From digital adaptation to digital adoption
The past decade has demonstrated that digital adaptation develops in the shadow
of oine events. The enthusiasm of the early digital adopters was not shared by
many MFAs before . The Arab Spring, however, forced diplomats to recon-
sider their views of social media. They realized that oine protest movements
were moulded and shaped in online arenas. Thus being on Facebook suddenly
meant that one could monitor online conversations in real time and learn to antici-
pate possible shocks to the international system. By , the US State Depart-
ment was already managing a social media empire of  Facebook pages, nearly
 Twitter accounts, and  YouTube channels. Yet it was between  and
 that the State Department moved from adaptation to adoption—that is, from
experimentation to strategy. It was during these years that the State Department
adopted a more professional approach. It issued guidelines for embassy use of
social media, established standard working routines for sharing information online
and oered digital training to those diplomats looking to make use of social media
in public engagement. It also started to embrace other social media platforms—
Snapchat, Medium—so that it could engage with more diverse audiences.
 The US State Department created its account in , UK Foreign and Commonwealth Oce and Brazil
MFA in , Swedish and Indian MFAs in .
 Lina Khatib, William Dutton and Michael Thelwall, ‘Public diplomacy .: a case study of the US digital
outreach team’, Middle East Journal: , , pp. –; Philip Seib, Real-time diplomacy: politics and power in
the social media era (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, ).
 Craig Hayden, ‘Social media at state: power, practice, and conceptual limits for US public diplomacy’, Global
Media Journal: , , p. .
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Similar practices were soon adopted by other MFAs and even international
organizations (IOs). By ,  per cent of heads of government and MFAs around
the world had social media accounts, along with over , embassies and ,
ambassadors. The Lithuanian MFA opened its LinkedIn account to connect with
academic and business expatriates and reverse the nation’s ‘brain drain’. Twitter
has been used by European MFAs as an elite-to-elite medium to facilitate interac-
tion between diplomats and their peers, journalists and policy-makers. Facebook
has been deployed as an elite-to-public medium through which diplomats have
been encouraged to interact with foreign populations and distant diasporas.
Recent studies also show that an impulse for self-legitimation has driven IOs to
open digital channels of communication with online audiences, in the belief that
greater transparency will translate into greater support for them. While most IOs
started with a single social media presence for the entire organization, many of
them have diversified their presence on Facebook and Twitter over time.
By –, the Syrian conflict and the Russian annexation of Crimea had
created conditions for a second major drive towards digital adaptation. The
toxic digital propaganda campaigns conducted by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
(ISIS), as well as the alleged Russian interventions in the Brexit referendum and
the  US elections, forced diplomats to adapt yet again. Entire populations
were targeted by ISIS or Russia without anyone in western governments being
the wiser. Millions of Americans were exposed to Russian Facebook ads without
the knowledge of the US State Department or other government ministries.
Equally disturbing was the fact that online disinformation might have shaped
oine beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. Elsewhere online, countries such as Iran,
China and North Korea all created networks of fake social media accounts to drive
disinformation campaigns targeted at other countries.
MFAs reacted to the challenge posed by the ‘dark side’ of digital technologies
by establishing new strategic communication units, either alone or in partner-
ship with other governmental agencies. Their role was to monitor, refute and
proactively counter digital disinformation and influence campaigns sponsored by
 Matthias Lüens, Twiplomacy Study 2018,  July ,/.
 Manor, The digitalization of public diplomacy.
 Melissa D. Dodd and Steve J. Collins, ‘Public relations message strategies and Public Diplomacy .: an empir-
ical analysis using central-eastern European and western embassy Twitter accounts’, Public Relations Review :
, , pp. –.
 Damien Spry, ‘From Delhi to Dili: Facebook diplomacy by ministries of foreign aairs in the Asia–Pacific’,
Hague Journal of Diplomacy : –, , pp. –.
 Matthias Ecker-Ehrhardt, ‘IO public communication going digital? Understanding social media adoption
and use in times of politicization’, in Corneliu Bjola and Ruben Zaiotti, eds, Digital diplomacy and international
organisations: autonomy, legitimacy and contestation (Abingdon: Routledge, ), pp. –.
 Maura Conway, Moign Khawaja, Suraj Lakhani, Jeremy Ren, Andrew Robertson and David Weir, ‘Disrupt-
ing Daesh: measuring takedown of online terrorist material and its impacts’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism :
–, , pp. –.
 Kathleen H. Jamieson, Cyberwar: how Russian hackers and trolls helped elect a president: what we don’t, can’t, and do
know (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ).
 Corneliu Bjola and Ilan Manor, ‘Digital propaganda as symbolic convergence: the case of the Russian ads
during the  US presidential elections’, in Gary Rawnsley, Yiban Ma and Kruakae Pothong, eds, Handbook
of political propaganda (Cheltenham and Northampton: Edward Elgar, ).
 Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N. Howard, The global disinformation order: 2019 global inventory of organized social
media manipulation, working paper (Oxford: Project on Computational Propaganda, ).
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The rise of hybrid diplomacy
International Aairs 98: 2, 2022
state and non-state actors. For instance, the US State Department launched the
Global Engagement Center in March , initially to counter ISIS propaganda
and later to handle Russian, Iranian and Chinese disinformation eorts aimed at
undermining or influencing US policies. The European External Action Service
set up a task force in March  to build societal resilience by monitoring and
documenting Russian disinformation. In the UK, the role of countering state-
sponsored disinformation has been delegated to a sub-network of governmental
agencies and units. This currently comprises the government’s Russia Unit, based
in the Foreign and Commonwealth Oce (FCO); the National Security Commu-
nications Team (NSCT), a national security unit dedicated to combating state-led
disinformation campaigns, based in the Cabinet Oce and established in ;
and the th (Army) Brigade, which specializes in ‘non-lethal’ forms of psycho-
logical warfare using social media.
Looking at this picture, then, we argue that digital adaptation is triggered by
a confluence of geopolitical shocks alongside new patterns of usage of digital
technologies. We do not conceptualize adaptation as a response to a ‘cognitive
punch’ or, in Adler’s terminology, to a shocking event that proves that the ‘old
way’ of doing things is obsolete and must be replaced with new tools through
which the world may become intelligible once more. Rather, it is the geopolit-
ical shock that first attracts the attention of diplomats, be it the speed with which
Arab revolts spread through the Middle East in , the ease with which hostile
groups may use digital technologies to shape public perceptions, or to prepare
the stealth invasion of Crimea in . Next, diplomats become aware of the role
that digital technologies played in these shocks. It was, after all, the mass media
which argued that the Tahrir revolution was tweeted. Finally, diplomats seek
to make use of these digital technologies in new ways to advance their foreign
policy priorities. Therefore, it is the confluence of events that triggers the process
of adaptation.
The third wave of digital diplomacy
The mass migration of MFAs to virtual platforms following the start of the
COVID- pandemic invites the question whether a new wave of digital adaptation
and adoption is under way. Observing the conditions that facilitated the previous
two waves (social media and strategic communication) can help us understand why
 US State Department, The Global Engagement Center,ces/under-secretary-
 Corneliu Bjola and James Pamment, ‘Digital containment: revisiting containment strategy in the digital age’,
Global Aairs : , , pp. –.
 Natasha Lomas, ‘UK to set up security unit to combat state disinformation campaigns’, TechCrunch,  Jan.
 Carl Miller, ‘Inside the British Army’s secret information warfare machine’, Wired,  Nov. , https://th-brigade-britains-information-warfare-military.
 See Emanuel Adler, Cognitive evolution: a dynamic approach for the study of international relations and their progress
(New York: Columbia University Press, ).
 Heidi A. Campbell and Diana Hawk, ‘Al Jazeera’s framing of social media during the Arab spring’, CyberOri-
ent: , , pp. –.
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MFAs may feel compelled to adapt to the rise of new digital technologies and how
the transition to digital adoption may then occur. First, perceptions of emergent
technologies representing a new source of power with the capacity to exercise
substantial influence on governmental policies is clearly a determining factor. The
Arab Spring showed, for instance, that social media could precipitate the fall of
authoritarian governments by amplifying latent social and political tensions. In
a similar fashion, the Syrian conflict and the post-Crimean geopolitical context
demonstrated that digital disinformation could be highly eective in distorting
users’ perceptions and altering their behaviour in a predetermined direction. The
lesson that MFAs have learned from this is that the influence of digital technolo-
gies in global aairs cannot be ignored. Doing so may have detrimental eects on
MFAs’ capacities to pursue and implement their foreign policy objectives.
Second, the success of digital adoption also depends on the extent to which
the new technologies may prove able to enhance rather than threaten established
methods of oine diplomacy. Social media, for instance, have been quickly
embraced by MFAs as these channels have allowed them to pursue their public
diplomacy and crisis communication strategies more eectively than their analogue
versions. Digital strategic communication, on the other hand, has complemented
the eorts made by embassies to dispute or debunk negative stories published in
the print media.
Third, the costs associated with the transition from adaptation to adoption
matter. Opening social media accounts, and training diplomats to use them,
require much less eort and resources than establishing strategic communica-
tion (‘stratcomm’) units; hence the lower rate of adoption of the latter by MFAs.
In addition to knowhow and technical issues, the creation of stratcomm units
inevitably activates inter-institutional frictions, budgetary disputes and potential
jurisdictional conflicts, which generally take time and political capital to address.
It is the contention of this article that the COVID- pandemic has initiated
a third major process of digital adaptation, which is responsible for the rise of
hybrid diplomacy. This combines face-to-face, physical diplomacy with virtual
engagement via video-conference platforms such as Zoom, Teams or Webex.
Unlike the previous two stages, the latest form of digital adaptation has been
swifter and more direct. While the Arab Spring in  and the actions of ISIS
and Russian operatives in – created eects that took months if not years for
western MFAs to absorb and adapt to, the COVID- pandemic forced all MFAs
to switch to the online medium almost overnight. That being said, the condu-
cive conditions that had informed the evolution of the first two phases of digital
adaptation made their presence visible in the third phase as well: the growing
power of virtual platforms to shape global aairs, the ability of virtual meetings to
 Eva Bellin, ‘Reconsidering the robustness of authoritarianism in the Middle East: lessons from the Arab
Spring’, Comparative Politics : , , pp. –.
 Corneliu Bjola and James Pamment, Countering online propaganda and extremism: the dark side of digital diplomacy
(Abingdon and New York: Routledge, ).
 Ilan Manor and Corneliu Bjola, ‘Public diplomacy in the age of “post-reality”’, in Pawel Surowiec and Ilan
Manor, eds, Public diplomacy and the politics of uncertainty (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, ), pp. –.
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International Aairs 98: 2, 2022
complement face-to-face interactions during the pandemic, and the surprisingly
smooth and cost-eective transition to the virtual medium.
The fact that these facilitating conditions have again converged suggests that a
third wave of digital adaptation is already under way. The claim we advance here
is not that the ‘third wave’ can be fully explained by previous patterns of digital
transformation, but rather that those patterns can provide a plausible explana-
tion for the arrival of the ‘third wave’. From a methodological perspective, our
approach aligns well with Ecksteins ‘heuristic’ case-study approach, which is
recommended for situations in which the researcher uses the case as a means to
identify themes or concepts that may be helpful beyond the specific case. This is
exactly what we do here: we trace and identify past patterns of digital adaptation
and adoption which we then use to probe the rise of the ‘third wave’.
What is less clear is whether the second part of the process, the digital adoption
of virtual platforms, will also come about. In other words, will MFAs’ adaptation
to hybrid diplomacy be followed by a sustained process of adoption? Markedly,
adaptation rests on learning basic skills through experimentation, and trial and
error. Embassies and ambassadors often serve as digital mavericks who innovate
and demonstrate new usages of digital technologies. At times, these mavericks
are successful, at other times they fail; but the success stories are emulated by
other actors hoping to obtain similar results. Digital adoption, on the other hand,
involves more complex learning processes. Once an MFA decides to adopt a new
digital technology, special departments are created, new employees are recruited
and trained, and new skills are mastered, until finally the MFA has accumulated the
knowledge necessary to obtain oine diplomatic goals using digital technologies.
To investigate the scope, intensity and feasibility of the third wave of digital
adaptation and adoption, the article draws on the results of a survey that the
authors of the study designed and disseminated to  diplomats during the
COVID- pandemic. The survey questions covered the following topics. First,
we were particularly interested in understanding how diplomats had experienced
the arrival of the third stage of digital adaptation. How did they handle the transi-
tion to the virtual medium, to what extent did the transition help them carry
on their functions and activities, and what challenges did they face during this
process? Second, we examined the potential changes that the adaptation to the
virtual medium introduced to diplomatic practice: what lessons did diplomats
draw from their recent experience, and what areas of diplomatic activity might
benefit from the transition to hybrid diplomacy? Third, we probed diplomats’
willingness to complete the transition from digital adaptation to adoption and
potentially to embrace hybrid diplomacy in the long term: how did they see the
future of hybrid diplomacy in the post-pandemic period, and under what condi-
tions could they see themselves combining face-to-face and virtual interactions in
their work?
 Harry Eckstein, Regarding politics: essays on political theory, stability, and change (Berkeley: University of California
Press, ), p. .
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Diplomacy in the age of the pandemic
Experiencing virtual diplomacy
The pandemic found most of the diplomats in our sample relatively well prepared
to handle the shift from face-to-face to virtual meetings, arguably at least partly
owing to the training programmes, including in digital media, introduced by the
two previous stages of digital adaptation. About  per cent of responders claimed
to have an expert level of digital skills in using social media and  per cent an
intermediate level; only . per cent of responders ranked themselves at the basic
level. While thorough institutional training on how to use virtual conferencing
applications was oered to only  per cent of the diplomats in our sample, the
vast majority ( per cent) nevertheless found it fairly easy to master the settings
necessary for conducting virtual meetings, whether they took place on Zoom
( per cent), Teams ( per cent), Webex ( per cent) or other platforms ( per
cent). Moreover, participants felt that the transition to the virtual medium did not
aect their ability to engage with their peers. Roughly equal percentages (–
per cent) felt less/more confident speaking online, while  per cent felt equally
confident participating in both physical and virtual environments.
Importantly, responses to our survey confirmed that the transition to virtual
meetings was abrupt and intense, as one would expect given the shock produced
by the pandemic. Seventy per cent of the diplomats in our sample had attended
more than  virtual meetings in the preceding six months, taking part in both
bilateral and multilateral meetings. The purpose of these meetings varied: 
per cent focused on matters of internal management,  per cent were policy-
related,  per cent involved professional networking, while the remaining  per
cent covered other issues. Regardless of the goal of the virtual meetings they
attended, diplomats expressed relatively high levels of satisfaction with the use
of video-conference platforms. On a scale from  (not useful) to  (very useful),
they rated virtual meetings as high as . for their role in assisting them to fulfil
their functions and activities. As one of the responders confessed, ‘If it weren’t
for the virtual environment, day-to-day work would have largely remained in
halt.’ Another participant was even more appreciative of the change: ‘As now
all meetings moved to video platforms, I have a unique opportunity to take part
in meetings in the three more countries where I am non-residing ambassador.’
When asked to compare their participation in physical and virtual meetings,
responders expressed mixed views about the ability of video-conference platforms
to convey a similar sense of social presence in their interactions. Among the inter-
active features oered by virtual platforms, polling questions and breakout rooms
were less used, while the chat application proved the most popular. The use of
interactive features has implications for how well diplomats are able to perform
their functions in the virtual medium. Notably,  per cent of respondents stated
that they could ‘read’ a virtual room (e.g. work out who is paying attention to
 Survey response,  Jan. .
 Survey response,  Dec. .
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the discussion, what issues resonate with whom) and thus understand their peers’
stance on the issues being debated. That said, being able to read the room depended
on several factors. For example, respondents noted that when participants blocked
their cameras, their reactions could no longer be gauged. Moreover, blocking the
camera was interpreted as a sign that a participant was multitasking and therefore
not fully engaged in the meeting. Diplomats also stated that ‘reading’ a virtual
room was easiest in small settings. The larger the meeting, the less a diplomat
would be able to pick up on peers’ non-verbal signs.
As diplomats continued testing the communicational capabilities of the virtual
platforms, they developed their own techniques to help them improve their digital
experience, often through a process of trial and error. Non-verbal signalling is a
case in point (see fi gure ). Asked to rate such signals on a scale from  (not impor-
tant) to  (very important), respondents agreed that virtual interaction would
particularly be enhanced by participants displaying professional cues (institutional
a liation, rank, area of expertise) on their screens. In contrast, social (country,
communication style) or individual cues (age, appearance, dress style) were consid-
ered to be much less relevant for facilitating online conversations, especially by
men. Diplomats’ ability to improve their digital experience substantially informed
their views regarding the contribution that virtual platforms made to their work.
As shown in table , the more immersed diplomats felt in the virtual medium, the
more positive the views they developed about the work they accomplished online.
This is an important fi nding, but it invites the question of what else, aside from
technical conditions and interactive features, may facilitate virtual engagement
and thus increase the e ectiveness of virtual meetings. This topic will be explored
in the next section.
Individual cues Professional cues Social cues
Men Women
Figure 1: Rating of non-verbal cues to facilitate virtual engagement, on a
scale of 1 (not important) to  (very important), by gender
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Lessons learned
When asked ‘What makes a virtual meeting successful?’, respondents mentioned
three types of factors: technical, procedural and substantive. On the technical side,
stable and secure internet connections as well as active participation were viewed
as the main contributing factors. Connectivity issues, such as the inability to
enter the meeting or to stay connected for the duration of the meeting, or the
low quality of image and sound, tended to undermine the eectiveness of virtual
meetings. Security concerns over awkward intrusions and unauthorized partici-
pants also hindered the discussion of sensitive issues. ‘Zoom fatigue’, a phrase used
by several diplomats to describe a seemingly endless sequence of online meetings
over the course of a single day, also reduced the ecacy of virtual meetings as
diplomats became disengaged and lowered their level of participation in discus-
sions. Importantly, respondents stated that virtual ecacy rested on the duration
of meetings, with brief meetings working best. That said, only  per cent of
respondents stated that they could not follow a virtual discussion, while  per
cent stated they found virtual meetings reasonably immersive in that they were
not easily distracted during the meeting.
Procedural matters constituted a second category of factors that influenced the
success rate of virtual meetings. As might be expected in the adaptation stage,
diplomats stated that they faced a challenge in learning new protocols, as the
conduct of virtual meetings did not necessarily mirror that of oine meetings:
the order of speakers, the amount of time allocated for each speaker and even the
mechanism for responding to comments made by others all had to be learned ‘on
the go’. Informality was praised as one of the added benefits of virtual meetings.
This may not be surprising as diplomatic protocol often favours larger or more
Table 1: The relationship between virtual immersion and perceptions of
usefulness of online meetings
Rating of usefulness of
virtual meetings
Level of immersion
(1 = low,
5 = excellent)
I am usually fairly
active in online
I follow online
conversations reason-
ably well
I often find it di-
cult to follow online
 
 
 
 
 
Total 24 56 22
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dominant states in o ine meetings, while virtual informality tends to create
a more level playing-fi eld. When asked to rank the importance of a range of
technical and procedural factors, respondents stated that good moderation was
the key factor to ensure the success of online meetings, even more important than
active participation, although confi dentiality and the clarity of the meeting rules
were particularly highly valued by women (see fi gure ).
More critically, diplomats noted that virtual meetings favoured a dynamic
that was somewhat detrimental to advancing issues on the negotiation agenda
and to building relationships. As one participant pointed out, ‘Conversations can
be very directed, very linear. There is no opportunity for the kind of discussion
or negotiation that happens on the side-lines of meetings.’ By creating fewer
opportunities for diplomats to engage in uno cial talks via ‘corridor conver-
sations’, the virtual medium presumably constrains their ability to creatively
explore shared ways of resolving pressing issues, an approach that is particu-
larly relevant in multilateral forums. Furthermore, relationships built virtually
are perceived to be mostly superfi cial, as creating new ties, and building trust
opposite new peers, is much harder in virtual settings. As another responder
acknowledged, ‘Informal discussions and networking over co ee breaks have
disappeared. This means that it is harder to create bonds with people that you are
not as familiar with.’
 Survey response,  Nov. .
 Survey response,  Nov. .
Figure 2: Rating of factors perceived to increase the eff ectiveness of virtual
meetings, on a scale of 1 (not important) to  (very important), by gender
Clarit y of the
meeting rules
Confidentiality of
the conversation
Participants' level
of engagement
Quality of the
Men Women
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From a substantive perspective (see table ), respondents strongly supported
the use of virtual meetings to continue routine diplomatic work (e.g. weekly
embassy meetings), intra-organizational decision-making within the MFA (e.g.
information-sharing, briefings), policy formulation via small working groups
focused on advancing a specific policy issue, and remote participation in multi-
lateral and regional events. Surprisingly, public diplomacy and trade promotion,
on the other hand, were viewed as less amenable to being managed via virtual
meetings. This might be explained by the fact that these two issues were not top
priorities for MFAs during the pandemic. Predictably, junior diplomats, who
generally enjoy high levels of digital literacy, found it easier to adapt to virtual
meetings and to articulate the possible benefits of virtual meetings.
Respondents were less enthusiastic, on the other hand, about using virtual
meetings for conducting negotiations, on the grounds that these require modes
of social interaction that are not available online. As one diplomat pointed out,
‘In high-level meetings of negotiations it is crucial to have face-to-face meetings
because a lot of work is going on behind the scenes.’ Responders also stated that
the use of virtual meetings for negotiations, or high-level policy issues, demanded
increased levels of cyber security, which existing platforms such as Zoom or Teams
might not be able to deliver to the level required. As noted above, finding the
means through which diplomats may converse one to one before or after virtual
meetings was deemed critically important. Respondents insisted that such side
 Survey response,  Nov. .
Table 2: The relationship between the purpose of online meetings and
perceptions of their usefulness
Purpose of virtual
Rating of usefulness (1 = low, 5 = excellent)
1 2 3 4 5 Total
Internal management    
Public diplomacy  
Trade promotion  
Policy development    
Total 1 8 20 34 18 81
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conversations are essential for the negotiation and policy formation process. That
said, negotiations that begin oine could potentially migrate to virtual settings at
a later stage once a certain degree of trust between interlocutors is established. For
example, diplomats may seek to start their negotiations face to face so that they
can set the right direction and tone for what is to follow. They may then choose to
engage in technical conversations online and fine-tune the remaining dierences
in high-level oine meetings. This is exactly what hybrid diplomacy is about.
Adoption prospects
As the pandemic begins to subside, the stage of adaptation to the virtual medium,
that is, the experimental phase during which MFAs have tried and tested virtual
solutions to the inhibitions on oine activity caused by the spread of COVID-,
is also about to conclude. With physical, face-to-face diplomacy slowly returning
in bilateral and multilateral settings, the key question that comes to the fore is
whether diplomats are able or willing to go beyond adaptation and formally
adopt hybrid diplomacy by combining physical and virtual interactions in a more
systematic fashion in their work. If so, what conditions may facilitate this transi-
We find that our respondents can be classified into three camps. Echoing some
of the findings in Bramsen and Hagemann’s article, the pessimists doubt that
hybrid diplomacy has a future as they see little added value in virtual meetings.
As indicated in table  above, almost  per cent of our sample ranked the useful-
ness of virtual meetings as low or very low (that is, one or two on a five-point
scale). They argued that the absence of ‘corridor talks’ prevented meaningful
interactions; that there were fewer opportunities to network with peers through
side conversations; that there were more distractions in the form of technical
diculties or participants who turn their cameras and microphones on and o;
and that relationship-building, a core function of diplomacy, was hardly possible
in virtual settings. As one of the responders noted, in the absence of physical
meetings ‘diplomacy loses its purpose—to create close contacts, get confidential
information, deal in the shadow’. In the same vein, another diplomat remarked
that without face-to-face meetings, diplomacy becomes ‘less eective, as we have
been stripped of the social component of diplomatic practice, which is one of our
core tools’. That being said, the depth of opposition to virtual meetings should
not be overstated. When asked to give an example of how virtual meetings helped
them with their diplomatic work, only  respondents out of  plainly stated that
virtual meetings were a poor substitute for oine diplomacy.
The optimists, on the other hand, believe that virtual meetings may evolve and
come to play a substantial role in advancing hybrid diplomacy. About  per cent
in our sample ranked the usefulness of virtual meetings for diplomatic work as very
 Bramsen and Hagemann, ‘The missing sense of peace’.
 Survey response,  Nov. .
 Survey response,  Jan. .
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International Aairs 98: 2, 2022
high (five on a five-point scale). These diplomats felt that virtual meetings became
more eective over time, ‘once everybody learned the new tools and codes’, a
sentiment consistent with passage through the adaptation stage, in which diplo-
mats learn to use new technologies through trial and error. These respondents
also found concrete benefits in virtual meetings: they saved time (especially in
multilateral hubs, where diplomats can spend hours travelling from one location
to another), made it easier to communicate with national capitals and missions
in other cities, and helped mainstream the multilateral agenda by focusing more
‘on the substance and content to be addressed’ rather than on ‘fanfare, ceremo-
nial aspects and protocol’. Several respondents also stated that virtual meetings
enabled embassies to continue public and cultural diplomacy activities even in
times of social isolation. For some, virtual meetings oered remote participation
in diplomatic summits, a feature most likely to benefit smaller states with limited
resources. Others noted that virtual meetings enabled them to communicate easily
with peers in the region and jointly promote regional foreign policies.
The remaining segment of respondents can be assigned to the undecided camp,
those having mixed views about the future of hybrid diplomacy, either slightly
optimistic ( per cent) or slightly pessimistic ( per cent), and preferring to adopt
a ‘wait and see’ attitude. One possible explanation is that those who are undecided
see virtual meetings as a balancing act. As one responder noted, ‘A mix of the
current experience with previous physical meetings would be positive. Before,
we travelled too much—now too little ... there have to be physical meetings—
especially to establish relationships [which] can be followed by virtual meetings.’
The view arising from this perspective is that, on the one hand, diplomats could
continue meeting online to pursue shared goals; but, on the other hand, a lack
of clear objectives, long meetings and large settings reduce the ecacy of virtual
meetings. While virtual meetings save time, they limit diplomats’ ability to build
or strengthen relationships with peers. Also, while virtual meetings ensure that
the mechanisms of routine diplomacy keep functioning, they are potentially less
confidential and thus less useful for facilitating substantive discussions on sensitive
topics. As one of the undecided diplomats concluded, ‘We can’t judge the eect
just yet, we are under very specific circumstances that must be taken into account.
However, “Zoom diplomacy” is here to stay.’
When asked what technological features might improve the eectiveness of
virtual meetings, most respondents focused on better internet connectivity and
better security. Others, who were slightly more practically orientated, spoke
of the need for automatic translation into UN members’ languages, as well as
improvement of participants’ digital skills. A few others still, mostly junior diplo-
mats, favoured the creation of a more stimulating and immersive environment
through the possible use of virtual reality apps such as -degree virtual spaces or
even D holograms. These answers are all indicative of hybrid diplomacy slowly
 Survey response,  Nov. .
 Survey response,  Nov. .
 Survey response,  Nov. .
 Survey response,  Nov. .
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moving towards digital adoption as diplomats are actively reflecting on how to
make physical and virtual integration more eective in their work, for example,
through standardization (UN languages), training (better digital skills) and greater
interactivity (virtual reality). As has been the case with the previous two waves
of digital adoption, confirmation that MFAs were formally embracing hybrid
diplomacy would come in the establishment of training programmes, the drafting
of digital hybrid strategies, the negotiation of intra-institutional mechanisms of
coordination and the design of codes of digital practice to be shared across all
Theoretical reections
The COVID- pandemic has brought about the third wave of digital adapta-
tion, which has obliged MFAs to improvise and develop solutions that can substi-
tute virtual engagement via video-conference platforms for face-to-face, physical
diplomacy. Crucially, this third wave of digital adaptation does not imply that
virtual meetings will come to replace and eliminate physical interactions. Yet
virtual meetings are likely to integrate with, complement and empower physical,
face-to-face diplomacy. Our results suggest that diplomats have already started
the transition towards a model of ‘hybrid diplomacy’ that merges virtual meetings
with oine, face-to-face diplomacy. Through virtual meetings, routine embassy
functions may be maintained even in times of crisis; small working groups may
collaborate virtually, regional policies may be jointly pursued, and negotiations
that begin oine can, at a later stage, migrate to virtual settings.
The survey responses oer a complex and fascinating picture of the issues that
diplomats have experienced during the transition to the virtual medium; the
technical, procedural and substantive lessons they have drawn from this experi-
ence; and the level of confidence they have developed in the future of hybrid
diplomacy in the post-pandemic period. The emerging picture shows that diplo-
mats have managed to adapt reasonably well to the virtual medium. The transition
from adaptation to adoption has thus made a promising beginning, but is neverthe-
less yet to happen in full. The survey responses also highlight a series of challenges
the process of digital adoption is likely to face once it begins to accelerate; so it
is important to have a theoretical discussion of the possible conditions that may
influence the trajectory of digital adoption and its rate of success. We focus our
attention here on two key dimensions, technological and social adoption, and
discuss the influence these two conditions may have on MFAs’ eorts to embrace
hybrid diplomacy in their future work.
The crux of the matter for many respondents to our survey is that technology
can only take you so far. Direct human interaction may be dicult, if not impos-
sible, to replace, they argue, owing to obstacles to establishing the level of trust
necessary to sustain diplomatic engagement. As Holmes and Wheeler insist, social
bonding primarily relies on face-to-face communication, and the possibility of
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Corneliu Bjola and Ilan Manor
International Aairs 98: 2, 2022
reading and understanding the non-verbal signals of one’s interlocutors. That
being said, it is not entirely clear whether the problem of trust-building is a matter
intrinsically connected to technology or rather to how well the technology is
used. Social presence studies suggest the answer is somewhere in the middle. Social
presence, or the feeling of being there with a ‘real’ person, was first conceptual-
ized by Short and colleagues, and was defined as the salience of the people inter-
acting and their interpersonal relationships during a mediated conversation. Short
and his colleagues argued that some media were better than others at increasing
the feeling of connectedness between communicators, thus suggesting that social
presence was a ‘quality of the medium itself ’.
A recent review of  separate findings from  studies has investigated the
key factors (immersive qualities, contextual dierences and individual psycho-
logical traits) that determine the level of social presence experienced. It found that
immersion (achieved through, for example, audio and video quality, interactivity)
and context (e.g. physical proximity, identity cues and the personality/traits of the
virtual human) both have a positive eect on social presence, whereas demographic
characteristics (age, gender) were inconclusive. These findings align well with
some of the responses to our survey, such as the importance of professional cues
in enhancing virtual interaction (see figure ), and the connection between inter-
activity and diplomats developing positive views about the eectiveness of virtual
meetings (see table ). In other words, the eectiveness of virtual communication
depends not only on the technical properties of the supporting platforms, but also
on how skilfully they are used. Sustained and creative practice is therefore the key
ingredient of the success of hybrid diplomacy, alongside the intrinsic properties
of the technology.
A second prevailing consideration that many diplomats in our sample shared
referred to the unique nature of diplomacy as a profession. For some, ‘real’ diplo-
macy can only be physical, with diplomats ceremoniously meeting, face to face,
in specially designated venues, to discuss serious matters, preferably ‘behind closed
doors’. Virtual meetings, by contrast, project to some an air of superficiality, exces-
sive transparency and awkward informality, which dilutes or even removes the
layer of sobriety and professionalism that confers on diplomacy its special status.
As one critic observed, ‘virtual meetings are much more meaningless and open,
their content is less sincere and productive’. Another diplomat also wanted to
make clear that ‘there is no substitute for physical meetings. Virtual diplomacy is a
necessity, not the ideal situation.’ The relegation of virtual meetings to a subor-
dinate position relative to face-to-face interactions is not exclusively informed by
 Marcus Holmes and Nicholas J. Wheeler, ‘Social bonding in diplomacy’, International Theory : , , pp.
 John Short, Ederyn Williams and Bruce Christie, The social psychology of telecommunications (London and New
York: Wiley, ), p. .
 Catherine S. Oh, Jeremy N. Bailenson and Gregory F. Welch, ‘A systematic review of social presence:
definition, antecedents, and implications’, Frontiers in Robotics and AI, publ. online Oct. , : ./
frobt.., p. .
 Survey response,  Nov. .
 Survey response,  Nov. .
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The rise of hybrid diplomacy
International Aairs 98: 2, 2022
instrumental reasons, as discussed above. It is also inspired by deep-seated assump-
tions about the nature and status of the diplomatic profession.
The idea of privileging diplomacy as an exclusive face-to-face activity enjoys
a long and venerable tradition. Cardinal Richelieu of France, who established the
first modern foreign ministry in , was adamant about the need for ‘continuous
negotiations’ in foreign aairs, which could only be achieved, in his view, by
having diplomatic agents everywhere and at all times. More recently, the British
diplomat Harold Nicolson insisted that improvements in the means of commu-
nication (in his time, the telegraph or telephone) did not alter the nature of the
ambassador’s functions. According to him, ‘the best instrument at the disposal of
a Government wishing to persuade another Government will always remain the
spoken words of a decent man’. The notion that diplomacy is fundamentally a
physical profession has remained largely unchallenged to the present day—but
perhaps not for much longer. Constantinou and colleagues have cautioned, for
instance, against the ‘professional solipsism’ of equating diplomacy with whatever
traditional methods deliver positive results. For them, it is the complementarity
of skills, together with the fruitful combination of diverse types of knowledge,
and the cultivation of innovation and creativity that drive diplomatic practice.
Echoing Constantinou and his colleagues, Manor insightfully observed that
diplomacy could be better practised if it were ‘imagined’ in the minds of diplo-
mats by removing the air of exoticism and unfamiliarity that novel approaches
often inspire. One important finding of our study is that diplomats’ imaginary
now includes virtual alongside physical meetings, and so a change of perspec-
tive is already under way. The idea that ‘real diplomacy’ can only be conducted
face to face is clearly contested by diplomats in the optimistic and undecided
camps. Furthermore, the debate has already moved on. The issue of concern for
our responders is about identifying suitable combinations of virtual and physical
interaction that can support diplomatic tasks and objectives, rather than pondering
on whether hybrid diplomacy is or is not ‘real’ diplomacy. Commenting on this
issue, one diplomat in our sample anticipated, for instance, that ‘in the future,
virtual meetings could be organised alternately with physical meetings and can be
designed for preparation of physical meetings, for discussion of secondary issues
in order to focus physical meetings only to the major topics’.
Hybrid diplomacy, then, is here to stay; but its rate of adoption by MFAs
will depend to a great extent on how they decide to tackle its technological and
social dimensions. While stronger eorts are needed to help diplomats master
the immersive features of virtual platforms, technology is unlikely to generate a
similar level of social interaction as face-to-face meetings. However, the issue at
 Geo R. Berridge, ‘Richelieu’, in Geo R. Berridge, Maurice Keens-Soper and Thomas G. Otte, eds, Diplo-
matic theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger (New York: Palgrave, ), pp. –.
 Harold Nicolson, The evolution of the diplomatic method (London: Cassell, ), p.  (emphasis added).
 Costas M. Constantinou, Noé Cornago and Fiona McConnell, ‘Transprofessional diplomacy’, Brill Research
Perspectives in Diplomacy and Foreign Policy : , , pp. –.
 Ilan Manor, ‘Are we there yet: have MFAs realized the potential of digital diplomacy? Results from a cross-
national comparison’, Brill Research Perspectives in Diplomacy and Foreign Policy : , , p. .
 Survey response,  Nov. .
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Corneliu Bjola and Ilan Manor
International Aairs 98: 2, 2022
stake is less about how genuine these interactions may feel, more about what types
of bilateral or multilateral subject-matter can be eectively addressed virtually,
and what others may require face-to-face interaction. Second, the privileging of
face-to-face interaction as ‘real diplomacy’ at the expense of virtual engagement is
likely to hold back the process of digital adoption, but perhaps not for long. The
experience of the previous two waves of digital adoption could be instructive in
this regard. In the same way in which the work done by digital diplomats in public
diplomacy, crisis communication or strategic communication has gradually come
to be seen as indispensable for achieving diplomatic objectives, hybrid diplomacy
may also receive recognition for its contribution to advancing MFAs’ diplomatic
Also, and especially for the undecided camp, time is a central issue, and one
influenced by the results of the previous two waves of digital adoption. These
diplomats experienced the mass migration to social media a decade ago, the
hyperbolic discourse surrounding the potential of social media to eect change
in the international system, and the ultimate reduction of social media to a public
diplomacy channel. Similarly, they recall the fear that struck MFAs when they
first faced the eectiveness of digital disinformation and the amount of time that
was necessary for MFAs to spend contending with this challenge. They may still
recall how phrases such as ‘echo chambers’ and ‘targeted campaigns’ dominated
diplomatic conversations, ultimately leading to a new Zeitgeist that viewed social
media and digitalization with suspicion rather than euphoria. Thus, the undecided
camp may be termed ‘digital vigilantes’—diplomats who are waiting for the dust
to settle before they can more objectively assess the potential contribution to
diplomacy of online platforms. For them, the pendulum is still swinging between
the hyperbolic discourse of innovation and the deterministic discourse of digital
As we have argued in this study, MFAs’ embrace of digital technologies is not a
linear process in which diplomats continuously test, study and employ sophis-
ticated technologies in an eort to incrementally improve the eectiveness of
their strategies. Disruption in diplomatic settings follows a dierent pattern. We
have distinguished between digital adaptation, a forced process brought about by
external changes, and digital adoption, a strategic decision by MFAs to use specific
technologies in the pursuit of specific goals. Adaptation aims to capture disrup-
tion through improvisation and experiment in an attempt to control its impact
on diplomatic practice. Adoption, on the other hand, seeks to tame disruption
through the establishment of new working routines, the acquisition of new skills
and the creation of new units dedicated to mastering new technologies.
Notably, our results suggest that diplomacy is still in the process of digital
adaptation. Guidebooks have yet to be issued, best practices have yet to be identi-
fied and special training has yet to be oered by foreign ministries. Meanwhile,
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The rise of hybrid diplomacy
International Aairs 98: 2, 2022
over the past months, physical diplomacy has slowly returned to the fore, with
foreign secretaries meeting at global summits, world leaders addressing the UN
General Assembly, and NATO ministers meeting to coordinate actions and
policies, thus demonstrating the growing role that ‘hybrid diplomacy’ plays in
international aairs. The question on diplomats’ minds is not the Shakespearian
‘To Zoom or not to Zoom?’ but ‘When is it best to Zoom?’, as suggested by the
results displayed in table . We conclude by suggesting that hybrid diplomacy may
be more than a new method; it could actually constitute a new phase in diplo-
macy, in which the digital does not compete with or replace oine diplomacy,
but rather augments it. Put dierently, the third stage of digital adoption may be
informed by the two previous waves, which have proved that digital diplomacy
cannot be separated from oine diplomacy. Oine events shape the trajectory of
digitalization, while digital tools are used to influence oine processes—such as
using Zoom to continue negotiations during a global pandemic.
Future studies should seek to examine whether hybrid diplomacy advances
dierently in dierent diplomatic settings. While in the past MFAs have led the
process of digital adoption, which then permeated into multilateral organizations,
in the case of hybrid diplomacy the opposite may be true: it was virtual meetings
that enabled multilateral organizations, such as the WHO, to coordinate action on
a global scale at a time of quarantine and social distancing. Studies may also seek
to examine how hybrid diplomacy aects the dynamics of international negotia-
tions. While the previous two stages of digital adoption have primarily influ-
enced the diplomatic function of communication and to a lesser extent that of
representation, the main contribution of hybrid diplomacy will likely be in the
realm of negotiations. Yet little is known at this stage about how hybrid diplo-
macy may influence negotiation tactics (information-sharing, coalition-building,
backchannelling, etc.), and what configurations of hybrid diplomacy may prove
most instrumental for the success of negotiations.
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... As far as the use of digital media for diplomatic relations practices is concerned, Losifidis and Wheeler (2016) held that technological developments in the field of digital communication have revolutionised the practice of public diplomacy. Whereas Bjola and Manor (2022) indicated that the past decade has seen tremendous growth among the various diplomats' in the use of digital technologies. Bjola and Manor further explained that digital media have transformed the space within which diplomats communicate, engage, and collaborate or even the logic and working procedures of diplomatic institutions, which now seek to copy those of media institutions. ...
... According to Bjola and Manor (2022) since 2008 diplomatic services have experimented with establishing virtual embassies, creating social media channels to interact with foreign populations, launching smartphone applications, establishing new digital task forces, assembling big data units, revamping communication procedures in multilateral organisations and writing their procedures. In this regard, Endong (2020) indicated that the diplomacy dialogue on digital media is also more strategic than the monologue as it offers greater opportunities for interactions with foreign publics, a situation which is susceptible to facilitate the establishment of a stronger relationship between the digital diplomat and foreign publics. ...
... In this regard, Endong (2020) indicated that the diplomacy dialogue on digital media is also more strategic than the monologue as it offers greater opportunities for interactions with foreign publics, a situation which is susceptible to facilitate the establishment of a stronger relationship between the digital diplomat and foreign publics. Additionally, Bjola and Manor (2022) are of concern that social media have had an 'empowering effect' on diaspora communities in their relationship with the diplomatic institutions of countries of origin, leading them to develop variable configurations of political, economic, and cultural engagement with the ministry of foreign affairs and embassies. As findings of the roles of digital media, Hocking and Melissen (2015) explained that networking as the conceptual basis of modern diplomatic practice including its digital dimension has fundamental implications for conceptualising and practising diplomacy, for office routines and rules of engagement among people representing different types of public and private actors, and in a more general sense for officials engaging with the outside world. ...
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This chapter explores the contemporary trends and debates on the use of digital media for diplomatic services and practices in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as 4IR, in the global south. The chapter emphases how digital diplomacy industrialized and evolved to be predominant during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic as known as the COVID-19 pandemic. The chapter has been strengthened by the practice theory for digital diplomacy transformations. Most prominently, the chapter establishes that digital media platforms played a vital role in diplomatic relations practices for the development and social change in the global south countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the chapter suggests strategic solutions to prevent digital diplomacy challenges and highlights the future of digital diplomatic practices in the global south.
... It should be mentioned that different MFAs have different guidelines for the use of social media. As Manor and Bjola recently wrote, MFAs have institutionalized the use of social media through manuals, guidebooks, and digital training (Bjola & Manor, 2022). One might suggest that these guidelines could also shape the network of MFAs on Twitter as some ministries are encouraged to follow peers while others are told not to do so. ...
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This article outlines three major features of the digital society (information sharing, a levelled-playing field, and reciprocal surveillance) and explores their manifestation in the field of diplomacy. The article analyzed the international network of 78 Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs) on Twitter during the critical period of its growth between 2014 and 2016. To explain why some MFAs follow or are followed by their peers, both internal (Twitter) and external (gross domestic product) factors were considered. The analysis found the principle of digital reciprocity to be the most important factor in explaining an MFA's centrality. Ministries who follow their peers are more likely to be followed in return. Other factors that predict the popularity of MFAs among their peers are regionality, technological savviness, and national media environments. These findings provide a broader understanding of contemporary diplomacy and the fierce competition over attention in the digital society.
... Last, nearly all mechanisms of international diplomacy came to a halt. Much of diplomacy migrated to virtual settings with world leaders and UN diplomats meeting on Zoom (Bjola & Manor, 2022;Danielson & Hedling, 2022). ...
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Recently, scholars have suggested that ministries of foreign affairs (MFAs) use social media to practice domestic digital diplomacy as they interact with national citizens, not foreign populations. In this study, we explore the practice of domestic digital diplomacy during the COVID-19 pandemic. An analysis of the Facebook activities of 8 MFAs suggests that once the pandemic erupted, diplomats' Facebook posts were locally oriented and targeted the national citizenry. We postulate that MFAs saw the pandemic as an opportunity to develop a domestic constituency that would help safeguard their role within governments. Posts targeting citizens helped them make sense of an unprecedented crisis. A statistical analysis found that as the pandemic progressed and citizens became accustomed to a new reality, MFAs retargeted foreign populations, going from the local to the global. The statistical analysis also found high engagement rates with domestic Facebook posts suggesting that MFAs do attract a domestic, online following.
... A digitalizáció két, egymással párhuzamos fejlődési pályán zajlott le, amelyek közül az első a diplomáciai munka, a második inkább a nyilvános diplomácia digitalizálódását takarta. Az első esetben a külügyminisztériumokkal történő kapcsolattartás, a konzuli feladatok egy része, és -ahogyan a pandémia alatt láttuk -bizonyos esetekben a diplomaták közötti tárgyalások is a digitális átállás részévé váltak (Bjola -Manor, 2022;Taraktaş et al., 2022). Ezeket a digitális fejlesztéseket a külügyminisztériumok némely esetben a költséghatékonyság, más esetben az effektivitás növelése érdekében hajtották végre (Görömbölyi, 2022). ...
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A tanulmány fókuszában a magyar kormányzathoz köthető Twitter-felhasználók 2021 és 2022 közötti tevékenységének empirikus vizsgálata áll. Célja, hogy feltérképezze a platform nemzetközi kommunikációban legaktívabb kormányzati szereplőinek összetételét, megértse az azonosított aktorok tartalomelőállítási szokásait, a közölt narratívák főbb jellemzőit, valamint azok eloszlásának trendjeit. A tanulmányhoz kapcsolódó kutatás utóbbi célkitűzések megvalósítása érdekében önálló adatgyűjtést végzett, a létrejövő adatbázist pedig szoftveres elemzési technikákkal vizsgálta. Az elemzés egy nemzetközi trendeknek megfelelő digitális diplomáciai tevékenységet körvonalazott, amelyben a legaktívabb és leginkább követett résztvevők száma és összetétele ma már viszonylag magas, az emblematikus felhasználók szerepvállalása pedig aktív. Az eredmények egy centralizált rendszer ismérveit mutatják, amelyben a központtól távolodva a relatív kontroll csökken, emiatt az információs és relációs jellegű tartalmak megjelenése, illetve a szereplők közötti eloszlása jobbára kiegyensúlyozott. Ezek a tulajdonságok ugyanakkor csak az átlagot tekintve érvényesek, 2022-től az egyébként nemzetközi kontextusban megjelenő üzenetek tartalmában hangsúlyosabban jelennek meg a belpolitikában használt kommunikációs panelek.
... Yet, they offer opportunities regarding fostering greater inclusion and having instantaneous meetings in the face of emerging crises. Some argue that the future of diplomacy will be hybrid -utilising both forms of meetings as needed and having meetings that combine online and in-situ attendance (Bjola and Manor, 2022;Kurbalija and Höne, 2021). Video conferencing has become part of the diplomatic toolkit and students can benefit from understanding its opportunities (Danielson and Hedling, 2021) and shortcomings and the additional skills required to run successful online and hybrid meetings through simulation. ...
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Understandings of Science Diplomacy (SD) are much debated: the discourse is far from defined, with a multitude of stakeholders emerging from a variety of practitioner and conceptual backgrounds. Nonetheless, there is an identifiable discourse on the emergence of SD as both practice and topic of debate within diplomatic studies, along with its integration into relevant higher education curricula, in the fields of politics, international relations, diplomatic studies programs and the natural sciences. In fact, the discourse and practice of SD have reached a level of maturity that necessitates the integration of SD into relevant curricula in order to offer students an engagement with emerging practices. In contrast to summer schools and shorter courses, the integration of SD into relevant degree programmes offers a sustained and longer-term engagement and a critical engagement with both the practice of SD and the relevant academic discourses on SD. The authors Mark Robinson and Katharina Höne under the guidance of the founder of the CISD online masters’ programmes, J Simon Rofe have been responsible for the introduction of the module with the title ‘Global Challenges: Science Diplomacy’. Our collective aim has been to blend SD content with the established methodology of the ‘International Relations’ Model (Rofe, 2011) to produce a rewarding student experience. Our rationale for the dedicated introduction of a formal SD module into higher education is threefold. Firstly, as Tim Flink (2021) noted in the agenda-setting powers of SD, it is a necessary and timely topic for students of diplomacy since it provides opportunities to meet the 21st century’s ‘wicked’ problems, where the geopolitical issues of the day are intrinsically linked to issues of science. Secondly, we know from previous studies that there is a demand from students, expert practitioners, and academics for more understanding of the field. Meyer et al., (2021) provided insights from two European Projects into the variety of SD trainings available. These ranged from short in-person practitioner’s trainings and interactive online seminars to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). However, no European institutional provider offers a route to the formal award of a qualification at the postgraduate level that includes a dedicated SD element. Thirdly, there is an increasing pool of high-quality evidence-based SD material for students to engage with, as the reading list of the module attests to. This article, firstly, examines the target student body while providing a context to higher education in the 21st century. It then outlines the development of the SD module, covering the pedagogic approach, module outline, learning outcomes, and assessment. The article ends by considering how the module provides a creative opportunity to shape future online higher education with examples of SD immersive student learning opportunities. The SD course syllabus is included as an appendix.
... Digital diplomacy refers to the use of digital technologies and social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, by governments or non-governmental organizations to communicate with foreign individuals, groups, and organizations (Albishri, Tarasevich, Proverbs, Kiousis, & Alahmari, 2019;Bjola & Holmes, 2015;Bjola & Manor, 2022). According to Manor and Segev (2015), digital diplomacy is defined as a government's use of digital media to advance its foreign policy goals and manage its image and reputation. ...
The widespread adoption of social networking sites has made these platforms useful for governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to disseminate diplomatic messages and engage with their audience. However, it is unclear whether “top-down” or “bottom-up” approaches to diplomacy are more conducive for generating user engagement during armed conflicts. This study compares the reception of diplomatic messages from leading governmental and non-governmental organizations during the operation “Guardian of the Walls” (May 2021) in Israel/Palestine in terms of user engagement on social media. We found that diplomatic messages from governmental organizations generated significantly more user engagement than diplomatic messages from NGOs, even when normalized for the number of followers. Additional variables, such as the media format (photo/video vs. link/status), the language of the message (informal vs. formal), and the tone of the message (positive vs. not positive), also predicted (to a lesser extent, through direct or interaction effects) user engagement with diplomatic content.
... Yet, they offer opportunities regarding fostering greater inclusion and having instantaneous meetings in the face of emerging crises. Some argue that the future of diplomacy will be hybrid -utilising both forms of meetings as needed and having meetings that combine online and in-situ attendance (Bjola and Manor, 2022;Kurbalija and Höne, 2021). Video conferencing has become part of the diplomatic toolkit and students can benefit from understanding its opportunities (Danielson and Hedling, 2021) and shortcomings and the additional skills required to run successful online and hybrid meetings through simulation. ...
This chapter aims at exploring the distinction between domestic and foreign policies, the interdependence between the national and the international realm and diplomacy as a mediator between these spheres. While the differentiation between foreign and domestic policies is especially helpful for analytical purposes, it is apparent that external events influence domestic policies and vice versa. Migration is an issue area in which this interconnectedness becomes especially clear. Hence, this chapter draws on the case of German management of unauthorized migration since 2015, to address the following research questions: Firstly, how did domestic processes, international politics and diplomacy interact in the “refugee crisis”? Secondly, what is the role of new technologies and digitalization on the perception of migration as well as in the implementation of border surveillance? To answer these questions, the first part of the chapter provides a definition of foreign policy and a brief overview of different theoretical approaches to foreign policy analysis and diplomacy. Finally, it outlines the role that different actors play in the formulation and implementation of foreign policies.
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This article focuses on the quest for digitalisation in peace mediation and to the extent to which digital disruption is reshaping its practices. While digitalisation in the wider field of diplomacy has seen dramatic changes in its practices, peace mediation is a ‘latecomer’. The article explores the constitutive effects on specific norms and practices of peace mediation and identifies opportunities as well as the restraining and even counterproductive effects of digitalisation. Digital technologies, tools and social media platforms are mapped to assess their roles and impact on key practices and to critically analyse the digitalisation of peace mediation. Moreover, a content analysis of international strategic policy documents and central frameworks relevant for international peacebuilding operations is conducted, which shows that digitalisation has taken place gradually and cautiously. Since there are few theoretical and empirical studies on the digitalisation of peace mediation, the article concludes by suggesting three directions to be taken in future research.
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Introduction. The article is devoted to contemporary digital diplomacy, which is implemented within the framework of social networks. Unlike traditional diplomacy digital one operates in a different communicative space where blogs, electronic media and global social networks are the key communication channels. Using these tools allows digital diplomacy actors to influence events and communities in other countries. Methods and materials. Method of mixing qualitative and quantitative data, hashtag-analysis, comparative analysis of the social networks’ messages and accounts were able to understand the dynamics and interactions in social networks, engagement and possibilities of institutional and private actors in digital diplomacy. Analysis. In the 2000s foreign policy and public diplomacy began forming based on data on the mood of users of social networks and their preferences in politics. Thanks to this, digital diplomacy may well become one of the innovative tools for resolving modern global problems. Digital diplomacy, as a new method and the tool for implementing foreign policy, contributes to the effective functioning of departments and ministries of foreign affairs, their response to the needs of citizens, to emerging challenges and threats to state security, like a global epidemic or natural disasters. Using digital tools, it is possible to shape the norms of communication, interaction and decision-making by which diplomats perform their work, modifying the diplomatic process. Besides this digital diplomacy increases the attractiveness of the state in the eyes of the world community. Results. Based on a comparative analysis study of the content of social networks, it could be concluded that over almost a decade, from the 2010s to the 2020s, digital diplomacy has developed from a “soft power” mechanism to a method of information warfare and propaganda which involves artificial intelligence tools and big data. But this is predominantly characteristic of technologically developed countries. It is possible to conclude about future co-existence of traditional and digital diplomacies in a new hybrid variety. Authors’ contribution. In this article Liudmila M. Reshetnikova has contributed Introduction, Research Methods, Analysis and Results sections: identified risks and threats to digital diplomacy, analyzed the development of the soft power methods, identified features and tools of digital diplomacy. Irina M. Samokhina has contributed Analysis and Results sections: analyzed social networks and digital infrastructure for digital diplomacy and diplomatic activity, contemporary computer tools for learning about social networks.
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It is widely recognized among state leaders and diplomats that personal relations play an important role in international politics. Recent work at the intersection of psychology, neuroscience, and sociology has highlighted the critical importance of face-to-face interactions in generating intention understanding and building trust. Yet, a key question remains as to why some leaders are able to ‘hit it off,’ generating a positive social bond, while other interactions ‘fall flat,’ or worse, are mired in negativity. To answer, we turn to micro-sociology – the study of everyday human interactions at the smallest scales – an approach that has theorized this question in other domains. Drawing directly from US sociologist Randall Collins, and related empirical studies on the determinants of social bonding, we develop a model of diplomatic social bonding that privileges interaction elements rather than the dispositional characteristics of the actors involved or the material environment in which the interaction takes place. We conclude with a discussion of how the study of interpersonal dyadic bonding interaction may move forward.
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Social presence, or the feeling of being there with a “real” person, is a crucial component of interactions that take place in virtual reality. This paper reviews the concept, antecedents, and implications of social presence, with a focus on the literature regarding the predictors of social presence. The article begins by exploring the concept of social presence, distinguishing it from two other dimensions of presence—telepresence and self-presence. After establishing the definition of social presence, the article offers a systematic review of 233 separate findings identified from 152 studies that investigate the factors (i.e., immersive qualities, contextual differences, and individual psychological traits) that predict social presence. Finally, the paper discusses the implications of heightened social presence and when it does and does not enhance one's experience in a virtual environment.
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Diplomacy is no longer restricted to a single vocation nor implemented exclusively through interaction amongst official representatives. In exploring the challenges that these transformations produce, this work surveys firstly, the genealogy of diplomacy as a profession, tracing how it changed from a civic duty into a vocation requiring training and the acquisition of specific knowledge and skills. Secondly, using the lens of the sociology of professions, the development of diplomacy as a distinctive profession is examined, including its importance for the consolidation of the power of modern nation-states. Thirdly, it examines how the landscape of professional diplomacy is being diversified and enriched by a series of non-state actors, with their corresponding professionals, transforming the phenomenology of contemporary diplomacy. Rather than seeing this pluralization of diplomatic actors in negative terms as the deprofes-sionalization of diplomacy, we frame these trends as transprofessionalization, that is, as a productive development that reflects the expanded diplomatic space and the intensified pace of global interconnections and networks, and the new possibilities they unleash for practising diplomacy in different milieus.
Despite growing interest in digital diplomacy, few studies to date have evaluated the extent to which foreign ministries have been able to realize its potential. Studies have also neglected to understand the manner in which diplomats define digital diplomacy and envision its practice. This article explores the digital diplomacy model employed by four foreign ministries through interviews and questionnaires with practitioners. Results from a cross national comparison suggest that foreign ministries have been able to institutionalize the use of social media through the development of best practices and training for diplomats. However, foreign ministries seem to utilize social media to influence elite audiences rather than to foster dialogue with foreign populations. Results also suggest that both ministries and social media audiences are negotiating their respective roles in the online communication process. Although social media is used to overcome the limitations of traditional diplomacy, and manage the national image, foreign ministries fail to collaborate with non-state actors or use social media as a source of information for policy makers. Thus, while diplomacy is networked, it is still state-centric. Finally, at the embassy level, ambassadors now serve as digital gatekeepers.
Being the Chichele Lectures delivered at the University of Oxford in November 1953.
The social psychology of telecommunications
  • John Short
  • Ederyn Williams
  • Bruce Christie
John Short, Ederyn Williams and Bruce Christie, The social psychology of telecommunications (London and New York: Wiley, 1976), p. 65.