Policy report

Winning hearts and likes

How foreign affairs and defence agencies use Facebook
Australian Defence Force Diplomacy Social media Digital communications International relations

For defence and diplomacy, digital media, and specifically social media, have become an unavoidable aspect of their operations, communications and strategic international engagement, but the use of those media isn’t always understood or appreciated by governments.

While the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Department of Defence (DoD) both use social media, including accounts managed by diplomatic posts overseas and by units of the ADF, both departments can improve how they reach and engage online. It’s important to note, however, that their use cases and audiences are different. DFAT’s audience is primarily international and varies by geographical location. Defence has a more local audience and focus.

More importantly than the content, online engagement is dependent on the strength of the ties between the senders or sharers and the recipients of the content. For both departments, improving those online ties is vital as they seek to influence.


  • The Australian Government should use social media far more strategically to engage international audiences—particularly in the diplomatic and defence portfolios. Both DFAT and Defence should review outdated digital strategies, cross-promote more content and demonstrate transparency and accountability by articulating and publishing social media policies.
  • Both departments should create more opportunities for training and the sharing of skills and experiences of public diplomacy staff. They should refrain from relying solely on engagement metrics as success measures (that is, as a measure of an individual’s, usually senior staff’s or heads of missions’, level of ability or achievement).
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Policy Brief Report No.31/2020