When people think of social media, they think of posts, likes and the so-called millennial and Gen Z lingo like OMG, LOL, ROFL, BTW, TBH, IKR, WYD and others. What they do not think about though is the possibility of diplomatic networking. Social media have become ideal avenues for professional networking. Nepali embassies and ambassadors follow and are followed by other embassies and ambassadors. Mutual sharing of information goes on and it provides a chance to increase visibility. For example, the Facebook page of Nepal’s Embassy in the UK posts a picture of the vast open fields of the Terai or the sun rising over the silver mountain peaks and it happens to get shared by the Argentinian Embassy or Ambassador or just some official who happened to be a follower of the Nepal Embassy’s page, then the message has been passed, at least to some extent, to the Argentine people even though Nepal does not have an embassy there. This can also be done by diplomats asking their fellow diplomats to share their posts or by tagging specific pages and people.
Furthermore, the diplomatic clout a country or a specific individual holds greatly depends on their networks. The ability of a Nepali ambassador stationed abroad to carry out a certain task is dependent on the kind of networks he/she holds in the governmental circles of that country and the kind of people he/she can leverage to put his point across. This has been helped by social media. The diplomats can now search for the people and form a virtual bond with them through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This includes following them, messaging them, interacting with their posts and tweets and more. This can help build not just professional connections but personal friendships which can then serve to further diplomatic relations.
However, we must be careful though. Many officials, especially those above a certain age, have a single profile for personal and professional networks and sometimes may share personal anecdotes and incidents, forgetting that they are a representative of the country and that the content they post/share will reach the dignitaries of other countries as well. In the course of public expression, they may forget their professional standards and the type of company they have kept on their social media. Such behaviour can put them at risk of being caught with their pants down and risks damaging the international standard of the country. But still, the benefits of networking are worth such limited risks that can easily be avoided with some training and caution. The Institute of Foreign Affairs can hold a few sessions for diplomats before they depart to their stationed nations about maintaining an elegant online presence and should brief them on what is acceptable and what is not when posting on their profiles.
Furthermore, just as social media has ushered in an era of citizen journalism, it has also introduced the world to citizen diplomacy. Today, the networks built by individuals are just as important as that of diplomats, especially if the individuals belong to influential groups. For Nepal, these influential groups include the British Gurkhas for the United Kingdom and migrant workers and students for a host of other countries. So, British Gurkhas may be on social media with the high-level staff of the UK Ministry of Defence or migrant workers may have a comprehensive network among themselves. These groups can be utilised in the same way as the diplomats’ networks to achieve diplomatic goals as described above. For example, by turning social media groups into pressure groups, by directly contacting through digital media (emails, direct messaging etc.) bypassing the restrictive bureaucratic channels, etc. So, we must not underestimate the power of social media in maintaining and expanding our international relations.