Mission Accomplished? Do Journalists Follow Digital Diplomacy Channels?

Over the past few months I have dedicated much time to investigating if the potential of digital diplomacy has been realized. By and large, it’s fair to say that digital diplomacy channels target three audiences: foreign populations, journalists and foreign diplomatic institutions. When examining the degree to which foreign ministries (MFAs) and embassies follow one another, I was surprised to learn that the majority of MFAs and embassies to a country (e.g., Israel), or to an international organization (e.g., UN headquarters in New York), do indeed follow one another. It therefore seems that digital diplomacy has become an important tool for disseminating foreign policy messages.

This week I attempted to understand if journalists follow digital diplomacy channels. MFAs and Embassies are eager to attract journalists to their channels as these serve as force multipliers of digital diplomacy. Journalists may re-tweet information from an MFA’s twitter channel, or incorporate Facebook posts in their articles, thus dramatically increasing the reach of the MFA’s message. Moreover, journalists are viewed as opinion makers. Thus they are instrumental tools for embassies that wish to facilitate the acceptance of their foreign policy amongst specific populations.

However, few studies to date have attempted to explore the degree to which journalists do in-fact follow embassies and MFAs on digital diplomacy channels such as twitter and Facebook. In other words, we have yet to separate fact from fiction and reality from buzz.

And there is a lot of buzz surrounding digital diplomacy.


(view image source)

In an attempt to answer my research question, I analyzed the amount of journalists following MFAs and embassies to the UN headquarters in New York on twitter. The journalists evaluated were editors in chief, senior editors, foreign news editors, foreign correspondents and diplomatic correspondents from leading news organizations around the world. The table below identifies the news organizations included in my analysis. The total number of journalists evaluated was 81.

journalsist table

Once I had compiled the sample of journalists, I calculated the amount of journalists following 61 MFAs from around the world. The MFAs examined are listed in the table below.

mfa table


The results of this analysis, shown in the graph below, were surprising to say the least. As can be seen, only 17 MFAs out of the 61 evaluated attracted journalists. Moreover, only the US, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and the EU attracted a considerable amount of journalists (i.e., five or more journalists). 85% of the MFAs evaluated attracted one or no journalists at all.

mfa graph 1

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Similar results were found when analyzing the amount of journalists following embassies to the UN headquarters in New York. Out of 41 embassies to the UN, only 7 attracted one or more journalists. Moreover, even the embassies with the heights number of journalist following them (US and Russia) attract some 3-4 journalists.

mfa graph 2

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The results presented thus far could suggest that MFAs and embassies have yet to achieve their goal of attracting journalists. However, it is also possible the sample size I used to was too small. I therefore decided to increase the number of journalists in my sample from 81 to 163 by adding editors and correspondents from the following news organizations:

mfa table 2

Equipped with a larger sample, I recalculated the amount of journalists following the 61 MFAs previously mentioned. As can be seen below, the number of MFAs followed by one or more journalist now grew from 17 to 33. While most of the nations that attract a large number of journalists remained the same, Israel did leap forward moving from sixth place to third.

mfa graph 3

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However, even with this larger sample, the vast majority of MFAs (72%) attract one or no journalists. The average number of journalists following an MFA is 1.9, a rather small figure.

Similar results were found when examining the amount of journalists following embassies to the UN in New York. As can be seen below, the number of embassies attracting one or more journalists grew from 7 to 10.Yet 88% of embassies to the UN, the world’s most important hub of diplomacy, attract one or no journalists.

mfa graph 4

(Click Image to View Bigger)

The results presented in this post indicate that MFAs and embassies have yet to attract an important target audience- the mass media. Yet I cannot claim that the analysis presented here offers a definitive answer to the question- do journalists follow digital diplomacy channels? After all, the sample of journalists used  was rather small and suffered from a geographical bias. However, this post may be viewed as a humble step in a wider attempt to explore the extent to which digital diplomacy has achieved its potential.

Want to keep the conversation going?  Tweet me @Ilan_Manor 



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