Going viral ain’t easy

I have been pondering about the impacts of internet communication, Web 2.0 in specific, on nation branding and public diplomacy. A friend of mine and I have decided to launch a Web 2.0 campaign for Turkey’s nation branding. We have started working on our project proposal around May 2009. I have been working on the issue for around 6 months. There is a great literature on the subject. Dr. Craig Hayden of American University discusses Web 2.0 and Public Diplomacy in his blog post Soft Power and the Open-Source Ethics of Public Diplomacy 2.0 which practically gives you an idea about the discussion. I only want to underline four challenges we have faced while we were trying to build up our project proposal.

Firstly, it is difficult to establish ethos online. What gives you the legitimacy to talk about a nation’s brand? Who has the authority to work for the brand? In our case, we based our claims on academic expertise and nationality. Two Turkish citizens with a theoretical background might contribute to the nation branding processes, however, there is no formal way to establish ethos. The nature of Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, probably gives authority to the most popular source. In other words, the larger your audience is, the more credible you are.

Another challenge we have faced was authenticity. Even if you come up with an original idea to promote your messages, how do you protect this originality? We have chosen to legally protect our project. We have copyrights of logos and ideas. Given the volume of websites and simplicity of creating new ones, it is difficult to protect your ideas.

User contribution in Web 2.0 is a blessing and a curse. In case of political communication, extremists constitutes a problem as well as an ethical dilemma. On one hand, it is better to leave out the outrageous ideas and voices in order to build up communication bridges. But on the other hand, once you start judging and censoring people’s ideas, the project loses its apolitical stance. In our case, we have decided to leave out all controversial and contentious subjects entirely. Although we are planning to acknowledge the existence of these subjects, we will simply guide our visitors to outside resources instead of hosting discussions on our pages.

It is difficult to choose Web 2.0 tools to be used. There are many (maybe too many) Web 2.0 platforms. Should a nation branding campaign appear on Second Life? What about on MySpace? We chose to start our own networking site and market our idea through selected online media, namely Twitter, Facebook, and Blogosphere due to budgetary constrains and limited time, as well as through offline networks. A strong audience analysis is compulsory to choose the most viable online media. Also, it is important to support the promotion attempts through more traditional methods.

Oh, did I mention Web 3.0? Maybe we haven’t comprehended Web 2.0 and its implications yet but this fact doesn’t seem to slow down technological advances. We should start getting ready for the next online wave.

What I have observed in communication field is that new communication technologies attract scholarly attention and sometimes are hyped. Let’s not to forget Web 1.0 or traditional media. Let’s not forget Web 2.0 is not the final destination of technological advancement. Let’s look for ways to reach more people more effectively, not cooler ways to reach our audiences.


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