Share America- Can it gain significant traction?

Since we have discussed Share America in class a few times, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at this public diplomacy effort led by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.On the IIP’s website, Macon Phillips notes that the bureau’s mission is to “engage audiences around the world to work with the United States on shared interests.” More specifically the IPP website notes that Share America as a “digital platform optimized so content can flow seamlessly across social media networks with easy access form mobile devices.”

With this in mind, the website’s layout and structure appears to fulfill this goal. The website looks exactly like Upworthy, a social media website designed to highlight things that matter on the internet and “pass em on,” as each of Share America’s post includes a “Tweet This” and “Share This.” The days stories are easy to access, and from what is being discussed, it is easy to decipher what  values the United States is promoting as they are listed under the search feature “themes.” The first few include democracy, diversity, civil society, and education. Therefore, there is a consistent and clear narrative. And as a reviews noted on Facebook, the simplicity of the website with its shorter stories is good for English beginners, which if helpful for students looking to study in the U.S. or citizens around the world looking to immigrate the the U.S.

However, as a one stop digital platform for sharing America, something about Share America seems a bit off. As a millennial who has long utilized digital platforms as a means to gather news, I am not sure if this website would be a place I would go, but to test these suspicions, I emailed my four cousins in New Zealand and simply sent them the website and asked them their thoughts. Two were suspicious of the .gov address and the explanation that the website was an effort by the State Department. One asked if this was news or propaganda. The third cousin said she appreciated the optimistic tone of the website noting that it reflected the optimistic nature of the American people, and the fourth cousin simply noted that it was easy to use, but the headlines were not “real news.” Although this is a narrow sample, I thought there feedback matched my suspicions, and upon further investigation of the website’s Facebook and Twitter, Share America does have a Twitter following of almost 50,000 people, but overall engagement on both Facebook and Twitter appear to be low. This is interesting since one of the goals of the website is to stimulate conversation and encourage a flow of information across digital platforms, yet the shares and comments are low on most stories.

Overall, I think it will be difficult for Share America to gain the significant traction that the website is designed to have because of factors such as the crowded media environment on the internet, the narrow focus on youth readers and social media, and the question of whether such a website is real news or just propaganda. Regardless, it will be interesting continue to watch this website to see what impact, if any, this website will have on American diplomacy efforts in the digital age.

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6 thoughts on “Share America- Can it gain significant traction?

  1. I tend to agree with your prediction that the website will have trouble gaining traction. The demographic it’s attempting to reach seem like the young, English language learning enthusiast who may have an interest in the environment, gender equality and “doing something” (as the articles frequently seem to command), which in itself seem like a narrow focus. As you mentioned with your informal poll, the .gov aspect and that it’s listed as a government organization of Facebook also downgrades the hip factor…It will be interesting to watch to see if it can gain a diverse following or if it simply attracts those with an already existing affinity to the country.

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  2. It’s interesting your comments on social media in regards to Twitter and Facebook Likes. The connection of social media and a diplomacy project seems to be the new measure in testing a project’s effectiveness. You’re not the only one mentioning about social media (Spencer made references to propaganda and Share America’s amount of Facebook Likes being questionable in its outreach).

    Something I do notice in regards to Share America and other public diplomacy projects is the true nature of how communication can be presented. For example, as this a .gov page and part of the state department, how much freedom do individuals truly have in posting their stories? It makes me wonder if what’s posted follows some type of guidelines that serves the interests of the state government.

    Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if what’s written praises the US more so than actually criticizing its policies. Whether you want to call this propaganda or truly public diplomacy, I see the articles posted as painting the US in a positive light; bringing up serious issues coming from foreign countries. These issues, including disease and violence, make it seem that our country is some sort of haven which foreign nationals should want to visit or be a part of to progress from their situation. If this is the message being spread, than clearly Share America has a lot of work to do in reaching out to international audiences.

    – Allan R.

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  3. Well, first thing I noticed when I viewed the Share America site on Google Chrome is that the links to the themes don’t work. They just show up as a blank page. I checked again using Firefox and a variety of stories showed up. If the government is attempting to make an effort to reach out to technologically inclined young people, you would think a big part of that effort should be making themselves accessible over the world’s most used web browser.

    Additionally, once on a web browser that actually worked, I clicked the “Human Rights”, “American Society” and “Diversity” tabs to see if they would have any information about the recent controversies in America about the untimely deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Despite the fact that these are two of the most public and discussed tragedies/controversies in the U.S. at the moment, there is nothing on Share America about it. Under the “Freedom of Expression” tab there is nothing about the recent display by the St. Louis Rams and their solidarity with the black community or the local police officials criticism of them.

    Although this website is called “Share America”, they don’t appear to actually be sharing the real America. If the government wants people around the world to use and trust the site, they need to start posting and discussing American and global issues that actually matter today.

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  4. I liked the informal survey that you conducted with your cousins. It makes me truly want to see what kind of data the State Department has on how the Share America website is being accessed. I’m curios to see if the website is being used by tourists and international visitors or if the website is mainly being accessed by those who have an interest or work in the field of public diplomacy. Your comments about the .gov address also make me wonder if this is stopping people from looking at the website.

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  5. I think it’s interesting that the new measurement of success is the number of Facebook likes and Twitter retweets. Just because these articles are shared does not mean anyone actually reads them. They might just think the headline is interesting or browse the article for photos or lists (going off the popular Buzzfeed model) that is easy to skim. Or they might find that they don’t find the article as interesting as they predicted and fail to read past the first paragraph.
    Facebook and Twitter are just two of the wide range of social media sites that are extremely popular. Pinterest is incredibly popular with a wide range of ages (although the large majority of users are female), and Reddit is where many “viral” internet memes, videos, and photos come from. I think that if the US government really wants to engage the younger audience via Facebook and Twitter, they need to bring some of the younger generation into their ranks when they are building these platforms. Right now, it seems like the web designers and content managers are a step behind the rest of us.

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  6. Thanks for this analysis of Share America! As many others noted, I find it interesting that your cousins pointed out that that .gov address made them immediately suspicious of the content. On one hand, I think that they absolutely should identify themselves as posting on behalf of the US government. However on the other hand, in general millenials don’t have a lot of trust for institutions so building a government site targeted at millenials seems counter-intuitive. I would agree with your assessment that this website will not be very successful in the long run.

    I also wonder why they chose to build their own site rather than take advantage of the other already successful platforms out there.

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