2016 Review Of German Digital Diplomacy / Anja Türkan

Although, the German Foreign Office is not well-known for topping the rankings of international Digital Diplomacy, it has indeed continued to be open towards new communication formats and further boosted its’ social media activities under the leadership of Frank-Walter Steinmeier during the last year. This blog post presents some of the 2016 highlights of German digital diplomacy by the Federal Foreign Office.The world in disarray

Throughout the last year Frank-Walter Steinmeier frequently emphasized during diplomatic meetings that the security architecture of the world has changed. Global conflicts, such as multiple terror attacks, the war in Syria and the refugee crisis, as well as the US elections and Brexit were some of the international crises that became reality for the German foreign policy. It was, especially, in this year of crises that enormous expectations regarding German foreign policy increased and moreover challenged digital communications.


Best Moments and Best Practices in 2016

Brexit – Being human

The morning of the 24th of June began with a rude awakening for the German Foreign Office and marked one of the ministry’s turbulent days in history. When more than half of Britain voted for UK’s exit from the European Union on the 23rd of June 2016, the German Foreign Office twittered they would go to an Irish pub now to get drunk. “And from tomorrow on we will again work for a better #Europe! Promised! #EURef”, they added. Their reaction to the Brexit became the most viral tweet the ministry has ever published.


German/English Tweet and Facebook post by the German Foreign Office on the day after the EU referendum.

What already worked well on Twitter was afterwards repeated on the Ministry’s Facebook page. With their Brexit postings, the German Foreign Office along with the Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed themselves through their human side more than ever before. Tone and style may not be typical for the communication of a German authority, but they capture people’s attention and suit the medium well. Social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram require emotions. The strategy of “being human and approachable ”paid off for the German Foreign Office, as the numbers show: The tweets and the Facebook post reached millions of people and generated thousands of interactions (likes, comments, shares and retweets) worldwide.

US Elections – Humor works

The 9th of November 2016 will go down in the history books as well. Because of survey data of pollsters, who predicted a safe victory for Hillary Clinton, the shock due to the result of the US elections seemed even greater – not only for Democrats but also for the Federal Foreign Office. The ministry’s reaction to the surprising election result is a best case for how to integrate humor in foreign policy communications. The social media team of the German Foreign Office created a sarcastic posting with reference to the polls: “All surveys indicate that also tomorrow the sun will rise. In this sense, have a wonderful evening”. This was posted on Facebook with the hashtags #endofwork #longday, while simultaneously pointing to the context of #USElections2016.

Emotional postings, such as the US elections-posting received the most likes, were commented on and even shared twice or three times more often than informative postings by the German Foreign Office (exception: breaking news), and thus, reached more people. Fans and followers expect to receive a mixture of information, entertainment and insight on social media – not the official statement of a press release.

The Facebook presence of Frank-Walter Steinmeier

In difficult geo-political times, Germany gets a new Foreign Minister. In February 2017, former Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel replaced Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as Germany’s Foreign Minister (Steinmeier took on the post as Federal President).


The Facebook pages of former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and of current Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

During the time he served as Foreign Minister (December 2013 to January 2017), the number of followers of Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s Facebook account increased to 167,209. Out of the almost 80,000 new Facebook fans while being in office, 61,300 of them have been added in the past thirteen months alone – that is a growth rate of 77 percent.

Fan growth of the Frank-Walter Steinmeier Facebook page. Data collected on 31st of January 2017 using ubermetrics technologies.

The fast page growth in the last year and the associated greater visibility of the former Foreign Minister, as well as the interactions with his posts, also indicate that he could reach a high score by using emotions. Steinmeier’s farewell post on his Facebook page reached impressive numbers. His emotional thank-you post addressed to his wife Elke, whose narrative and visual imagery is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s emotional postings, generated more than 29,000 interactions and has been the most successful posting by a German politician within the last four weeks.


The emotional farewell Instagram post by the German Foreign Office also reached likes above average.

Content is king – winning hearts and minds

No doubt: The Federal Foreign Office and social media have definitely come together in the last year. The Ministry, its embassies and consulates overseas use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram. And they do it in a highly professional manner via functioning editorial teams and a certain communications strategy. But beyond that, the Federal Foreign Office has understood that emotional content – whether it’s sad, surprising, cute or funny content – is a helpful and even necessary tool to reach one’s communications goals. In order to pass on information to the fan or follower on social media networks one needs to win hearts and minds.

Anja Türkan