Why It Matters by Tim Lau

The rise of social media across the globe has increased the complexity of an already rapidly evolving communications landscape. This complexity presents both obstacles and opportunities for international relations as traditional business and political conventions are constantly challenged.

Here are five ways social media is transforming international relations and international business:

1. An Increasingly Connected, Complex World

An increasingly interconnected world has emerged due to globalization and rapid advances in information technology. Social media, mobile technology and the Internet continue to spread globally, accelerating and expanding the free flow of information. This interconnectivity enables influencers to create deep transnational networks and impact on a global scale. Global communities can also be created virtually and conversations can start anywhere at any time, mobilizing audiences that transcend borders and geographic distance.

2. Political Mobilization on a Global Scale

The Arab Spring is often considered one of social media’s breakout moments. Sometimes referenced as the “Twitter Revolution,” participants used social networks such as Facebook*, Twitter and YouTube both to mobilize and inform the world as the story unfolded. In Egypt, Libya and more recently in Syria, government leaders temporarily cut off Internet access, indirectly recognizing the role social media and other connective technologies played in accelerating the social movements. These movements demonstrate the power of a digitally empowered public and how technology can be leveraged for global influence.

3. Transparency in International Diplomacy

Social media has emerged in a period marked by the dispersion of authority, the fragility of trust and a crisis in leadership, all of which contribute to a greater public demand for transparency from government and business institutions. While diplomacy has traditionally taken place behind closed doors, social media provides new tools for world leaders to communicate with each other and with citizens. In the U.S., former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton adopted a 21st Century Statecraft agenda, enlisting a dedicated staff that now manages 301 Twitter feeds and 408 Facebook accounts to communicate with over 20 million individuals around the world. As technology continues to change how institutions communicate with their publics, government institutions can leverage social media to conduct diplomatic engagement that “broadens global participation.”

4. Compelling Narratives for International Development

Social media is an important space for nonprofit organizations and NGOs working in international development to tell compelling stories. The rise of visual storytelling – along with visual and video-based networks such as YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Vine – provide an outlet for developing powerful narratives that resonate with social media users around the world and compel them to action. Rich content shared across social media can dramatically expand the reach of these narratives, allowing users to engage with issues such as poverty, health, conflict and sustainability in a concrete, emotional way. Social media can also be an effective platform for partnerships between nonprofit organizations and businesses to collaborate on social good programs.

5. Opportunities and Challenges for International Business

With an immense global reach – Facebook alone boasts 1.11 billion users worldwide – social media can potentially provide businesses with a line of direct communication with millions of connected individuals in new markets. However, social media on a global scale also presents a wide range of challenges, including different cultural approaches to using social media, different social media platforms commonly used and language and time zone issues. Additionally, negative brand sentiment can now achieve global scale almost instantly. Effective social media for international business requires a nuanced, well-researched and localized strategy, as well as expertise in the various markets being reached.

What international opportunities do social media provide for your business?

Image credit Bigstock.

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