Facebook for diplomats

From Facebook Live to civic engagement, a digital diplomacy toolbox to create and nurture global communities.

Andreas Sandre
Jun 12, 2017 · 16 min read

In the hours after president Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate, newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron went live on Facebook (and Periscope) to address the people of France and the world and express his and the leaders of Italy and Germany’s disappointment and commitment in fighting climate change.

Dès ce soir, avec l’Allemagne et l’Italie, nous avons tenu à réaffirmer notre engagement pour l’Accord de Paris.

Shortly after going live, using hashtag #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain, Macron published on Facebook and his social media profiles a recorded video in English to address the American people.

Now, let me say a few words to our American friends. Climate change is one of the major issues of our time. It is already changing our daily lives but it is global. Everyone is impacted. And if we do nothing, our children will know a world of uncontrolled migrations, of wars, of shortages. A dangerous world.

This is not the first time a world leader goes live on Facebook, or posts videos on the platform.

After all videos and images have become the bread and butter of engagement on social media and Facebook has been investing quite a bit in providing a seamless and engaging experience for users on both ends, those who broadcast and the audience on the receiving side.


Back in 2014, when Facebook was still toying with idea of live videos and how to make them accessible to all its users, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi partnered with the platform to live stream his speech at Madison Square Garden in New York, during his visit to the US.

Fast forward two years, in April 2016, Facebook opens live video capabilities to all on the platform, making it a valuable tool not only for world leaders and politicians, but also diplomats and all stakeholders engaging in diplomacy and foreign policy and wanting to better their outreach, create and nurture online communities, as well as every government, business or private entity interested in upping their civil engagement.

“Live is like having a TV camera in your pocket,” Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive officer of Facebook, wrote in a post. “Anyone with a phone now has the power to broadcast to anyone in the world.”

When you interact live, you feel connected in a more personal way. This is a big shift in how we communicate, and it’s going to create new opportunities for people to come together.

And since then, the live video shift, has been fully embraced by Facebook in its efforts to gain a bigger market within politics and foreign policy.

“Even just broadcasting your press conferences and your speeches, you can reach a lot more people by going live than you could maybe reach who is there in person,” Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director, said shortly after Zuckerberg opened Live to all users.

Harbath said the Live represents a new way to engage audiences, citizens, and constituents who might otherwise not participate in things like public meetings or online townhalls. She also stressed that those who are drawn to the live feeds watch three times longer than prerecorded video and engage as much as 10 times more.

Obviously going live requires time and efforts, but if you have never tried it you might be surprise at how much easy and brainless the process is.

And how engaging it can be.

Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has been known to use Facebook Live throughout his administration to answer citizens’ questions, rather than a tool of digital diplomacy. His Matteo Risponde — which translates as: Matteo Answers — eventually became so popular that he replicated it on Twitter as well.

In my experience, simply using a smartphone, you can post very engaging live videos that bring you behind the scenes of diplomacy and politics.

During Renzi’s visit to Washington DC for the Obama’s last state dinner in October last year, at the Embassy of Italy in US we used videos, including Live, to make the experience available to all our followers and to those interested in the relations between Italy and the US.

Just using a smartphone, we went live for the arrival ceremony at the White House South Lawn, the joint press conference in the Rose Garden, the prime minister’s arrival for the State Dinner, the toasts, and Gwen Stefani’s performance at the end.

The engagement was much higher than usual allowing us to reach 200,000+ users the night of the State Dinner.

We repeated the experience in April during prime minister Paolo Gentiloni’s visit to the White House to meet president Donald Trump; and we keep using live videos on Facebook to nurture the conversation around Italy.

And all with just a smartphone.

“Some of the most engaging videos I see are coming from people just taking them with their phone,” Harbath said. “You want people to feel they are an active participant in what you are putting up on Facebook, not a passive observer.”

Live is certainly the trend for many world leaders, ambassadors, and diplomats.

“A now established trend, but one that will populate social media more is the proliferation of live ‘broadcasting’ — Facebook’s Live feature and Twitter’s Periscope have become useful tools that allow anyone to broadcast on the spot,” the 2016 Soft Power 30 report by Portland Communications and Facebook reads.

It states: “The ability to create rich video content is a huge asset for savvy, well-spoken diplomats with something to say. Likewise, foreign ministries and world leaders can now open up meetings, speeches, events, and other diplomatic activities to the public with a smartphone and a Wi-Fi connection. These live video apps will likely become a regular feature of digital diplomacy practiced through social media platforms.”

In February, I asked on Twitter:

Beyond the more traditional press conferences and official statements, among some of the latest examples using live videos are:

  • Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop live on Facebook for a Q&A on Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper. The host asked her: “What do you try to achieve with a Facebook live event?.” She replied: “We think it’s very important to have as broad a consultation as possible about what Australian want to see about their foreign policy — […]to make foreign policy less foreign — so people can relate to how foreign policy relates to their day-to-day lives.”

Given that social media is such an important platform — and so much about our lives — it would be great to get a feedback from Facebook.

  • The latest visit of Argentinian president Mauricio Macri to the White House was live on Facebook.
  • Prince William and Lady Gaga, via the British Royal Family’s Facebook page, went live to discus the Heads Together initiative to promote openness about mental health issues.
  • Using just a smartphone, the president of India Pranab Mukherjee went live to celebrate the Holi festival of colors at at Rashtrapati Bhavan, showing how music and traditions can engage a broad audience worldwide.
  • CanadianPM Justin Trudeau live on Facebook for Nobel recipient Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, the youngest person ever to address Canadian representatives and parliamentarians.
  • On International Women’s Day, Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström went live on Facebook — as well as Youtube and Periscope — to host “the first public digital meeting of foreign ministers.” The foreign ministers of Panama, Kenya, and Liechtenstein joined remotely to discuss discusses peacebuilding, gender equality, and the role of women in the international agenda. Promoting the digital diplomacy event with their audiences on social media, the ministry highlighted the behind-the-scenes nature of the initiative:

Have you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall in high-level diplomatic meetings?

The challenge for the political and diplomatic communities now seems to re-tool their live presence on Facebook for public diplomacy and to explain foreign policy to their audiences at home and abroad, rather than just for campaigning and elections purposes. And the same can be said for pre-recorded videos and online campaigns primarily driven by videos.


How to forget the video posted by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs with edits to a previous video by the White House on the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement? That video, however, never made it to their Facebook pages, including that of their embassy in Washington DC.

Posted on the ministry’s Twitter profile in English, the video went viral with more than 10,000 retweets and 13,000 likes.

Here’s the original video posted on Facebook by the White House:

Some have already embraced videos, both live and pre-recorded.

Back in May, for example, the ambassadors of the Canada, the European Union, Sweden, and the United States, worked a collaborative initiative and went live on the Facebook pages of their respective embassies to discuss press freedom and to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. To date, their videos garnered a total of more than 30,000 views and countless interactions and comments: more than 22,000 views on the page of the US Embassy (below), 5,000 views on the page of the Canadian Embassy, almost 3,000 views on the EU page, and 500 views on the Swedish page.

After the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily, the Italian Ambassador to the US went live on Facebook and Twitter to talk about the highlights of the Summit, the agenda forward, and the Italian presidency of the G7 for 2017, as well as Italy-US relations.

And here’s a look at the behind the scenes during the live shoot, empowering Facebook’s 360 capabilities.

Videos, live or not, are gaining popularity among diplomacy players. And the more relatable and funny they are, the more engaging.

It is the case, for example, of a video posted in September 2016 by the Embassy of Canada in Myanmar, part of a series on experiencing the countries traditions. This one was on Canadians’ reaction to betel nut!

In December last year, the German Embassy in Washington posted a video that fed on the viral #MannequinChallenge craze.

Watch our video to see diplomats, staff and interns frozen in place. Tell us, who has the best pose?

Also, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has recently launched #WeAreNATO, its first major communications campaign in nearly a decade following the leaders’ summit in Brussels a few weeks back and controversies fueled by president Trump’s comments on the Alliance.

The 5-year campaign, which encompasses a wide variety of communications, public affairs and creative media relations, embraces videos and images to build a brand that fits all NATO’s social media channels, including Facebook.

“This has been an exciting project for our team,” Doug Turner, partner at Agenda, told The Holmes Report. Together with MHP Communications, Agenda crafted the campaign.

Turner described the experience: “Helping NATO reach audiences in more than 28 member countries and to explain its mission of guaranteeing peace and security for its citizens in the kind of work we love to do.”

He added: “It’s an entire brand for the alliance. We built the messaging framework that each country can use and develop on their own.”

“It’s crucial that all of our citizens, particularly young people who have grown up in times of peace, understand what NATO is and what we do,” said Tacan Ildem, NATO’s assistant secretary general for public diplomacy describing the campaign.

“Our continued success depends on our citizens and understanding the essential role that NATO plays in our security, on which our prosperity is based. We will remain fully transparent and proactive in expanding our essential work to the outside world.”

The examples are many and get more and more engaging by time as governments, embassies, and diplomats are feeling more at ease with video tools and publishing public diplomacy content that can be attractive to younger audiences as well as experts and the foreign policy community at large.

Videos and live videos, however, have been under scrutiny by the media and public opinion as they make more difficult for the company to tackle hate speech and terrorism and violence online.

“Given the importance of this, how quickly live video is growing, we wanted to make sure that we double down on this and make sure that we provide as safe of an experience for the community as we can,” Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive officer of Facebook, told investors in May as he announced the company will hire 3,000 more people over the next year to speed up the removal of videos showing murder, suicide and other violent acts.

The so-called phenomenon of fake news is also of concern.

In a recent interview on soft power published by Harvard University’s Wheatherhead Center for International Affairs, professor Joseph Nye said: “In the past, during the Cold War, you had the Voice of America, for example. And now you have Facebook. And the interesting question will be how will social media avoid being manipulated with fake news.”

He added: “We’ve seen the beginnings of efforts to counter this… by using social media for positive purposes. It’s like a game of cat and mouse; it goes back and forth. I don’t see the cat or the mouse winning the definitive battle.”


As of March 2017, Facebook registered 1.94 billion monthly active users (MAUs) and 1.28 billion daily active users (DAUs).

The US and Canada accounted for 234 million MAUs, Europe for 354 million, and the Asia-Pacific region for 716 million.

The latest World Map of Social Networks highlights Facebook’s dominance as the platform of choice in most countries around the world.

The map, compiled by digital expert Vincenzo Cosenza since 2009, shows that Facebook is the leading social media in 119 out of 149 countries analyzed. Among Western countries, Facebook doesn’t dominate only in Japan, where Twitter is ranked first and Facebook is second.

According to the latest Twiplomacy study by communications and public affairs firm Burson-Marsteller, Facebook is the second most popular social media tool among world leaders and governments.

It is, however, “where they have the biggest audience,” the study highlights.

The study shows that “the heads of state and government, and foreign ministers, of 169 countries are present on the platform, representing 88 percent of all UN member states.”

There is one world leader who’s noticeably absent from Facebook: the Pope. Despite having both a Twitter account — launched in 2012 by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI — and an Instagram account (2016), Pope Francis has not yet launched on Facebook.

“Where people are, the Church is,” said Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz, secretary of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications (SPC) and a former head of the Vatican Internet Service, during a digital diplomacy workshop in Rome, hosted by SPC and the British Embassy to the Holy See. “This is why the Pope is present on Twitter and Instagram.”

So… Why not Facebook then?

That is a question that not only world leaders, but also politicians, ambassadors, and diplomats should ask themselves.

The 606 Facebook pages included in the Twiplomacy census account for a combined audience of 283 million likes.

On average, Facebook pages are more popular than Twitter accounts.

In fact, Facebook pages register a “median average of 38,891 likes per page, compared to 16,848 followers for each Twitter account,” the study reads.

Indeed, similar numbers are mirrored when it comes to how many ambassadors and diplomats are on Facebook — or using Facebook for digital diplomacy rather than personal purposes — compared to Twitter.

Embassies around the world have certainly embraced the platform, but how can an embassy be relatable? How many know what an embassy is and does? People are interested in people. They’re interested in going behind closed doors, behind the scenes of major meetings, events, and summits; finding out what it means to represent a country abroad; sitting down at a table with an ambassador or a foreign minister; being able to relate to them and ask them questions.

“Because there’s more people online, because there are more empowered, they want to have these conversations,” said Harbath at the launch of the 2016 Soft Power report. “They want to have this engagement and they know that it shouldn’t be a one way conversation.”

Governments and government officials are getting better at making use of digital platforms like Facebook, but the next step should really be empowering those platforms beyond putting out press releases and broadcasting official messages.

“Success in 21st Century Statecraft will belong to those who know how to effectively identify, build, and deploy soft power via public diplomacy and the effective use of digital tools and technology,” Arturo Sarukhan, former Mexican ambassador to the US, writes in the 2016 Soft Power 30 report.

In his book The Future of #Diplomacy, Philip Seib, professor of journalism, public diplomacy, and international relations at the University of Southern California and former director of USC Center on Public Diplomacy, asks: “ Is Facebook a gimmick, a useful tool, or something more?”

“It certainly cannot be ignored,” he writes.

He adds: “Diplomats might be excused for dismissing Facebook as being outside their realm of concerns. But then again… Connections among more than a billion people must mean there are ways to put Facebook to work.”


I asked Ambassador Sarukhan, a pioneer in the use of social media for public diplomacy, his thoughts on Facebook and whether ambassadors in particular are shying away from it.

“I don’t think there is a one-size fits all response,” he said. “Clearly, Twitter has morphed into the much more popular and relevant platform for politics, diplomacy, and public policy issues, and therefore concentrates a higher number of relevant actors and opinion-makers.”

He identified a few reasons: “A reason may be precisely that it forces users to engage (one would hope) succinctly and intelligently (though that is certainly not the prevailing norm, unfortunately!). Another is that many policymakers may feel that Facebook is a victim to its own success and branding, much more a truly social network, where the personal and social interconnections (whether it’s friends, travel, tastes, and general opinions) weigh more.”

He continued: “When I decided to use these platforms as a digital diplomacy and public diplomacy tool, I certainly made a deliberate decision to use one platform over the other, precisely because I wanted to avoid the perception that my endeavor was anything but driven by Statecraft and street-craft. Nonetheless, I see more and more government agencies and ministries and public officials and politicians using a wider roster of social media tools, Facebook prominently amongst them, to complement reach and impact.”

Similarly, Tom Fletcher, author of The Naked Diplomat and former British ambassador to Lebanon, said that he “wanted to do one medium well, rather than spread myself across several.”

“If I was starting again, I would do more Facebook and Instagram,” he told me. “But Twitter still feels like the place where the best debates are, and where you can pick the right arguments. Facebook still feels a bit more lightweight and social. I’m probably wrong!”

According to Jan Melissen of Clingendael, Netherlands Institute on International Relations, “Social media make things more personal. And bring people who traditionally operate in the shadows into the limelight, giving an ambassador a face. You can find out what they are doing by following them on their social media account. People also get more ‘digital personality’.”

There are some interesting examples out there of Ambassadors on Facebook.

Back in October last year, for example, Israel Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen used his personal page to look for someone to translate an article from Hebrew to French… On Shabbat!

“Shabbat shalom, lovers of Israel,” he wrote. “The State of Israel needs a little help.”

240 reactions, 39 shares, and 34 comments later, we hope he found help.

Another great example is from Casper Klynge, outgoing Ambassador of Denmark to Indonesia and newly appointed — and first-ever — Danish Ambassador to Silicon Valley’s tech groups.

In one of his last posts as Danish envoy in Jakarta, he posted: “As a principle, I use FB as a professional tool and thus never post anything private. I will make one exception: Friday was the last day of school for our two children after three years at Jakarta International (Intercultural) School. This is a short video from the elementary school ‘graduation’ with the obligatory Dragon Cheer. It says it all!”

Ambassador-designate Calista Gingrich, whose personal page on Facebook produces high engagement, posted the same day President Donald Trump announced her nomination as US Ambassador to the Holy See.


As for every social media tool, my advise is always to be personal, intimate, and natural when it comes to communicating and engaging with your audiences. And Facebook’s added value is not only the potential size of your audience, but also the ability to tap into groups, conversations, and even move the conversation offline via events, and civic engagement initiatives.

After all, Zuckerberg himself has recently stressed how he wants Facebook and the Facebook community to shape itself in the future.

“Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community, he wrote in what many called a manifesto.

“Every year, the world got more connected and this was seen as a positive trend. Yet now, across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection. There are questions about whether we can make a global community that works for everyone, and whether the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course.”

In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.

And I believe the diplomatic community and all foreign policy stakeholders, traditional and less-traditional, have a great role to play in reshaping the way not only we communicate with social media tools, but also how we use them to build, nurture, and expand global — or better, glocal if you will — communities in our own backyard and around the world.

This post is part of a series on social media for diplomats:

Follow my Digital Diplomacy publication here on Medium and recommend this post!

Digital Diplomacy

Technology, digital, and innovation in government and foreign policy

Andreas Sandre

Written by

Comms + policy. Author of #digitaldiplomacy (2015), Twitter for Diplomats (2013). My views here.

Digital Diplomacy

Technology, digital, and innovation in government and foreign policy

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade