Monday, 28 November 2022

Business Insights

Digiplomacy: The Art of Building Business Relationships Online

Whether you are on WhatsApp, TikTok, Facebook, or LinkedIn, Digiplomacy (Digital Diplomacy) is an unwritten behaviour with rules of engagement expected of business owners, senior managers, and leaders in these days of digital liberties and rights to anything.


The Low Institute defines Digital diplomacy, also referred to as Digiplomacy and eDiplomacy, as the use of the Internet and current information communication technologies to help achieve diplomatic objectives. However, other definitions have also been proposed.

We live in a time when what you say on social media is synonymous of how you dress and live amongst those you work with, hence Digital Diplomacy is a particularly important aspect of the life of a business owner, senior manager, or leader in this age of Digital and Commerce, globally. A Business owner must be a digital diplomat to connect, interact and transact with local, regional, and international audiences, whilst relating with family and friends on social media.

Digital diplomacy is about using the internet to create and foster positive relationships with people all over the world for several reasons. Digital diplomats are entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs of the world in some sense. They explore opportunities for growth through building out networks that bring people together in meaningful ways by leveraging technology or social media to form affable connections with others.

We now live in the age of digital interdependence, as reported in United Nations report on Digital Cooperation. The UN reported that “Digital technologies are rapidly transforming society, simultaneously allowing for unprecedented advances in the human condition and giving rise to profound new challenges. Growing opportunities created by the application of digital technologies are paralleled by stark abuses and unintended consequences. Digital dividends co-exist with digital divides. And, as technological change has accelerated, the mechanisms for cooperation and governance of this landscape have failed to keep pace. Divergent approaches and ad hoc responses threaten to fragment the interconnectedness that defines the digital age, leading to competing standards and approaches, lessening trust, and discouraging cooperation”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further revealed the great extent to which the modern world depends on technology and digital tools, Brookings University published. Like every other aspect of life, diplomacy also had to go “digital,” with many activities transferred online due to pandemic-related gathering restrictions. Zoom, Google Meet, and other such platforms became important platforms for global decision-making gatherings, diplomatic meetings, and conferences as travels became impossible or infeasible. In many ways, the pandemic’s disruptive element has helped unleash new forms of virtual decision-making processes.

During this disruptive time, African countries have embraced digital diplomacy through these virtual processes. For example, despite the pandemic, African governments, the African Union (AU), and non-governmental organizations have held several virtual peace and security conferences, bringing together thousands of African stakeholders. In May 2020, the AU successfully hosted a “Silencing the Guns” online conference, which was spread over three weeks. Participants attended both physically and virtually, contributing to the debate and making new connections, this including African leaders.

The reality for most businesses is that all business is now global first, then local. The local business owner has need to understand the global landscape as it easily affects the local landscape; all done digitally. We are competing in a global landscape first.

After expanding across borders in pursuit of new international markets and the advantages of scale, many major corporations now derive more than half of their revenue internationally. But along the way, they may have incurred a “globalization penalty.” Managing across multiple geographies with distinct cultures, languages, regulations, and tax regimes is no small challenge. It often involves going up against local competitors that may have deeper market insights and better ability to execute on their own turf. The costs of coping with complexity can take a toll on the bottom line as well as organizational health, making it harder to create a cohesive culture and strategy.

The convergence of globalization and digitization means that the world is changing rapidly—and business leaders will need to reassess their organization, strategy, assets, and operations accordingly. The approaches that worked for going global even ten years ago may no longer be relevant.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the Cross-border implications of digitization affects Remote Monitoring, Supply-Chain Management, Access to Global Markets, and Business Operations Strategy. All this begins and happens within the sphere of digital diplomacy by the senior managers and executives of these corporations, communicating and relating with business owners and executives of foreign countries. That is the scope of Digital Diplomacy.

In the most part, Digital Diplomacy has been reserved as a subject for those in political leadership such as presidents, legislators, diplomatic missions, and international organisations, when in fact it matters to the business owner, investor, and senior manager. There are growing conversations on China's Digital Silk Road, which encapsulates their 5G networks spreading across the world. This also raises the need for participating companies, organisations, and governments to engage in digital relations. Not all are between government and government, but business-to-business.

Digital Diplomacy is about Business-to-Business relationship building for business owners and executives. It is about business leaders and entrepreneurs exploring new opportunities for growth and development across national, cultural, and social boundaries by leveraging technology or social media to form affable connections with others. This is achievable using social media tools such as LinkedIn that are pro-relationship building in brand safe environments they provide on their platform. LinkedIn offers numerous opportunities to increase your referral and knowledge base, attract new business, attract quality employees, increase credibility, and expose products/services.

In the world of digital diplomacy, it is all about creating networks that bring people together to foster a greater degree of trust, confidence, and understanding between them. By engaging in digital diplomacy with key influencers in your industry you have an opportunity to boost your company’s reputation with customers (current and potential), partners, investors, government officials and other stakeholders.

Important is how to be aware of digital diplomacy as you go about your day on the internet and social media.

Diplo, a Swiss-Maltese non-governmental organisation has produced five core e-competences (5Cs) that diplomats need to harness, namely Curate, Collaborate, Communicate, Create, and Critique.

Curate: Listening is the first step. It is done by curating information and knowledge. Curation allows the digital diplomat to be acquaint with diversity for the purpose of having healthy conversations using relevant information. Most cyber-bullying is done my misinformed people without sufficient knowledge of what they speak of. Being a person that seeks out knowledge, understanding, will have wisdom in the subjects they curate.

Collaborate: While you curate, you gradually start collaborating both within your organisation and with outside communities. You start developing your community by sharing resources, asking questions, etc. Relationship building is based on collaboration, as it encourages you to relate with more people that know things and do things that can be of help and value to you and your business. Collaborative mannerism is a must have for digital diplomats.

Communicate: As you collaborate, know that it is time to start communicating. This skill represents the ability and knowledge to extend your outreach and visibility. Business communication is particularly important on social media as it is in a business letter, for the business executive or owner that is. All senior people in a business, community or organisation are by default, representing that organisation and need to know how to relate with other people. It is particularly important to have relevant digital etiquette - online manners. It is also important to have a certain level of eloquence in the respective language and technical subject matter.

Create: After curating, collaborating, and communicating, you are much more comfortable in social media. You have a solid following. It is time to focus more on creating your online content. All leaders, executives and business owners must create content, to maintain a reputation that allows for brand and business development. It is important for leaders to display knowledge of what they do, not for marketing purposes but for building relationships with those they share common interests in.

Critique: By now you should have gained more social visibility. This also exposes you to more critical comments and discussions. You need to engage in critical discussions and learn how to manage criticism. How a leader, executive or business owner handles criticism matters and affects business. Many executives and leaders fear engaging in social media conversations because of their fear of negative criticism and cyberbullying. That must not be so. Whether or not you are on social media, you are subject to critic and the more you have a diplomatic approach to relating, those that relate with you online, will weather any storm that comes your way. There is nothing to fear. It is also important to be able to criticise diplomatically and be able to win conversations for profitability’s sake. A critique won over becomes a loyal customer of your knowledge.

In the context of digital diplomacy, these competencies represent the skills and knowledge needed by professionals to perform optimally in the digital world. Effective social media campaigns are also based on these core skills. Nevertheless, the development of competencies in digital diplomacy requires time.

Digital Diplomacy can also help secure new business opportunities. Using LinkedIn as a networking tool, you can see your mutual connections with third parties. This can assist you in making an introduction to an important supplier, distributor, strategic partners, or future employees.

LinkedIn is an extremely useful tool for the Digital Diplomat (business owner or executive), as it allows for business-to-business networking and relationship management. This is an effective way to create and maintain a bridge between your business and other stakeholders, as well as to discover innovative ideas, new opportunities, and opportunities that can benefit your business. LinkedIn also provides a way for you to establish connections with other professionals from diverse backgrounds, increasing the possibility of collaboration in the future. For example, if you want to cultivate relationships with key suppliers or partners from many different industries, then LinkedIn may be an especially useful tool for you.

Using Digital Diplomacy skills, LinkedIn makes is possible for a business coach in South Africa to connect with a medical doctor from Pakistan, to give advice and coach the doctor on how to network and connect with medical institutions in Ireland and the United Kingdom. We are exposed to global relationships and can nurture them for business growth.

Digital Diplomacy is also what we call Customer Relationship Management in these days of social media, and the most obvious reason we need Digital Diplomacy is that it brings about more profits for your business.

Lead Generation is about attracting strangers online, whom we converse to convince to them to consume our products and services. That is Digital Diplomacy. As leads come in, customer services officers and sales agents start speaking to the prospects, telling them all about the products and services they enquired on. These enquiries turn into quotations, then invoices, and eventually thank you notes for doing business.

It is Digital Diplomacy skills that makes a Web Designer from Zimbabwe, enter the South African, Botswana, and Zambia. Web Design can be done from anywhere, as Digital Nomadism has become a global phenomenon, albeit the advent of post-Covid19 economics. The African Web Designer of today can be dinning in Johannesburg, whilst designing a website for a Zambian Accounting firm owned by a Nigerian Chartered Accountant. An African Digital Marketing entrepreneur can do business in Rwanda, Nigeria, Chad, and North Africa, whilst in Mauritius. All these scenarios are realities that the Digital Age has created, giving the rise for need to become a Master of Digital Diplomacy for all that intend on growing career, business, and reputation.

The business executive, business owner, and leader of whatsoever community must become a digital diplomat, skilled and competent in relating with diverse audiences online, because profitability, growth, and sustainability matters as all relationships are created, grown, and sustained online today.

Source: Low Institute, Nuanced Media, Diplomacy Institute, Brooking University