Friday, February 26, 2010

Citizen Diplomats

More from the news of nation-branding: In a new television campaign, Israel encourages its tourists to embrace citizen diplomacy when they travel abroad. In The Globe and Mail, Patrick Martin notes that the ads demonstrate "the Israeli government wants the world to know Israelis don't ride camels or eat only kebabs."

I'm all for citizen diplomacy, but I'd be willing to bet that among the sources for negative perceptions of Israel, "excessive dromedary transportation" and "stick-based comestibles" rank fairly low.

The ads expose an important element of nation-branding and public diplomacy in general: the need for targeted and specific outreach, based on authoritative and accurate knowledge of the target audience. Now these ads are aimed at Israeli citizens, but the ultimate targets of the diplomacy effort are non-Israelis with negative opinions of the country. They may succeed in raising awareness among citizen ambassadors, but whether heightened consciousness will translate into improved sentiment abroad is another matter entirely.

Public diplomacy is an incredibly important (and, in my opinion, under-utilized) foreign policy tools. I believe that PD, whether traditional or the "2.0" variety that uses interactive communications technology to engage foreign publics, is absolutely essential. But I also believe that it's significantly compromised when the methodology is not supported by 1) clear and valid foreign policy objectives, and 2) an understanding of the intended audience. I'll withhold judgment for the moment, but I'm not entirely sure Israel's hit the mark on this one.

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