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Nine E-diplomacy Principles, add more……

Published on 21 November 2012
Updated on 19 March 2024

Close to 100 diplomats and academics had a vibrant and engaging discussion at the Geneva E-diplomacy Day.  One of the outcomes was the drafting of e-diplomacy principles (which the session participants dubbed ‘e-diplomacy laws’). Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, Swiss permanent representative of the UN, summarised his experience of e-diplomacy in the first four principles:

  1. Put users, diplomats, particularly young officials in the driving seat.

E-tools and procedures cannot be imposed. They need to grow bottom-up from diplomats. Sometimes they come from diplomats with an interest in the Internet. With a technologically savvy young generation, this is becoming more common. Sometimes, technologists should nudge diplomats to start using certain tools.

  1. Make it as simple as possible.

The old quote from Einstein applies: If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.  Simplicity paves the way for acceptance of new tools. The attention span of users is limited.

  1. The higher the budget often  the lower the impact of e-diplomacy projects.

Money rarely solves the problems that e-diplomacy has to address: changes in professional cultures and new approaches. On the contrary, a lot of money can trigger grand projects and lead towards ultimate failure. You can get great graphs, hire many expensive consultants, and give exciting presentations. But change does not happen this way. The corporate sector and governments are full of grand e-projects which failed.

  1. Avoid a grand e-diplomacy strategy.

It is easy to slip into an attempt to create strategy. As soon as we see a new tool emerging, we tend to put it in a strategic framework.


Inspired by Amb. Fasel’s input, other panellists – Jovan Kurbalija, director of DiploFoundation, Richard Boly from the US State Department, and Anders Norsker from ITU – added to the list:

  1. You cannot succeed without failure. Make sure that failures are contained and cheap and that lessons are learned.

The tolerance of failure is the main field of tension between diplomacy and social media cultures. Diplomacy is a risk-avoidance profession. Social media projects have an in-built possibility for failure. Many social initiatives fail.

  1. The most valuable resource is in the huge knowledge and experience in people around you. Make sure you utilise it.

Diplomatic services are rich with expertise and knowledge. These resources are usually underutilised because of organisation and professional structure. Diplomatic services have to move from the traditional need-to-know principle to a need to share.

  1. E-diplomacy is much more than public diplomacy.

Most of the current e-diplomacy coverage focuses on public diplomacy: twiplomacy, president and ministers tweeting, etc. It is just the tip of iceberg. Much more of e-diplomacy happens in thousands of diplomatic negotiations, policy initiatives, and mediation happening every day worldwide. They are less visible than public diplomacy, but not less important. They involve, among others,  e-participation in international meetings, inclusive drafting of political documents, and foreign policy coordination in diplomatic services and national governments.

  1. You cannot control the message in social media.

Traditionally, diplomatic services tended to control the interpretation of the message by domestic and foreign public (selection of media, reducing ambiguity). In the social media space, it is almost impossible to control the interpretation of message. Diplomatic services should be aware of this risk.

  1. Top leadership is innovation’s best friend.

E-diplomacy innovation needs support from the top leadership. This is particularly important in the early days of innovation.  One of the success factors of the State Department’s E-diplomacy project was personal support from the State Secretary Clinton.


This list is a work in progress. If you can come up with some more, please add them in a comment.


4 replies
  1. Karen Melchior
    Karen Melchior says:

    I agree with the comments and
    I agree with the comments and also with most of the principles.

    No matter how much you say what you are saying is personal, you will still be representing the organisation you work in and for diplomats the state we represent when we work. I do also think that people are getting better at understanding the private/personal mix on social networks. However once it is out there, you can not take it back and people will not necessarily remember to include the context.

    I agree with the need for a change in culture more than just a big budget and the importance of leadership. However this also means that you can’t just let the “young officials” run your social / ediplomacy, but you should create the environment where every official feels empowered and trusted to go out and communicate what they do.

  2. Vladimir Radunovic
    Vladimir Radunovic says:

    I would add that “Everything
    I would add that “Everything you share online is understood both as your personal and professional view”. There is a blur line between personal and professional in social media – “everything you say can and will be used against you”. Personal profiles of e-diplomats on social media should at least contain disclaimer (like “Tweets are personal views”) – but one should be cautious of what s/he is sharing via social networks anyhow! (Linked to Mary’s comment: think twice before pressing “send”).

  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    Pause before pushing: whether
    Pause before pushing: whether you’re sending an e-mail, and SMS, updating your FB statues, or tweeting, pause before pushing the send/upload button. Once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back.


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