Theory and Practice in Public Diplomacy: Diplomatic dish-washing

For the last couple of months, I have been working on the latest project of Turkayfe.org – our online coffeehouse project. The website, which started out as an online “social diplomacy” / place branding project is going offline, and meeting people on the street with “Mobile Turkish Coffee House” project.

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Turkayfe.orgstarted out as an idea in May 2009, and the website went live in May 2010. From our very early days, we did our best to learn from our mistakes, and to improve our project. As a doctoral candidate studying public diplomacy, and a dilettante practitioner; I tried to use my practical experience in my academic studies and vice-versa.

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Turkayfe.org on the Road: Events in New York and DC

Last year, after the Turkish festival in DC, I wrote about the importance of “creating a real community” for online social diplomacy projects. There is, indeed, an undeniable need for ‘real’ people and connections to support online communication attempts. Therefore, as the Turkayfe.org team, we are doing our best to reach out to as many people as possible.

This summer, we are hosting two events, one in New York (June 11th) and another in Washington, DC (June 15th) to discuss the past, present, and future of Turkish coffee. So, if you are in town – stop by one of our events, grab a cup of coffee and join the conversation! Looking forward to seeing you all!

New York, Schedule, June 11th

Address: Turkish House, 821 United Nations 8th floor New York City, NY 10017
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturenewyork.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception

Washington, DC Schedule, June 15th

Address: Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington D.C., 20008-2826
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturewashingtondc.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception

Social Diplomacy: This time on the streets…

As you might already know, I am working as the political communication consultant for Turkayfe.org project. Turkayfe is a Web 2.0 based online platform that invites people to share their experiences about Turkey with the community. Our main is to brand Turkey through people’s perspectives. Instead of using mass media and mass persuasion methods, we aim to reach a brand image through telling stories about the country. We label our attempt as a social diplomacy project. Even though, Turkayfe.org mainly utilizes online communication methods, it is important not to forget that social diplomacy is inherently a ‘social’ understanding of public diplomacy, and requires face-time with the target audiences.
Last Sunday, we were at the Turkish Festival in Washington, DC. We set up a table for Turkayfe, and made our first contact with the community in Washington, DC. The Turkish expats and students in the United States, as well as American citizens interested in Turkey are two of our main target audiences. Therefore, the festival was a great opportunity for us to connect with the community. You can read more about our impressions here and here.


Shortly speaking, social diplomacy projects taking place at a grassroots level cannot survive through solely online communication technologies. The projects need to ‘solidify’, in other words, the projects should focus on creating a real community around the idea who will eventually contribute to the online communication attempts.

The people in the post photo are (from left to right) Forest and Karalyn (alumni of Bilkent University), Gizem (our founder), and me.

Here are some of my observations after spending one day at the festival and engaging with the community:
– Communication is an important aspect of project management, especially if we are running public/social diplomacy or nation/place branding projects.
– Face-to-face communication enables us to get direct feedback from people about the project.
– Giving a face to the project increases your credibility. You are no longer only a website, you are the people who are running the website.
– Meeting people who are interested in the project, who love to talk about your project definitely increases the motivation of the team members.

This blog post is also posted on http://placebranding.ning.com/

Social Media, Political Communication, and Turkey Vol.2: Turkayfe.org

Welcome to Turkey’s first online coffehouse:Turkayfe.org!

As part of my social media and political communication in Turkey posts, I decided to introduce a project that I have been working on for quite some time. We started the Turkayfe project in May 2009. After spending six months on the conceptualization, we recently launched our website,http://www.turkayfe.org/. Practically, the project is a place branding through storytelling attempt for Turkey. We aim to support Turkey’s branding attempts by using Web 2.0 technologies and by initiating a virtual grassroots movements. Together with the founder of Turkayfe, Gizem Salcigil White, we will be presenting a critical research paper about Turkayfe, the role of Web 2.0 in citizen’s diplomacy, and branding through sharing experiences at the 2nd Place Branding Conference in Bogota. I wanted to introduce the project to the blogosphere before getting ‘too academic’.

The image above is our front page image. We invite people to grab a coffee, sit down, and start sharing their experiences about Turkey. As our main strategy is creating a brand through people, we placed several people sitting (well some standing, singing, dancing, and playing instruments) at a cafe. The images stand for our seven main categories. For further information, feel free to contact me or pay a visit to Turkayfe.org. I will introduce two dilemmas, pros, and cons of starting a Web 2.0 place branding project.

Short Summary of Turkayfe Project

Dilemmas
1-Government/Non-government: Now, one of the most important decision we had to make was about government support. On one hand, the financial support from the Turkish government and state agencies can solve all our budgetary problems. But we started the project with an aim to project a candid story of Turkey. How candid can you be when you are supported by the state? On the other hand, if we continue as four young professionals without state support, do we have the legitimacy to create a branding platform for Turkey? We decided to keep Turkayfe as a non-governmental project as our goal is to present people stories – these stories also constitute the basis for our legitimacy claims.
2-New portal/Existing portal: One option for us was to use existing portals, such as Facebook, or existing framework, such as Ning and WordPress, to start Turkayfe. This option is cost-efficient. Moreover, it is easier to reach the audience. The second option was to build up a new website based on a new framework. We chose the second option to create a stronger sense of community and belonging among our users.

Pros
1-Avoiding clichés: A Web 2.0 project enables you to avoid several clichés in nation branding. As you (meaning the project team and contributors) aim to write about their daily life and experiences, the end product is usually an interesting story (rather than a misleading slogan on a glossy poster).
2-Young audience:Younger generations are more likely to use technologically advanced products. Apart from being an online project, Turkayfe.org also tries to present the newer web technologies to its users. Hopefully, this approach will make us popular among younger generations.

Cons
1-Language problem: The website is entirely in English. We currently do not accept submissions in Turkish… If a user posts an article in Turkish, it will not be published on the website. Even though choosing English as the only language on the website ensures open communication and interaction, it also limits our audience.
2-Inclusiveness: We want stories about people’s daily lives. We want all kinds of stories. Yet, in order to post on Turkayfe.org, you should have basic linguistic and technical capabilities. Our online coffeehouse unfortunately is only accessible if you have internet connection and can speak English.

In short, social media in Turkey, especially with regard to political communication, should not be seen as a paradigm shift. Social media has not replaced (and is not likely to replace) traditional media in the upcoming years. Yet, if you want to reach younger and more education people – go online, go viral! In order to look attractive and professional in social media, you need to invest – social media is not 100% free! Last but not the least, legitimacy in online nation/place branding campaigns is a huge problem. You need to make sure you have (at least you can claim) legitimacy on a few grounds before unveiling your project!

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