Australians are generally known around the world for their laid-back, fun-loving lifestyle and self-deprecating sense of humour. For most, “taking the mickey” out of each other is a national pastime – one made even more enjoyable on a hot January day watching the cricket with a “stubbie” in hand.
So why shouldn’t this attitude extend to the way Australian diplomats engage with the rest of the world? Over the last few years, the staff at Australia’s Embassy to Israel have managed to leverage the affable Aussie spirit into some genuinely enjoyable short video’s shared through the Embassy’s Facebook page.
Amidst the formal updates on passports, travel warnings, ministerial visits, and foreign policy statements, the Australian Embassy in Israel manages to inject a sense of humour into its social media content. They have proved particularly successful with videos on the Australia in Israel Facebook page.
From a ‘Chrismukkah’ mannequin challenge performed against the backdrop of Men at Work’s Downunder, to a message delivered by the Ambassador wearing full lacrosse attire, the Embassy wastes no opportunity to post a light-hearted video.
The Embassy is perhaps most famous for a 2016 video featuring Ambassador Dave Sharma. The True Story of the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv is a five-minute skit offering viewers “insight” into the daily lives of embassy officials. The video portrays staff members engaging in Israeli stereotypes while pretending they are still committed to Australian traditions. We see staff eating hummus over vegemite; watching an Israeli music clip before quickly switching to a crocodile hunting video; and ordering the restaurant bill in Hebrew.
All of this is set against the backdrop of an ‘anonymous’ whistle-blower – the Ambassador – who makes sensational claims like “The truth is, they have totally assimilated”, “I don’t think they even remember what is to be Australian”, and “When was the last time they hugged a koala?”
Viewed more than 35,000 times and shared by more than 300 people, the video was not just a light-hearted attempt to introduce embassy officials to their stakeholders. It promoted a more important theme: Australians feel welcome in Israel, enjoy living in Israel, and have built a strong connection with Israel. These are crucial messages for most diplomatic missions.
The video was such a success that the embassy posted a sequel a year later when Chris Cannan succeeded Sharma as Ambassador. Australian Embassy: True Story 2 – Changing of the Guard focused on the “top secret handover brief” and investigated the “words of wisdom” offered by Sharma to Cannan. Rules included: “always fast the day before a lunch meeting” (a reference to Israel’s thriving food culture) and “dress for the occasion” (poking fun at Tel Aviv’s informal attire).
Once again, the video used humour to introduce the Ambassador to those living in his adopted home. The willingness of both Ambassadors to “take the mickey” out of themselves by starring in the videos showed viewers a more approachable, human side to foreign affairs. And with the Embassy having gained some fame following the first True Story, the sequel was watched more than 65,000 times and shared by almost 700 people.
A key challenge for diplomatic missions is how to build relationships with stakeholders while successfully conveying their country’s values and objectives. The Australia in Israel Facebook page strikes just the right chord. It leverages Australia’s reputation for being laid-back and self-deprecating while engaging with stakeholders on a personal level.
– Embassies should weave their national identity and attributes throughout digital diplomacy engagement
– Videos are a great way to extend beyond normal reach and boost engagement
– Videos don’t need to be a one-off. They can be used the create an on-going story or campaign
– Diplomatic missions should try to ‘humanise’ their staff – diplomats are people after all!