I have a “teaching affects my research” moment! After a few months of discussing transmedia storytelling with my senior students, my take on diplomacy and public diplomacy is changing. I surely am not the first person to come up with this idea of taking a transmedia approach to public diplomacy. James Pamment of Lund University had a similar article published in 2015. Building on his work and my teaching experience, I argue that a transmedia approach that acknowledges media convergence might help different hyphenated diplomacy terms to converge (or might create Transmedia Diplomacy)
Pamment’s eloquently written article is based on one point: “the principles associated with the transmedia storytelling literature may be quite readily adapted to diplomatic studies” (p. 11). Storytelling has been closely associated with public diplomacy practice: USIA spent decades “Telling America’s Story” to the world, Turkish public diplomacy is based on the premise that the country has “a story to share“. Yet, it does not look like public diplomacy scholars are intrigued by one of the most recent additions to communication studies: transmedia storytelling.
As the graph above summarizes (and as I spent weeks discussing with my students), transmedia storytelling is based on an assumption that different media platforms converge to tell a story. Each platform brings in a new aspect to the story universe. The story lines are not repeated across the platforms. Transmedia storytelling is not about transmitting the same messages on YouTube and Twitter. It is about what YouTube can do that Twitter cannot and vice versa.
Pamment uses Campaign to End Sexual Violence in Conflict as his case study and discusses how different platforms – including high-level and summit diplomacy in addition to digital media – were used to build networks and engage with stakeholders. Expanding on his views, I posit that we need a new classification of communication tools used in public diplomacy. Assuming that our aim is to tell a single story through multiple platforms, the decision to add a new outlet should be based on the contributions of the said outlet, rather than solely its popularity, familiarity or even cost.
I recommend the questions below as a starting point. I am aware of the fact that this particular list is far from being complete and lacks the intellectual rigor to be considered an analytical framework. However, asking these questions will give the practitioners and researchers a better chance to assess how public diplomacy tools converge:
- Audience: Who gains access to the story? Does the platform open up our story co-creation to previously unreached audiences?
- Engagement: Who gets to tell the story? Does the platform help us engage with audience? Does the audience get a change to provide their input?
- Experience: How do we enhance our story telling? Does the platform give us a new sensory experience? Do we hear/see/watch things for the first time?
- Complementary: How do we create a single universe in our story? How does the new platform work with our existing efforts? Does the platform conform with others already in use?
One of my professors in grad school used to say that an interdisciplinary work is as good as its weakest discipline. It is inherently difficult. The study of public diplomacy requires a solid understanding of international relations and communication (let alone their sub-disciplines – such as diplomatic studies, public relations, mass communication- , and additional helpful ones – such as sociology, anthropology, marketing). Situating this particular practice and study in the ever-changing landscape of digital communication creates another layer of complexity. Yet, I would argue, a transmedia approach has the potential to create a robust framework to design and study public diplomacy projects across platforms. No matter how cool “transmedia diplomacy” might sound, it is time to refrain from another case of neologism and to use the new developments to create an analytical framework.