Nation Branding refers to a process by which a nation’s image can be proactively managed, monitored and evaluated in order to improve the nation’s reputation amongst international audiences. Many view nation branding as an economic necessity given the fact that in the globalized marketplace nations compete with one another over a shrinking pool of financial resources (such as tourism and foreign investments). Nation branding scholars seem to agree that nations have images whether they manage them or not and that such images take root in people’s minds. Thus, changing a nation’s images is understood to be a long and complicated process.
Over the past few years, a growing number of nations have begun using digital diplomacy channels such as Facebook and twitter in order to create and promote their new national image. One intriguing twitter account that I have been monitoring for several months is Meet Iran (@MeetIran), a twitter account operated by the Iranian foreign ministry which aims to promote a new image of Iran to global audiences, or in its own words, ” is dedicated to providing a more nuanced idea of #Iran. One tweet at a time”. While this account was once followed by a mere dozen twitter users, presented company included, it now boasts some 7,000 followers.
From reviewing all tweets published on this account over a period of two months I believe I have been able to find three themes that comprise the new image Iran is attempting to promote around the world.
From International Pariah to the Belle of the Ball:
Since January 1st, a growing number of tweets on the Meet Iran channel have dealt with Iran’s new-found international popularity. While it was once isolated due to its nuclear program, Iran now seems to be the number one destination for international parliamentary delegations and high ranking diplomats. Over the past six months it has been visited by delegations from all parts of the world including Canada, Mexico, Italy, France, the UK, Germany, Romania and Turkey. Each visit has garnered several tweets usually accompanied by images of high profiled meetings.
Iran’s new status has even been commented on by President Rouhani who was quoted as saying “Iran foreign policy status now very different rom the past. All should consider ongoing realities and analyze accordingly”.
Promoting Stability in the Region:
The second theme that comprises Iran’s new national image is its attempt to brand itself as the key to regional stability. At times, Iran even uses the hashtags #Regionalism # and #Stability as was the case in the following tweet posted on the 11th of January:
One way Iran means to bring stability to the Middle East is by taking a more active role in resolving the Syrian crisis. On January the 15th, Iran’s foreign minister tweeted that he met with Syrian President Assad in order to promote diplomatic cooperation that could restore calm and security to both Syria and the region as a whole.
Iran’s role as the key to regional stability has been promoted on the Meet Iran twitter channel by using quotes from high ranking diplomats such as the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who said:
Another tweet from the 16th of March quotes the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Barhimi, as saying:
A Regional Superpower:
The third and final component of Iran’s promoted image is that of a regional superpower. Tweets dealing with Iran’s regional status include references to its vast economic ties with countries such as Turkey, Oman and the Gulf states, its close relations with world powers such as Russia and its role within the Muslim world. Moreover, Iran’s regional status is also conveyed in tweets demonstrating its close ties with many Mid East nations as is exemplified in the following tweets:
An interesting tweet published on March the 12th indicates that Iran is to hold a “Friends of Syria” meeting with representatives from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Russia. This group of nations stands in opposition to the “Friends of Syria” group organized by the UK which aims to bring about a political transition in Syria. Thus, in this tweet Iran compares itself to another global power, the UK.
The following tweets all deal with Iran’s important role in the Muslim world and the fact that political Islam may be changing power relations in the world:
Between Twiploamcy and Twipoganda:
Nation branding experts maintain that in order to be successful, a nation’s prompted image must hold true with reality. A nation embroiled in armed conflict will not be able to brand itself a desired tourist destination no matter how inventive its campaign is. Thus, nation branding requires walking a tight rope between Twiplomacy and outright Twipoganda. In the case of Meet Iran, propaganda seems to have crept in when dealing with certain issues.
First, one has to wonder how Iran can use twitter as a tool for self-marketing while at the same time blocking twitter in Iran and preventing Iranians from expressing themselves freely online. Secondly, while it vows to fight extremism and terrorism in the region, Iran also exhibits its strong ties with organizations such as Hezbollah which has been designated a terrorist organization by countries all over the world.
In another tweet, President Rouhani states that art should not be under the supervision of the government. This is another problematic statement from a country that according to the UN does not allow free speech.
Finally, at times Iran returns to accusing the world of plotting against it.
So while the Meet Iran channel may enable Iran to promote its new image, and even engage with global audiences, its susceptibility to Twipoganda may prevent it from reaching it stated goal of “providing a more nuanced idea of #Iran. One tweet at a time”.
The following source material was used in this post:
Aronczyk, M. (2008). ‘Living the Brand’: Nationality, Globality, and the Identity Strategies of Nation Branding Consultants. International journal of communication, 2, 25.
Fan, Y. (2010). Branding the nation: Towards a better understanding. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 6(2), 97-103.
Kotler, P., & Gertner, D. (2002). Country as brand, product, and beyond: A place marketing and brand management perspective. The Journal of Brand Management, 9(4), 249-261.