DFAT’s digital diplomacy has come a long way since it launched its first Twitter account in 2011.
Today, most of our Australian heads of mission are on Twitter and two-thirds of Posts are on Facebook. Two of our Ambassadors publish a regular blog and in the past month, two of our Posts have launched on Instagram.
The Trade and Economic Policy division is using LinkedIn, joining the thousands of DFAT staff who are using their LinkedIn profiles to network professionally.
Many DFAT staff already use tools like TweetDeck to listen to debates and conversations on social media to inform their work.
If digital diplomacy were simply about numbers, DFAT would be world leaders: @dfat, with more than 41,000 Twitter followers, is more popular than its English language Canadian, French and Japanese counterparts.
Paul Grigson’s @DubesAustralia is the most popular foreign Ambassador’s account in Indonesia after only the US Embassy’s. One of his tweets about faith and peace recently reached 28 million users.
Australia’s official presence on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat are reaching up to 435,000 people every day.
Numbers matter in digital diplomacy in the same way that readership matters for print media: it suggests more influence.
But having large numbers of followers isn’t the full story. After all, diplomacy is less about popularity and more about persuasion.
The Australian Government is firmly committed to using technology, including social media, to realise a more open, transparent and consultative form of government in which we engage directly with foreign and domestic audiences.
That’s why Australian heads of mission and diplomats are encouraged to think creatively about pursuing social media opportunities to shape debate and manage potentially negative issues, in the same way they do for other forms of communication.
That means that using digital methods, or thinking about digital options, should become a default setting in the department’s approach to communications.
Influencing foreign and domestic audiences is perhaps the ultimate challenge in public diplomacy.
DFAT’s used social media to inform the public about issues such as Australia’s response to floods in Burma, our humanitarian contribution to Iraq and Syria, and explaining the benefits of free trade.
Do we change minds? It’s hard to tell for sure. But DFAT has made a good start and we want to build on that.
This was updated on 6 October 2015 with the words “English language” added to the fifth paragraph.