Digital Nativity and Digital Diplomacy: Exploring Conceptual Differences Between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

The past decade has seen the accelerated digitalization of foreign ministries. In this study, we conceptualize digitalization as long term process in which diplomats adopt different technologies to obtain foreign policy goals. To date, only a handful of studies have investigated which factors influence digitalization. This study sought to address this gap by examining generational gaps within foreign ministries, while investigating how such gaps may prevent diplomats from obtaining communicative goals. The study thus employed the concept of digital nativity, while examining operational and conceptual gaps between digital natives and immigrants. Using a sample of 133 diplomats from six foreign ministries, the study finds there are few operational gaps between natives and immigrants. There are, however, substantial conceptual gaps between both generations. Specifically, digital immigrants use social networking sites (SNS) for one-way message dissemination and influence and are also less likely to interact with, or value follower feedback. The same is not true of natives. Conceptual gaps may thus prevent foreign ministries from successfully marketing new policies online or gaining valuable insight that may be integrated into the policy formulation process. The study includes a series of policy recommendation that may help ministries of foreign affairs (MFAs) overcome gaps between natives and immigrants.

Policy implications

  • The results of this study indicate that ministries of foreign affairs (MFAs) looking to leverage digital technologies towards the obtainment of foreign policy goals must address generational gaps. One way of doing so is through digital training that focuses not only on how to use technologies, but on how to increase returns on investment. For instance, in the case of social networking sites (SNS), training could elucidate the importance of listening to online audiences and valuing their comments, as a way of integrating public sentiment into the policy formulation process.
  • While this study focused solely on SNS, generational gaps may hinder the usage of other technologies. Indeed, the process of MFAs’ digitalization is far from over. In light of COVID19, and the emergence of 5G, MFAs may undergo a rapid process of digitalization integrating technologies for virtual meetings (e.g. Zoom), engaging audiences through virtual reality or using big data analysis. Senior diplomats who may view these technologies as ‘fads’ may hamper the successful utilization of digital technologies.
  • In this study, digital immigrants focused on managing their nation’s image. Yet SNS could also be used to strengthen ties with important journalists; cultivate relationships with travel bloggers and interact with diasporas. Digital immigrants may lack the vision required to employ digital technologies in innovative ways. Training is especially important for higher echelons who may not use digital technologies, but should still understand the rewards that can be reaped.



Photo by Mo