Diplomatic Pouch / April 16, 2015
By Larry Luxner
Tweets. Hashtags. Likes. Online campaigns. The truth is, some diplomats feel perfectly comfortable in this new digital world, while for others — especially older men and women — it’s like learning a foreign language from scratch.
To help sort it all out, Andreas Sandre has written a guidebook for the uninitiated.
Digital Diplomacy: Conversations on Innovation in Foreign Policy explores through conversations with State Department officials, ambassadors, PR executives, public policy experts and academics what it means to be innovative in foreign policy.
On Mar. 31, Darlington House — an Italian restaurant and pub and cantina in Washington’s Dupont Circle district — hosted a party to mark the book’s publication by Rowman & Littlefield. Two of Sandre’s friends, Anastasia Dellaccio and Lovisa Williams, organized the event with help from the United Nations Foundation.
“A lot of you have contributed to the book with ideas, and I’m very happy you’re part of this project,” Sandre told 130 or so embassy staffers, State Department personnel, journalists and colleagues who had gathered to honor him. “This isn’t just about the book itself, but about bringing digital into diplomacy and bringing diplomacy into the digital era, and making them work together. To me, it’s about disrupting the system and learning from our failures. That’s the only way we can be innovators.”
Later on, Sandre, press and public affairs officer at the Italian Embassy, spoke to the Diplomatic Pouch in between autographing copies of his 332-page masterpiece, which took him a year and a half to put together.
“The idea comes from a little booklet I wrote, called Twitter for Diplomats,to help people understand the trends around digital foreign policy,” he told us. “After talking with a few people including Alec Ross [senior advisor for innovation to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] and Arturo Sarukhan [Mexico’s former ambassador in Washington], I thought, why not put all these interviews together, so we can start the conversation and hopefully move forward?”
Sandre, 39, has been in Washington since 2010. Before that, he worked in New York at Italy’s permanent mission to the United Nations. He said digital diplomacy of course encompasses Twitter and Facebook — but at the root of it, it’s really about being able to communicate clearly.
“Everybody’s interested in the digital age and how we can embrace it in our own little environment,” Sandre explained. “Embassies already start from a disadvantage, since most people don’t know what an embassy really is. They usually go to one only when they need visas, or maybe when students are visiting foreign countries. But embassies are much more than that. We promote and engage in conversations about our country, so we need to embrace digital tools as much as we can.”
Sandre himself sends out a few tweets a day.
“I don’t consider myself a guru, but rather a connector,” he told us. “What I call myself on Twitter is somebody who collects ideas.”
In fact, he said, “we think a press release is much more powerful than a tweet, but often it’s not. The first screen on your home page is very powerful. People don’t even tend to scroll down. Even the way you arrange a menu is key, because people usually start from Google. They rarely start from the embassy’s home page.”
But some embassies still don’t have websites, which Sandre says is a big mistake.
“It’s important nowadays to have a web presence. If you don’t have the means or the budget, you can start with a blog, or even a Tumblr account. There are tools out there that allow you to be more expansive than just 140 characters.”
Sandre said people often think about digital technology as a complicated thing, but in reality it’s quite simple — “as easy as the old phone you have at home,” he said.
“In Africa, there are more people with cellphones than people with access to clean water. That’s quite a powerful statement. Most of the financial exchanges in some African countries are now made through text messaging,” he said. “That’s because technology doesn’t scare these people. For them, it’s the only way to move forward. If we think about technology that way, it’s a little easier to embrace.”
Digital Diplomacy is already getting rave reviews from friends and colleagues.
“Andreas Sandre offers keen insights regarding how the 21st century’s interconnected global information environment is generating greater public pressure on foreign policymaking, and how diplomats of all stripes must adapt as a result,” says Jian Wang, director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.
“Throw the old diplomatic rule books out! Andreas Sandre explains how digital diplomacy is impacting and changing traditional diplomatic channels,” gushes Joe Trippi, author of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything.“If you want to better understand the intersection of digital and traditional diplomacy, this is the book to read.”
Given its subject matter, it’s only fitting that Digital Diplomacy is available not only in hardback ($85.00) and paperback ($39.95) form, but also as an e-book with video links ($38.99). To order, contact http://www.rowman.com.