Every year the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) hands out the Baschwitz Article of the Year Award for Young Researchers. This award is established as an incentive to ASCoR PhD candidates, and is given for the best article published by an ASCoR PhD candidate. The winner for 2016 is Nadine Strauss and we had the opportunity to talk to her and ask her a few questions about her paper. Read along and find out more about embassies communicational approaches on Twitter, what does it take to write an winning paper and what it is like to be a member of ASCoR.
What is the process of participating in the ASCoR Baschwitz Article of the Year Award for Young Researchers?
To receive the award, you have to be nominated by one of your colleagues at ASCoR. The nominated papers are then sent to a committee consisting of three communication scholars from different universities in the Netherlands that review them. The article must be published in a peer-reviewed journal in the preceding year, must have the ASCoR PhD candidate as the first author, and must have resulted from research conducted at ASCoR.
When did you receive the award?
It was at the end of June, and I just got back from the International Communication Association Conference in Japan. Just a day after my arrival, we had the annual department meeting – a gathering where we mark the end of the academic year. During this event, the department hands out annual teaching and research awards. However, I did not expect to be among the nominees this year.
What was the topic of the awarded paper?
The paper’s title is “Digital diplomacy in GCC countries: Strategic communication of Western embassies on Twitter”. The project itself was initiated by the Dutch embassy in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh. They contacted Guda van Noort, Associate Professor in Persuasive Communication at ASCoR, to ask her to investigate how they could communication better on social media, and particularly on Twitter. However, the topic of public diplomacy and how embassies communicate on social media was rather a new topic for Guda and me. So, we got some more support from Sanne Kruikemeier, Assistant Professor in Political Communication at ASCoR, and another Master student, Heleen van der Meulen.
How did you conduct the research?
I started by first getting familiar with the literature on digital diplomacy and social media communication. Afterwards, I created a framework how we can analyze social media content, and in particular tweets. Based on that, we came up with six communication strategies that we wanted to investigate in our study. One of them, for example, was how interactive ambassadors are with their stakeholders on Twitter – do they reply to them, do they post questions, how many times are they retweeted, etc. We also looked into the content of the messages – is the embassy tweeting about things that are happening in Saudi Arabia or about events in the Netherlands, is the embassy trying to promote the home country, or is the focus on general economic or cultural topics, etc. Also, to get a clearer picture of digital diplomacy in general on Twitter, we decided to analyze tweets not only from the Dutch embassy in Saudi Arabia, but from various Western embassies situated in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
How much time did it take to finish the research?
It was quite a long process. We started in spring 2013 and it took us around a year and a half to submit it to a journal. The review process was very fast – after six months we had final approval for publication. It may sound like a long period, but six months is surprisingly short when it comes to publishing articles.
What was the biggest challenge when writing the paper?
One of the challenges was the fact that we were four people writing the article. And, of course, that means sometimes four different opinions (laughs). Another challenge was to dive into this new topic of public/digital diplomacy, which I was not familiar with in the beginning. But I very much enjoyed reading and learning about this new topic in the course of this project.
What was the most interesting finding from the study?
I found it special that most of the embassies talked about cultural topics in their tweets, for example what holidays are celebrated in the Netherlands, but that they did not really interact with their stakeholders. What was also interesting was the feedback that we got after the study. For example, the embassy in Paris contacted us because they were interested in our paper and the results of our study.
Why do you think your paper won the award?
I think one of the reasons is that we employed an interdisciplinary approach. Public diplomacy is not necessarily a field we research extensively in communication science. However, the topic is perceived as very interesting in society and highly debated in recent times, with regard to the conflicts in the Middle East. Maybe it also helped that we used a multi method approach (content analysis, network analysis).
What is it like to be a member of ASCoR?
ASCoR is a great institute! It pushes and supports young scholars to pursue a successful academic career. The whole environment is very enriching and offers you many opportunities and resources to develop yourself and your academic skills further. Also, you have the advantage of receiving funding for research or conference visits and profit from the international network that ASCoR sustains.
What other recognitions have you received during your PhD study?
Last year, I won the Grunig Top Paper Award at the BledCom 2015 symposium in Bled, Slovenia, for the paper “Reflecting the Market: The Role of Emotional Media Coverage for Stocks in the Netherlands”.
As part of the Baschwitz award you received book vouchers. What kind of books would you buy with them?
My dissertation topic is related to financial markets. Therefore, I want to read and learn more about that and especially about news trends, such as Fintech.