Meet the Davos Digital Connectors

davos-connections-the-connectorsA look at the effect of Twitter on the #WEF in #Davos

A decade ago this month the first Twitter wall went up at the World Economic Forum in Davos to ‘Connect on the Magic Mountain’ and build a digital bridge with the outside world. At a private session, the Forum unveiled the wall of tweets of the 23 participants who had a presence on the platform, commenting on their digital takeaways.wef-tweet-2008-connect-on-the-magic-mountain

By 2012 a quarter of all 2,600 participants were on the social media platform and Twitter became known as the Drug of Davos.

Fast forward to 2018: Today more than half of the 3,000 participants have personal Twitter accounts and 1,242 are regularly active on the platform. The @WEF itself has 3.2 million followers and publishes an average of 100 tweets per day, tweeting like a news organization.

Over the years, social media and particularly Twitter have opened the exclusive meeting in the Swiss Alps to a global audience. Today you can follow the discussions on social media and the Forum fosters input from the general public on Facebook.

The Forum’s public Twitter list of Davos participants reads like a Rolodex of the global elite. US President Donald Trump, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan are by far the three most followed Davos tweeps this year with more than 30 million followers each.

However, looking at the Twitter connections of the Davos attendees, former US President @BarackObama, who never came to Davos, is still the most popular leader, followed by 654 of the 1,517 participants on Twitter. @BillGates is in second position, ahead of @realDonaldTrump and his institutional @POTUS account. Former US Secretary of State @HillaryClinton is in fifth place and the only woman in the Top 10-list.

top-10-leaders-most-followed-by-davos-participants-2018The Economist is by far the most popular media organisation, followed by 652 Davos participants ahead of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, followed by 604 and 504 participants respectively. The @BBCBreaking and @CNNbrk news accounts complete the Top 5-list.

top-10-media-organisations-most-followed-by-davos-participants-2018Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, Tom Friedman & Nick Kristof of The New York Times, Fareed Zakaria & Christiane Amanpour from CNN are the five journalists most followed by the Davos

Not surprisingly, the two main Twitter accounts of the World Economic Forum, @WEF and @Davos are most followed by Davos attendees. The @UN is followed by 334 participants ahead of the @WorldBank, the @GatesFoundation and the International Monetary Fund (@IMFNews).top-10-organisations-most-followed-by-davos-participants-2018

Especially journalists tend to use Twitter to establish contacts with the global elite. @MikeAllen, the co-founder of Axios is the best-connected Davos participant, having established mutual Twitter connections with 122 other participants. The Forum’s Head of Public and Social Engagement, Adrian Monck (@AMonck) is the second best connected participant, followed by Anthony @Scaramucci, the short-lived White House Communication Director and a Davos regular. Ryan Heath, the editor of the Brussels Playbook column for Politico Europe and Børge Brende, (@BorgeBrende), the president of the World Economic Forum and former Norwegian Foreign Minister complete the Top 5-list of the Davos

Conversation at the World Economic Forum now takes place as much online as offline so it is critical that participants at the Annual Meeting in Davos make full use of all social channels – especially Twitter – if they don’t want to miss out on valuable connections and reaching a global audience.

The Twiplomacy team will be in Davos next week, capturing the tweets coming out of the Congress Centre and sharing the best posts in a Twitter Moment.

Helping #VaccinesWork: a Twiplomatic approach

By Emily Loud and Isaac Griberg, social media managers at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Take a good look at Twiplomacy’s report this year and you might see a new name among the World Economic Forum, United Nations agencies and the big brands of the non-profit world. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance makes an appearance in the Twitter and LinkedIn rankings, and he’s not there by accident.

Anyone who’s followed vaccine related issues in recent years will know just how fierce social media exchanges about immunisation can be, thanks to small but vocal minority who cast doubt on the fact that #vaccineswork. There’s no straightforward answer to how (or whether) to deal with this group in real life, let alone on social media. But research shows that storytelling and personal engagement can be a crucial part in helping people filter, understand and remember information. That’s why empowering our Gavi colleagues to use their voices and experience on social media has become an important focus for our social strategy.

In particular, supporting Seth, our social savvy CEO, to be active and engage in important conversations across Twitter and LinkedIn has proved both exciting and powerful. Between sharing thoughts, reaching out to influencers, and making the most of high-level events, his diverse social media activities have piqued popular interest and even helped information on vaccine preventable diseases go viral. Seth’s investment in social is helping others within our organisation to recognise the value of social media as a means to engage with not just family friends, but also with broader professional communities. This has also enabled us to enlist the social support of other important voices, including our Board Chair Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose wealth of experience and substantial following bring much to the online vaccination conversation.

Hear how Seth explains his own interests in social media from our short interview:

#VaccinesWork: Gavi's Seth Berkley talks social media from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance on Vimeo.

Besides establishing social media guidelines and providing training, we’re meeting this increasing demand with curated spaces where colleagues without an existing social media presence can tap into an existing platform to share their stories. Examples of such spaces include @Vaccines, a Twitter account rotated between vaccine champions within our Alliance, and Vaccines Work, a collaborative blog building a repository of personal and partner stories.

Moving beyond platforms and technology, we have much to learn about the psychology of vaccine hesitancy and the role of social media engagement. But for now, we can appreciate the power of stories and personal interaction to bring people together, as well as the positive brand impact that employee advocacy can have. That means we’ll be continuing to work hard to take a Twiplomatic approach to social media and to support social enthusiasts across our organisation to spread the word that #vaccineswork.


International Organisations on Social Media 2017

international-orgs-cover“We are constantly looking for ways to interact with our millions of supporters worldwide. The explosion of digital communications platforms has been a game-changing opportunity for us to bring people along the conservation journey. Being transparent, authentic and inclusive has helped us move beyond digital broadcasting into digital engagement and we continue to look for new channels to inspire new audiences to help save our planet.”
Sid Das
@SiddarthDas, Director, Digital Engagement at @WWF International

Executive Summary – Introduction

It is fair to say that without social media, the work of international organisations would probably go largely unnoticed. All 97 multi-lateral international organisations and NGOs in this study are actively present on the three main social networking sites: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Twitter is by far the most popular social media channel for these international organisations. Greenpeace and the World Economic Forum have been active on the platform for over a decade – since April 2007 – and UN Secretary General @AntonioGuterres joined the flock when he took office on January 1, 2017.

In this study, we focus on the main accounts for each organization, although many organisations, especially UN agencies, also have bespoke accounts in the six official UN languages and large organisations also have a plethora of regional, national and even topical accounts. With 92 percent of all UN governments on the platform, Twitter has become the indispensable news wire for international organisations to broadcast their stories.

We also examine how international organisations use these platforms, which are the most followed and which are the most active. Beyond the number of followers, we focused on engagement and how these organisations capture eyeballs and screen time of their followers and fans.

The leaders of international organisations tend to favour Twitter, with 75 personal accounts on the platform, while only 16 have official Facebook pages and five of them are among the select group of LinkedIn influencers.

Twitter has been crucial in the election of Tedros Adhanom, the new Director General of the World Health Organization, and Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s new Director General. Most of the candidates were actively campaigning on Twitter. The new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was notably one of the few candidates who did not have a social media presence, but on January 1, 2017 he activated his personal Twitter account, @AntonioGuterres, which now has close to 200,000 followers and is among the most effective, in terms of average retweets per tweet, of all accounts of leaders of international organisations on Twitter.

However, international organisations have their biggest and most engaged audiences on Facebook and all but two have set up official Facebook pages. The median average number of followers for international organisations on Facebook is three times as high as on Twitter, with a median average of 139,274 followers on Facebook compared to 42,371 on their Twitter profiles. Facebook is the key platform international organisations focus on to engage audiences worldwide.

Almost three quarters of the international organisations have active profiles on Instagram, which is the visual platform of choice. More and more organisations are now sharing daily Instagram stories to win the hearts and minds of their followers or simply promote their latest blog post on their website.

YouTube is used by 88 international organisations to host their long-form videos and 50 have used Periscope, Twitter’s live broadcasting app. Eighty-three organisations have a LinkedIn presence, but only half of them are active and the engagement isn’t comparable to other platforms. Only a handful of the 82 organisations which have a Google+ presence and are active on the platform. Fourteen organisations have a presence on Snapchat.

Over the past year, we have witnessed a clear pivot to video content among the most successful organisations. Short videos, optimized for mobile devices, tend to garner the biggest engagement on each of the social media platforms analyzed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (@ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (@Federation), with support from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (@UNOCHA), have recently published a useful guide on how to use social media, namely Twitter and Facebook, to better engage people affected by crisis including the hashtag: #CommIsAid.

There is no right or wrong way for organisations to use social media, some are more active than others, some have more followers than others, some will promote their posts to a larger audience. The key challenge for each is to stay ahead of the social media game. Obviously staying relevant on social media requires resources and staffing which many organizations still lack.

Data for Burson-Marsteller’s latest Twiplomacy study about international organisations was captured on September 1, 2017 using proprietary Burson Tools and Crowdtangle. For more about the methodology and the full data set scroll to the bottom of the study.

We have also asked some of the organisations to share their recipe for success and you can read their blog contributions from learning how to weather a spam attack to going live on Facebook, from experimenting with Instagram stories to embracing the social messaging platform Viber and using Twitter to target key decision makers.

International Organisations on Twitter

Twitter, despite being mainly text-driven, has morphed into a visual network and most organisations attach a photo or video to each tweet. Only five percent of all tweets analyzed are plain text updates.

Three quarters of the 215,779 tweets posted between September 2016 and September 2017 by international organisations are tweets with a link to other websites, where the picture automatically appears in the tweet. These tweets generate 100 interactions (Likes and Retweets), on average, accounting for 69 percent of all interactions. Thirteen percent of all the posts are photo posts, generating 126 interactions per tweet on average and 15 percent of all the interactions.

Tweets with native videos perform best – generating an average of 263 interactions per tweet and representing 12 percent of all interactions. Tweets including a link to videos on YouTube or other video platforms generate only 68 interactions per tweet on average, and plain text updates perform worst with only 51 interactions on average.

twitter-unicef-most-retweeted-tweetHowever, there is no right or wrong way to tweet. Among the five tweets with the biggest interactions we found a native video, a video link, a text link, a photo and a plain text tweet.

The tweet sent by an international organisation over the past 12 months that received the most interactions was from @UNICEF is a harrowing video animation of footballer David Beckham’s tattoos explaining: “Violence against children marks them forever.” The one-minute video posted natively to Twitter totaled 63,225 retweets and likes.

twitter-most-popular-video-post-01-ungeneva-cuba-hiv-aidsThe second most popular tweet sent by an international organisation is one with a link to a YouTube video including a picture of a pregnant woman shared by the UN Geneva office. The tweet explains that “#Cuba is the first country in the world to eliminate mother-child transmission of #HIV &#AIDS” and has received 59,522 interactions.

twitter-most-popular-link-post-01-un-climate-changeThe United Nations sent a strong message to U.S. President Donald Trump just before he announced the U.S. exit from the Paris Climate Accord. The message claiming, “Climate change is undeniable Climate action is unstoppable Climate solutions provide opportunities that are unmatchable,” received 40,088 interactions and included a link to a video statement by UN Secretary General António Guterres about climate change. The tweet used carriage returns to feature larger in Twitter’s timeline and is a not so subtle sub-tweet to the decision of Donald Trump to leave the Paris Agreement.

twitter-most-popular-photo-post-00-kenroth-wallThe most popular photo tweet was shared by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, a cartoon criticizing President Trump’s planned border wall, garnering 38,525 interactions.


twitter-most-popular-photo-post-01-eriksolheim-tigersThe second most popular visual tweet was shared by Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of UNEP, the UN Environment agency. The tweet, with a picture of a tiger, sent on Global Tiger Day states that: “Only some 3890 tigers left in the wild.” and garnered 28,224 interactions.


twitter-most-popular-text-tweet-01-antonioguterres-racism-xenophobiaThe fifth most popular tweet with 36,685 likes and retweets is a 132-character statement by UN Secretary General António Guterres, stating that: Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism & Islamophobia are poisoning our societies. We must stand up against them. Every time. Everywhere.”



Most Followed International Organisations on Twitter

The United Nations is the most followed international organisation on Twitter with 9,352,821 followers, ahead of UNICEF and the World Health Organization with 6.3 and 3.8 million followers, respectively. The @WWF and @HRW (Human Rights Watch) complete the Top 5 list of the most followed accounts.


The @ICRC has added witnessed a phenomenal growth of 169 percent on its Twitter page, adding 1,277,777 new followers between September 2016 and September 2017 and is in eleventh position among the most followed international organisations. UNESCO has recorded the second largest growth, a 75 percent increase, followed by CERN (62 percent) adding 1,167,911 and 921,173 new followers respectively.

The ICRC’s growth is mainly due to a paid promotion strategy. In 2016, the @WorldBank promoted its different language accounts on Twitter. In 2008 the @WEF and @Refugees accounts received a welcome boost when they were both included on Twitter’s initial suggested user list, automatically adding a million followers to their respective accounts. The challenge of promoting accounts is targeting quality followers, and some accounts suffer from large masses of small accounts. Given the sheer size of many accounts, it is difficult to estimate with certainty how many of an organisation’s Twitter followers are automated accounts, also known as bots. NATO Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu saw her followers mysteriously soar in late August 2017 when she became victim of a concerted bot attack from Russian accounts that she reported to Twitter. Read her fascinating post about this new form of spam and hybrid warfare.

Most Engaged International Organisations on Twitter

However, large followings do not necessarily translate into better engagement on Twitter. A more interesting indicator of an account’s performance is the total number of interactions – the sum of all likes and retweets. Obviously, this indicator is not perfect, since organisations can pay to play and promote their tweets to garner more interactions.

twitter-most-engagedThe World Economic Forum clearly dominates the Twitter rankings in terms of engagement. In the past 12 months, its account received 4,177,022 likes and retweets. This is almost twice as many as @UNICEF and the @UN, both of which have two and three times more followers, respectively, than the @WEF. The World Economic Forum does not pay to promote its tweets and its success is mainly due to highly shareable content. The WEF posts powerful tweets that are on average only 60-characters long and feature engaging visuals or videos.

Most Active International Organisations on Twitter


The World Economic Forum led in terms of total engagements that can also be explained by its hyperactivity. The World Economic Forum is by far the most active international organisation, with an average of 106.64 tweets per day, while the mean average tweets per day of all organisations is only 3.77. The @WEF tends to repeat the best performing tweets up to 10 times over different days and in different time zones to reach the largest possible audience. The industrial-style output of content linking to the Forum blog resembles more a news organization than an international organisation.

Probably because of its size and its hyperactivity, the @WEF has the lowest interaction rate of only 0.004 percent among the Top 10 accounts. The @UN is not faring much better, with a 0.005 percent interaction rate which is the total of interactions divided by the number of posts and the average number of followers over the past 12 months. Among the 15 most followed international organisations, @Greenpeace and @UN_Women have probably the best interaction rates of 0.023 percent. All international organisations combined have sent 2,406,249 tweets and almost a quarter of that number was generated by the @WWF account which automatically replied to any user using the hashtag #EndangeredEmoji encouraging them to donate on the WWF website and now boasts 550,000 tweets.

Most Effective International Organisations on Twitter

Another interesting statistic about the effectiveness of a Twitter account is the number of average retweets per tweet. In this regard, @UNICEF is the most effective with 222 average retweets per tweet, ahead of the @UN and the @WHO with 197 and 185 average retweets per tweet respectively.


Best Connected International Organisations on Twitter

UN agencies tend to follow each other on Twitter, which allows their social media teams to communicate with each other via private direct messages on the platform. The @UNDP has mutual connections with 87 other agencies, the @UN and the @UNGeneva accounts are in second and third and place mutually connected with 82 and 81 other organisations.


Most Followed Leaders of International Organisations on Twitter

Since 2011, the leaders of international organisations have increasingly set up their personal accounts on the platform which helps to give the organisations a more personal face. Today, 74 heads of international organisations have personal Twitter accounts that are mostly managed by their teams and very few manage their own Twitter feed.

twitter-leaders-most-followedLuis Almagro, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) is the most followed leader of the international organisations, with 577,055 followers. The account of the @UN_Spokesperson, managed by Stéphane Dujarric and his team is in second position, followed by the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg with 450,759 and 445,951 followers, respectively. The UN Secretary General António Guterres, activated his account on January 1, 2017 when he took office has made it into the Top 10 with 151,953 followers.

Most Engaged Leaders of International Organisations on Twitter

Luis Almagro is also the leader of an international organisation with the most interactions, clocking up 2,859,708 likes and retweets over the past 12 months, more than twice as much as Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch with 1,202,853 total interactions. Twitter is critical for the work at Human Rights Watch, writes Andrew Stroehlein in a blog post explaining how @HRW uses Twitter to target key decision makers. The UN Secretary General António Guterres is in third position with 359,363 interactions and he can boast one of the best interaction rates of 2.69 percent on his 140 tweets sent since January 1, 2017. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has a respectable 1.35 percent interaction rate on his 344 tweets sent over the past year.


Most Active Leaders of International Organisations on Twitter

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, is by far the most prolific leader of an international organisation on Twitter with an average of 22 tweets per day, four times as many as the President of the UN General Assembly; The @UN_PGA account is a rotating Twitter account which was handed over to Miroslav Lajčák, the Foreign Minister of Slovakia and had been run by Peter Thomson, the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the UN for most of the past 12 months. Watch GAVI’s CEO, Seth Berkley share his experience on social media in this video.


Most Effective Leaders of International Organisations on Twitter

The new UN Secretary General, António Guterres is by far the most effective tweeter in terms of retweets per tweet, averaging 1,092 retweets per tweet. Luis Almagro, the Secretary-General of the OAS is not far behind with 1,016 average retweets per tweet. Both men are far ahead of Filippo Grandi with 115 average retweets and Christine Lagarde, Jim Yong Kim and Kenneth Roth with more than 77 average retweets.


Best Connected Leaders of International Organisations on Twitter

The Twitter account of the @UNSpokesperson is the best-connected, mutually following 74 other organisations and peers. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres and Michael Møller, the Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, are mutually connected to 55 and 50 organisations and peers, respectively.


Who International Organisations follow on Twitter?

All international organisations combined follow 381,178 other Twitter users. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (@FAOnews) is following 62,950 other Twitter users since it was automatically following every one of its followers. @UNECOSOC and the UNHCR @Refugees follow 46,331 and 37,438 other accounts, respectively. On average, each international organisation is following 2,210 other Twitter users, which is much more manageable.

twitter-accounts-popularThe Twitter account of @TheEconomist is the most followed by international organisations, ahead of the New York Times, the BBC and Reuters. Helen Clark, the former administrator of the UN Development Programme, former U.S. President Barack Obama and Bill Gates are the three most followed personalities. The Twitter account of the @EU_Commission occupies the third place, ahead of the @GlobalGoalsUN account specifically set up to promote the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Twitter Moments

twitter-moments-unTwitter Moments are collections of tweets on a specific topic or from an event. The Moments are displayed on top of the Twitter profiles and are a good way to showcase memorable tweets and give them a longer shelf life. Only 31 organisations have created Twitter Moments, mainly to highlight past events. The United Nations has created 16 Twitter Moments, including highlights from the UN General Assembly in September 2017. APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have created 11 and 10 moments, respectively, which are highlighted on their respective profiles and will give each tweet a longer shelf life.

Twitter Lists


Twitter lists are a smart way to display and promote the digital network of international organisations and it pays to update them regularly. Most of the international organisations surveyed have public Twitter lists: 78 accounts have created public Twitter lists and 76 accounts are following at least one Twitter list. The World Economic Forum boasts 50 public Twitter lists, including a list of 921 participants at the Annual Meeting in Davos with a Twitter account. The UN has 35 lists, including one with the 751 Twitter accounts of the of the UN system. The UN office in Geneva boasts 33 lists, Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation has created 20 lists including a list of 61 airports and 44 airlines on Twitter. The International Federation of the Red Cross lists the 332 Twitter accounts of national federations worldwide and Greenpeace has a list with its 278 staff members on Twitter. The UNDP lists 210 staff members and 150 offices worldwide while UNICEF lists the 124 country and regional offices on Twitter.unwomen-image-2

For a closer look at how the UN Women organisation has built its unified network of branded regional and country offices on Twitter read the blog post by Beatrice Frey with concrete tips about training and regular feedback.

Twitter Direct Messages

Twitter lists are also useful to run targeted Twitter direct message campaigns, which the World Economic Forum and the Global Fund have done to reach out directly to their most influential followers. Direct messages on Twitter have proven to be extremely effective to contact influential followers and to amplify a specific tweet which is rarely seen by all followers of an organisation.


Only five of the 171 Twitter accounts surveyed, have opened Direct Messages and anyone can send a private message to the Council of Europe (@COE), the East African Community (@jumuiya), the UN Postal Union (@UPU_UN), the World Intellectual Property Organization (@WIPO), and the @GlobalFund.

However, when we reached out via Direct Message about the volume of direct messages received, only two of the five organisations replied. The Council of Europe receives on average 4-5 messages per day. The World Intellectual Property Organization (@WIPO) receives an approximately 15 Direct Messages per month. For Fabio Weissert, the Digital Communications Officer at WIPO, “It is a no-brainer to open up direct messaging from accounts that we don’t follow.” Read more on his experience with Direct Messages in this blog post. It is interesting to note that Direct Messages on Twitter are still manageable, even if an account has millions of followers, without overloading an inbox.

280-Character Tweets

At the end of September 2017, Twitter doubled the character limit to 280 characters. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (@IFRC) was one of the few organisations to trial a 280-character tweet.

twitter-280-characters-federationObviously, you can say much more in 280 characters, but the Twitter feed then can become very text-heavy. The average length of the 215,779 tweets sent by international organisations is a mere 99 characters, excluding links. Our analysis showed that the average length of tweets sent by the World Economic Forum is only 61 characters. The tweets of UNICEF that were below 100 characters received on average 661 interactions, almost twice as much as tweets above 100 characters, which received on average 369 interactions. Hence, it is fair to say that less is more and international organisations would be well advised to use the 280-character limit responsibly, as the @Federation put it.

Personal Accounts have the Best Interaction Rates

Personal Twitter accounts of leaders tend to have the best overall interaction rate, which is calculated by the number of interactions divided by the number of posts and the average number of followers over the past 12 months. In this respect, the new head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Thomas Greminger, who only activated his Twitter account @GremingerOSCE in July 2017, tops the list with an interaction rate of 15.63 percent; however, by September 1 he had only posted two tweets.

Among the large accounts, David Beasley, the new @WFPChief, boasts an interaction rate of 3.15 percent, followed by UN Secretary General @AntonioGuterres, the @ISOSecGen Sergio Mujica, and Gilbert Houngbo (@GHoungbo), the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), with respectable interactions rates above 2.2 percent. This also shows that personal branded accounts, such as @WFPChief, work as well as non-branded accounts. It often depends on the account holder how personal and engaged the account is.

International Organisations on Facebook

Facebook is becoming the predominant audiovisual platform for international organisations. While only 16 percent of the 72,736 posts published by the international organisations over the past 12 months are native video posts, they generate 45 percent of all the total interactions. Each native video generates on average 3.241 interactions and 255,000 average video views. Almost half of all the posts link to other websites, and almost a third are photo posts including one or more pictures. Live video broadcasts on Facebook still represent less than one percent of all analyzed Facebook posts and each live broadcast has 1,293 average interactions and more than 21,000 average views.

Not surprisingly YouTube videos and videos from other platforms shared on Facebook have the least engagement. Only 2.4 percent of all posts are video posts from other platforms, garnering on average 374 interactions, less than simple status posts without any visual or video which register 359 average interactions.


The three Facebook posts with the most interactions are all one-minute native videos from the World Economic Forum, designed to be watched on mobile devices and in silent mode. The video titled ‘Why being bored is good for children’ is the most popular post of any international organisation and it is also the most watched video with over one million interactions and more than 50 million views. The WEF’s videos about Japanese forest bathing and Why teenagers don’t like getting up in the morning have each been watched more than 32 million times.

facebook-most-interactions-02-wef-forest-bathingThe Forum’s explainer videos all follow the same pattern: All are in squared format, optimized for mobile viewing, featuring large text overlays, often including a question or are an intriguing statement designed to make the viewer want to watch more. The sound of the videos, often elevator music, is largely irrelevant since most users will watch and read the video in silent mode.


facebook-photo-most-interactions-01-world-bank-photoThe picture that received the most interactions was posted by the World Bank, encouraging its followers to update their profile picture. The avatar received 721,111 interactions and, according to the World Bank, more than 20,000 users changed their profile picture in the process, giving the organization worldwide exposure for its message to end poverty. The post was promoted, boosting the engagement on Facebook and you can read about the World Bank’s paid promotion strategy.

facebook-photo-most-interactions-02-unicef-g7The picture of a young refugee including the caption: ‘I’m a child, not a threat,’ shared by UNICEF has become the second most engaging picture. The picture posted during the 2017 G7 summit in Italy clocked more 552,690 interactions.

facebook-most-wow-reactions-01-iom-drinking-waterThe video posted by the UN Migration organization showing how to make drinkable water with a coagulant has attracted the most amazement with 6,000 ‘wow’-reactions.


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) scored a viral hit with a Facebook live interview with a humanoid robot which attracted 4,437 ‘wow’-reactions and has been viewed more than 3.1 million times.

The World Bank organized a series of Facebook Live broadcasts during its spring meeting in 2017 and during the General Assembly in 2017 the new Secretary General António Guterres sat down for his first Facebook Live interview.

facebook-live-un-secretary-generalThe Geneva-based United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is trialing weekly half-hour Facebook Live chats with senior staff or a refugee moderated by Melissa Fleming, the Refugees Communications Chief, on her public page. Read how UNHCR turns lurkers into supporters and the essential items to produce a Facebook Live broadcast in this blog post.

Not surprisingly CERN’s April Fool’s post about the alleged discovery of an ancient particle accelerator on Mars attracted the most laughter reactions.


facebook-most-sad-reactions-01-unicef-breatheSome of the posts on the UNICEF Facebook page have produced sad reactions, while posts from Greenpeace and Human Rights Watch are producing the most angry-reactions. The Facebook post with the most sad-reactions is a harrowing video about the effects of air pollution on children. The one-minute video posted on the UNICEF page has been viewed 13,795 times.

facebook-most-angry-reactions-01-greenpeace-plasticThe Facebook post with the most angry-reactions is a picture showing the traces left by birds, turtles and humans and the caption “Tread lightly,” posted on the Greenpeace Facebook page, warning that “By 2050, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish”.

facebook-most-thankful-reactions-01-greenpeace-plasticThe post which drew the most grateful reactions was posted on International Nurses Day on May 12, 2017 by the World Health Organization (WHO), thanking all nurses.

facebook-link-most-interactions-01-asiandevelopmentbank-promoted-bookAnd finally, the most popular ‘link’ post, linking to an external website, was posted by the Asian Development Bank to promote a book about the organization’s history. The post clearly benefitted from paid promotion since it garnered 103,384 likes but only 19 likes and 61 shares.

Pay to Play

A growing number of organisations tend to boost their posts with Facebook promotions. There is nothing wrong with paying for promoted posts to reach a larger and more targeted audience beyond the page’s followers. Some organisations promote every single post, however, if the post is not already performing well organically, it is pointless to put money behind it to reach a larger audience.

Many organisations do not have a budget to promote the posts and count solely on organic growth of their pages. The 212,227 followers of the International Organization for Standardization are “100 percent organic” as Maria Lazarte, the ISO social media manager points out, “However, as algorithms evolve to favour promoted posts, we may need to reconsider,” she writes in this blog post.

The most effective International Organisations on Facebook

The World Economic Forum is by far the most engaging international organisation on Facebook with a total of 28.8 million interactions (comments, likes, and shares) on its Facebook page over the past 12 months. The WEF has more than three times as many interactions as UNICEF, which is in second position with 8.7 million interactions, followed by the World Bank with 6 million interactions and Greenpeace with 5 million interactions.


The Asian Development Bank, the World Health Organization, the UNHCR, the European Space Agency, UNEP and the WWF complete the Top 10 list. The average number of interactions over the past 12 months for the 113 pages surveyed is 706,711 and the average interaction rate is 0.46 percent.

Interestingly, the World Economic Forum has the worst interaction rate (the total of interactions divided by the number of posts and the average number of followers over the same period). The Asian Development bank has by far the best interaction rate of the leading international organisations of 2.4 percent which is exceptionally good.

The most active International Organisations on Facebook

Part of the success of the World Economic Forum can be explained by its industrial-sized social media activity, with more than 18,500 posts published over the past 12 months. The World Economic Forum posts on average 50 Facebook posts per day, often repeating the same posts up to 10 to 20 times on different days and in different time zones. The hyperactivity of the World Economic Forum also explains the low overall interaction rate. Mike Hanley, the Director of Digital Communications explains that how the WEF focuses on metrics in his blog post.


The European Space Agency is in second position with an average of 8.5 posts per day, followed by the UN News Centre, which serves as the official newswire of the UN, with more than seven publications per day. Human Rights Watch, the UN in Geneva and Greenpeace publish more than four posts per day on their respective Facebook pages. UN Women, the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization publish more than three posts per day.

The 113 pages surveyed have published close to 73,000 posts and the average number of Facebook publications per day is a more reasonable 1.76.

The most Liked International Organisations on Facebook

UNICEF is the most liked international organisation on Facebook with 6.9 million likes, ahead of the World Economic Forum with close to 4.3 million likes. The World Health Organization and the WWF are in third and fourth position with more than three million followers on their respective Facebook pages. Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, the UNHCR, the United Nations and the World Bank have all more than 2 million followers on their Facebook pages. The United Nations Human Rights body makes it into the Top 10 of the most followed international organisations, with close to 1.8 million followers.


The average growth rate of the 113 Facebook pages in this study is 17.3 percent over the past 12 months. Five organisations, namely the UN in Geneva, APEC, the WEF, the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have seen their followers number double year on year. News videos edited specifically for social media have helped increase engagement and accounted for notable follower growth on Facebook and Twitter, writes Dominika Tomaszewska-Mortimer, the UN Social Media Press Officer @UNGeneva. Read her three take-aways.

The World Economic Forum and the UNHCR have witnessed the biggest growth in number of new followers adding 2.27 million and 1.21 million followers to their pages, respectively. Both pages have massively increased their video output with short explainer videos which their followers often watch muted on their mobile devices.

The World Economic Forum’s videos get the most traction on Facebook. Only 8 percent of the 18,499 posts on the WEF Facebook page are native video posts which have generated 77 percent of all interactions, not including the video views. On top of that, the 1,567 videos have clocked over 1 billion video views, and each video is seen on average almost 650,000 times. The bulk of the WEF’s output (91 percent) are posts linking to articles on the Forum’s blog which have generated 22 percent of the 28.8 million interactions on the page.

Interestingly, the Forum has set up a dedicated Facebook page for live broadcasts from its events and the @WEFvideo page has garnered half a million followers. Hour-long live broadcasts from the Forum events tend to decrease the engagement on the WEF’s main page, while some of the shorter live broadcasts are also cross-posted on the main page.

Almost half of all the posts on the UNHCR Facebook page are native videos which garner 58 percent of the 2 million interactions on the page. Photo posts and posts linking to its website generate 26 percent and 16 percent of the 2 million interactions.

Leaders of International Organisations on Facebook


Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the new Director-General of the World Health Organization, is the most engaged, most active and most followed among the 20 leaders of international organisations who have personal Facebook pages. The former Foreign Minister of Ethiopia has 946,523 followers and has garnered 712,575 interactions over the past 12 months on his Facebook page which he also used to campaign for the leadership position of the WHO.

Dr. Tedros manages his page personally and has linked his Twitter account to Facebook, automatically sharing his tweets with his Facebook followers. He has notably posted a 20 second video postcard from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and the view of a rainbow from his office at the WHO in Geneva. His updates in his native language, Amharic, have also been widely shared.

facebook-jens-stoltenberg-video-with-fatherNATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is the second most followed leader of an international organisation with 405,619 followers. The page is clearly managed by Jens Stoltenberg himself, posting exclusively in Norwegian and often sharing video selfies with his father, former Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorvaldt Stoltenberg. Occasionally the page will also broadcast live events and press conferences from NATO. The page is clearly appreciated by his fans with an interaction rate of 1.7 percent and a total of 530,802 interactions over the past 12 months.

facebook-leaders-most-engagedChristine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF, is the third most followed leader of an international organisation on Facebook with 173,546 followers and 89,679 interactions over the past 12 months. Although Christine Lagarde posts in the first-person singular, the page is clearly not managed by her but by her media team and is part of an effort to put a human face on the International Monetary Fund.


International Organisations on Instagram

Instagram is used by 70 international organisations and five leaders have personal accounts on the platform. Over the past 12 months, these accounts have shared 16,770 posts out of which 86 percent were photos. Only 14 percent are video posts, which garner on average 14,895 interactions (likes, comments and video views) which is five times as much as photos which generate on average 2.785 interactions per post.

instagram-unicef-most-liked-pictureUNICEF’s photo of their Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom holding a baby in Niger has become the most popular Instagram photo posted by an international organization, with 61,455 likes. It definitely helps to recruit social media stars who will drive views and likes and help reach new audiences.

instagram-wwf-most-watched-videoThe WWF scored a viral hit with an amazing video showing for the first time how narwhals use their tusks to hunt. The video of the “sea unicorns” whacking their prey is the most watched by any international organization, with 38,120 likes and 6,423,439 views.



Most Followed International Organisations on Instagram

@UNICEF is the most followed international organisation on Instagram, with 1,894,241 followers, ahead of the @UnitedNations with 1,254,732 followers and the WWF with 750,207 followers, respectively Over the past 12 months, international organisations have seen their Instagram follower counts grow on average by 40 percent. The @WHO, @HumanRightsWatch and @UNDP have doubled their followers on Instagram, while the @WorldEconomicForum and @UnitedNationsHumanRights accounts tripled and quadrupled respectively.


Most Engaged International Organisations on Instagram

The @UNICEF Instagram account has also registered the most interactions over the past 12 months. With 14,583,501 interactions @UNICEF has more interactions than the @UnitedNations and @WWF, the two runners-up combined. Greenpeace has the best interactions rate (the total of interactions divided by and the average number of followers) of 2.29 percent. Sam Waterton, Social Media Content Strategist for UNICEF reveals some of the secrets behind the organisation’s success on Instagram in this blog post.

instagram-most-engagedThe personal accounts of leaders tend to garner more interest than the institutional ones. Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) boasts a 20 percent interaction rate. @EnvironmentErik received more than 62,000 Instagram messages to #SaveLakeUrmia in Iran which has shrunk to 10 percent of its original size. Erik Solheim addressed these comments in an Instagram video. He is followed by Arancha Gonzalez, the Chief Executive of the International Trade Centre (@AranchaGlezlaya) and NATO’s @JensStoltenberg who use the platform personally end enjoy interactions rates of 7.90 percent and 6.60 percent, respectively.

Most Active International Organisations on Instagram

International organisations post on average every second day on Instagram. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the World Economic Forum, Interpol, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations all average more than two posts per day on Instagram.


Instagram Stories


Many international organisations are now also posting Instagram Stories which disappear after only 24 hours. These collections of photos and videos are displayed on a top of a user’s news feed and therefore it is the best way to stay top of mind and relevant for your followers.

There are no public statistics about Instagram stories, but during the recent UN General Assembly at least 20 organisations posted daily Instagram stories. On any given day, you can find at least five stories from international organisations on Instagram.

The UN social media team documented the activities in the social media space at the UN General Assembly in September 2017, including one-minute video statements by world leaders. In the run-up to the general assembly, the United Nations social media team took their followers on a weekly tour of the UN building in New York sharing behind the scenes pictures and video snippets on a #TourTuesday.


Instagram stories are often rough around the edges with shaky videos and annotated pictures but you can tag other Instagrammers, add a location to the story, add a poll and encourage viewers to read more on external websites. “Instagram Stories offer a new method of storytelling and gives us the opportunity to connect on a more personal level with our supporters,” writes Vanessa LimSingh from WWF International in her blog post.

Not all Instagram stories are light-hearted. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and UNICEF have chronicled their aid work after Hurricane Irma battered the Caribbean. The UNHCR and the UN Migration Organization have shared images from the Rohingya refugee crisis. The @Refugees account generally posts the five top stories of the week, asking followers to swipe up and read these on its website. The @EuropeanSpaceAgency also uses Instagram Stories as a teaser, asking followers to swipe up to visit its website.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has used Instagram stories to boost its follower numbers above 2,000. As the EBRD’s social media team points out, Instagram stories “are refreshingly different from the picture-perfect content we post on other platforms.” (Read the full blog post). The EBRD also plans to explore live broadcast on the platform as some organisations have already done. Below is a small selection of Instagram stories posted by international organisations.

instagram-stories-selectionThe International Monetary Fund (IMF) summed up China’s Economic outlook in six slides and 230 characters and analysts will probably have to follow their analysis on Instagram.

instagram-stories-imf-01While the Instagram stories disappear after 24 hours, the different elements of an Instagram story also can be saved and posted as regular Instagram posts. The World Economic Forum, which prepares videos stories specifically for Instagram, also recycles some stories on its Snapchat account.

International Organisations on Snapchat

Possibly because of the introduction of Instagram Stories, the use of Snapchat seems to be on the decline among international organisations. We have identified 14 international organisations with Snapchat accounts, but only the World Economic Forum, the UN and UNICEF are occasionally active on the platform especially during flagship events such as the UN General Assembly.


Snapchat does not make any follower numbers or story figures public which is probably useful since there is no need to compete for followers. However, we asked each of the 14 organisations to share their Snap score which is the combined number of Snaps an account sends and receives to specific users. The Snap score gives a vague indication of how interactive a Snapchat account is and how often they interact with their followers. The number of Snapchat stories is not included in the Snap score. UNICEF leads the ranking with a Snap score of 1,712, followed by the World Economic Forum and the United Nations with Snap scores of 1,267 and 1,167, respectively.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, based in Geneva, is the latest organisation to trial Snapchat. Below are the Snap codes of the 14 organisations currently on the platform which you can simply scan to follow.


On his first day in office, UN Secretary General shared a statement on the UN’s Snapchat channel and on World Refugee Day, June 21, 2017, Snapchat raised awareness about the refugee issue with a global story aggregating posts from around the world.

International Organisations on Periscope

Periscope, Twitter’s live broadcasting application, is a cost-effective and powerful tool to go live from a mobile device. Fifty-five international organisations have set up bespoke Periscope channels. The World Health Organization regularly uses Periscope and has so far conducted 25 live broadcasts on the platform, seven of which were organized during the UN General Assembly in 2017 in New York. The Nordic Council of Ministers and SEGIB, the Ibero-American General Secretariat, have conducted 17 and 11 live broadcasts, respectively.


The Periscope channel of the World Health Organization has become the second most followed channel with 49,390 followers, behind the United Nations, which boasts 85,185 followers despite having only conducted three live broadcasts.

The European Space Agency is the organisation with the most likes on Periscope thanks to its 5-minute broadcast from mission control room during the final hours of the Rosetta mission. The United Nations has racked up 64,983 likes followed by the OECD with 51,152 likes despite only two broadcasts.

International Organisations on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is often overlooked as a powerful social media channel. Eighty-three organisations have a presence on the platform, with a median average of 31,282 followers. Not surprisingly the United Nations is the most followed international organisation on LinkedIn with close to 750,000 followers and 37,136 staff registered on the platform. UNICEF is in second position with 480,000 followers and the World Bank is third with 406,000 followers.


The most active international organisations on LinkedIn post on average an update per day and often less. It seems LinkedIn is the least used social network since the engagement is generally much lower than on other social media platforms.

Only 35 leaders of international organisations have an official presence on LinkedIn, and only five of these are among the select group of LinkedIn influencers. The page of the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, is by far the most popular on LinkedIn with 1,633,299 followers. The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has close to 600,000 followers on the platform, followed by Christine Lagarde and Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance and Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). All five are LinkedIn Influencers and regularly share their personal thoughts in blog post format on the platform. Most other leaders simply have regular profiles on LinkedIn and only a very few are active, posting status updates or long-form content.


International Organisations on YouTube

youtube-most-subscribedEighty-eight of the 97 international organisations have active YouTube channels where they share and store their long-form video content. The European Space Agency has 210,576 subscribers and its 3,049 videos have been watched more than 53 million times. The United Nations have 151,632 subscribers and more than 33 million video views. However, Greenpeace, with its 132,438 followers, has clocked the most video views with more than 75 million. On average, each Greenpeace video is viewed more than 107,000 times. The World Economic Forum which has published its hour-long session videos since 2006, is in fourth position, among the most subscribed channels and UNICEF is in fifth place.


International Organisations on Google+

Eighty-two international organisations still have a presence on Google+ but they are hardly active on the platform. The United Nations is by far the most followed organisation with 3,784,596 followers on the platform. The UN posts on average once a day. The World Economic Forum is in second place with 2,305,463 followers and posts almost hourly content that it also shares on other platforms. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is in third place with 1,278,608 followers, but the page has been dormant for the past year.

Most of the Top ten most followed Google+ pages are hardly active and the page of the UN Foundation, in ninth position has been dormant since May 2016. Most other organisations have given up on Google+. The very low engagement rates on Google+ have made it a dying network.



About this Study

Twiplomacy is the only global study about international organisations on social media, conducted by leading strategic communications and global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller.

The Burson-Marsteller team has analyzed 171 Twitter accounts of international organisations including 97 institutional accounts and 74 personal accounts of leaders of these institutions. We have identified 113 Facebook pages including 93 institutional accounts and 20 personal pages of leaders of these institutions. We have looked at 75 Instagram accounts out of which five are personal profiles of their leaders. On September 1, 2017, all 171 Twitter accounts combined had a total of 64,268,470 followers compared to 55,045,140 followers on the 113 Facebook pages.

We have identified 83 LinkedIn pages and 35 personal LinkedIn profiles of leaders with a median average of followers of 25,417. Furthermore, we analyzed 88 YouTube channels, 82 Google+ pages, and 50 Periscope channels. The combined total of followers and subscribers on all six platforms is 145’120’969. We also spotted 14 Snapchat accounts, however we were not able to capture any statistics about those accounts.

Data was collected on September 1, 2017 using Burson-Marsteller’s proprietary Burson Tools and we also used to capture the historic data for all accounts including the total interactions (likes and retweets), interaction rates as well as all video views and posts over the past 12 months (September 2016 – 2017).

A PDF of the entire study is available here How International Organisations use Social Media (2017). Feel free to contact us for more detailed explanations and analysis.


A big thank you to the 12 international organisations who have contributed a blog post to this study. A special thanks to Vibor Cipan, Mladen Panić, and Andrej Antolović who have designed the infographics and updated the website.


Matthias Lüfkens
Geneva, November 29, 2017


Before joining Burson-Marsteller in February 2012, Matthias Lüfkens was leading the digital outreach of the World Economic Forum @WEF @Davos. He has advised numerous international organisations including the Global Fund, the ICRC, ITU, OECD, UNCTAD, UN Foundation, UNICEF and WWF.

Meet the Bots which might bring Twitter down

spam-meAt @Twiplomacy, we have never been worried about fake followers following us and driving our follower count above the 50,000-mark. We simply ignore them and do not engage with them since our focus has always been on the quality of our followers. We segment our influencers by putting diplomats, journalists, the heads of state and government and foreign ministers following our account, into private lists for occasional Direct Message campaigns.

Over the past year, we have witnessed an increase in bots and strange accounts following the @Twiplomacy account. According to, 21% of our followers are fake, based on the analysis of a random sample of 1,000 followers.

We took a closer look at our followers and have added potential bots in this public Twitter list. Not all accounts were as open about their intentions as our friend @SpamMe123454321, but all shared similar traits. All accounts have strange Twitter handles, either jumbled letter and number combinations that no human would come up with, or first names followed by a random string of numbers which are clearly not birthdates. We identified 951 such accounts representing almost 2% of all our 52,000 followers and that might probably only be the tip of the iceberg.

So far, these bots are harmless and more than half have sent less than 10 tweets. However, they follow on average 865 other Twitter users but only have a median average of 17 followers each. Among the accounts most followed by these bots are, in decreasing order, @BarackObama, the @UN, @realDonaldTrump, @CNNbrk, @NYTimes, @NarendraModi and @POTUS, which all tend to attract their fair share of fake followers.

twitter-suggestionsThere is absolutely no indication that these accounts boost their follower numbers artificially. The most likely explanation is that these leading accounts are often among the 50 suggested Twitter accounts to follow when new users sign up to the platform.

However, this army of bots is likely to bring Twitter down or make the platform utterly unusable. These accounts boost the follower count of the most popular leaders and can amplify selected tweets, creating a false impression of influence.

There is a simple way for Twitter to demote these accounts without damaging its overall user numbers, by simply making it mandatory for all users to verify their telephone number as well as their email address. All accounts which don’t meet these simple requirements would then be ‘muted’ so that their following, likes or retweets are no longer counted.

Twitter could probably depreciate thousands if not millions of dormant and bot accounts, however it would clean the conversation for the rest of us and make the platform great again.

By Matthias Lüfkens (@Luefkens), Managing Director Digital, Burson-Marsteller and lead author of

Twiplomacy Study 2017

Executive Summary – Introduction

“I believe it’s really important I hear directly from our leadership. And I believe it’s really important to hold them accountable. And I believe it’s really important to have these conversations out in the open rather than have them behind closed doors.”
@Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO on the Today Show

twiplomacy-cover-2017-finalSocial media has become diplomacy’s significant other. It has gone from being an afterthought to being the very first thought of world leaders and governments across the globe, as audiences flock to their Twitter newsfeeds for the latest news and statements. This worldwide embrace of online channels has brought with it a wave of openness and transparency that has never been experienced before. Social media provides a platform for unconditional communication, and has become a communicator’s most powerful tool. Twitter, in particular, has become a diplomatic barometer, a tool used to analyze and forecast international relations.

There is a vast array of social networks government communicators can use. While some governments and foreign ministries still ponder the pros and cons of any social media engagement, others have gone beyond Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to reach their target audiences, even embracing new platforms such as Snapchat, WhatsApp and Telegram where communications are under the radar and almost impossible to track.

For the second year in a row, Burson-Marsteller’s 2017 Twiplomacy study has looked at the main social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope and Snapchat.

There is a growing digital divide between governments that are active on social media with dedicated teams and those that see digital engagement as an afterthought and so devote few resources to it. There is still a small number of government leaders who refuse to embrace the new digital world and, for these few, their community managers struggle to bring their organizations into the digital century.

Over the past year, the most popular world leaders on social media such as Pope Francis and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have continued to increase their audiences. Likewise, new leaders on the Twiplomacy scoreboard have emerged such as U.S. President Donald Trump, who has amassed millions of new followers in the past few months to become the second-most followed world leader on Twitter. If his robust growth continues he is set to surpass Pope Francis to become the most followed world leader by the end of August 2017.

In an interview with the Financial Times in April 2017, President Trump stated: “Without the tweets, I wouldn’t be here… I have over 100m [followers] between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Over 100m. I don’t have to go to the fake media.” The frequent and personal use of Twitter by the U.S. President seems to have helped the platform. It added nine million new users in the first quarter of 2017 to top 328 million active users.

Donald Trump’s tweets have made a major impact on governments around the world, many of which are wondering how to reply to these Twitter bursts. Argentina’s @MauricioMacri, Canada’s @JustinTrudeau, @KingAbdullahII of Jordan, Saudi Arabia’s @KingSalman and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan), have all made a significant impact in terms of interactions on Twitter over the past year.

Beyond Twitter and Facebook, world leaders such as the Argentinian President are also active on new channels like Snapchat to reach a younger audience and potential future voters. Similarly, many governments are using Periscope, a cost-effective medium to live stream their press conferences or conduct digital video summits.

Foreign ministries continue to expand their diplomatic and digital networks by following each other on the platform.

We have found that for governments, Twitter is still a text-based social network and only a quarter of 1.5 million tweets analyzed in this study had a picture attached. Over the past two years, many world leaders have embraced visual communications and many have become active on Instagram, sharing behind-the-scenes pictures or simply chronicling their activities. Pope Francis, who rarely shares pictures on Twitter, set up an Instagram account in March 2016 specifically for his visual communications and has become the third-most followed world leader on the platform.

A number of world leaders, including the President of Colombia and Australia’s Julie Bishop, also use emojis to brighten up their tweets, creating what can be described as a new diplomatic sign language.

The Social Media Platforms of World Leaders

Twitter is the social media channel of choice for governments and foreign ministries, judging by the number of governments on the platform. Burson-Marsteller’s research team identified 856 Twitter accounts belonging to heads of state and government, and foreign ministers in 178 countries, representing 92 percent of all UN member states, with a combined audience of 356 million followers.

All but one of the G20 governments have an official Twitter presence, and six of the G7 leaders have a personal Twitter account. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the only G7 leader to shun the social network. All European governments have a presence on the social network. In Latin America, only the government of Nicaragua does not have an official Twitter account.

Only 15 countries, mainly in the Africa, Asia, and the Pacific do not have a Twitter presence. Even the Chinese government, which is famous for blocking Western social media networks behind the Great Firewall, is slowly opening to social media engagement and some of its diplomatic missions are actively engaging with peers on Twitter.


Facebook is the second-most popular network among government leaders and it is where they have the biggest audience. 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. The 606 Facebook pages have a combined audience of 283 million likes. On average, Facebook pages are more popular than Twitter accounts, with a median average of 38,891 likes per page, compared to 16,848 followers for each Twitter account.

YouTube is the third-most used network among governments and 147 or 76 percent use it as a video repository, although the median average of subscribers is only 734. The photo-sharing network.

Instagram is the fourth-most popular social network and 73 percent of all UN member states have set up an account to share behind-the-scenes pictures and videos of their activities. The 330 accounts analyzed have a median average of 2,822 followers.

Google+ completes the top five list, with governments and world leaders in 128 countries or 66 percent present on the platform. However, less than a quarter of the 261 pages are active and the median average of the governmental Google+ pages is only 55 followers.

Twitter’s Periscope platform for live broadcasts has seen a marked increase over the past 12 months and the number of governments with an active Periscope channel has doubled over the past year and there are 157 Periscope channels representing 43 percent of all UN governments, half of which have broadcasted live over the past 12 months.

Thirty-seven percent of governments have a LinkedIn presence, although only a quarter is actively posting on the platform. And finally, Snapchat is now used by 30 world leaders, representing 11 percent of all UN governments.

Most-Followed World Leaders

Since the departure of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who was the uncontested political leader of the digital world, Pope Francis (@Pontifex) has become the most followed world leader with more than 33.7 million followers on his nine language accounts. His official accounts dispense daily thoughts and prayers in 140 characters in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish.


U.S. President Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) is the second-most followed world leader, with 30.1 million followers on his personal Twitter account. He more than tripled the number of his followers during the election campaign in 2016. Since taking office on January 20, 2017, his account continues to grow at a rate of 5.7 percent per month. The third-most followed world leader is Indian Prime Minister @NarendraModi who has 30 million followers on his personal account and 18 million followers on his institutional account, @PMOIndia, which is in fourth place.

The official @POTUS Twitter account of the U.S. President and the @WhiteHouse accounts occupy the fifth and sixth rankings  with 17.7 and 14.4 million followers, respectively. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan) has more than 10 million followers and India’s Foreign Minister @SushmaSwaraj, Sheikh Mohammed, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates @HHShkMohd and Indonesian President @Jokowi complete the Top 10 list of the most followed leaders with more than seven million followers each.

The Obama-Trump Transition

The transfer of the official White House social media accounts on January 20, 2017 to the new administration was prepared in minute detail and superbly executed. The Obama @POTUS account, including its 352 posts, was renamed and archived @POTUS44, while all 14 million followers were copied to the new @POTUS account, allowing Donald Trump to start with a clean slate, while retaining all followers accrued under the previous administration.

The same procedure was applied to the @WhiteHouse, @VP, @FLOTUS and other social media accounts of the administration of the 44th U.S. President which were archived as @ObamaWhiteHouse, @VP44 and @FLOTUS44. Interestingly, all old and new administration accounts have seen an increase in followers since the transition.

Since leaving office, Barack Obama has become the elder statesman with the biggest social media footprint, reaching 166 million followers, fans and subscribers on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Google+. On Twitter alone the @BarackObama account, which he used effectively for his election campaigns in 2008 and 2012 but which was never managed by the U.S. administration, now has 88.4 million followers, making him the third-most followed person on Twitter after @KatyPerry and @JustinBieber.

Barack Obama will be remembered as the first digital president, who used social media for his government communications  effectively,  and he can be credited with putting the @WhiteHouse on social media and setting up administration accounts for the First Lady (@FLOTUS), the Vice President (@VP) and the President of the United States (@POTUS) which will be handed over to each new office holder, much like the @Pontifex account, which was set up under Pope Benedict XVI and is now managed by Pope Francis.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has likewise set up personal-institutional accounts for his office in English (@CanadianPM) and in French (@PMCanadien). Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has the @MinCanadaFA and @MinCanadaAE accounts which were set by her predecessor Stéphane Dion, but both are now inactive. The Nigerian President tweets via @NGRPresident and the Prime Ministers of Bhutan, East Timor, Greece, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Turkey all have set up personal-institutional accounts which are destined to grow with each new office holder if the transition is managed well.

Twitter Handover

Over the past decade many institutional Twitter accounts have changed hands as new leaders come to power. When Theresa May became UK Prime Minister in June 2016, she inherited the @Number10gov account and changed the profile picture from David Cameron’s headshot to the door of N°10 Downing Street which had graced the account when it was set up under Gordon Brown. The account still retains all tweets sent under the three successive Prime Ministers – a good thing as it avoids broken links also known as social media decay.

However, not all government handovers go as smoothly and sometimes, when governments change, the institutional social media accounts also change. When former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached in December 2016, the Twitter account of the @BlueHouseKorea, which boasts more than 318,000 followers, and the Facebook page with 549,000 followers, went offline. The Twitter account has since been reactivated including its followers but it is still dormant.

Former Argentinian President Christina Kirchner famously decided not to hand over the login details of the official presidential @CasaRosadaAR account to her successor. She simply kept the account and its 324,000 followers when she left office in December 2015. The new government under Maurico Macri had to set up a new @CasaRosada account from scratch which now has 519,000 followers.

The Portuguese Presidency Twitter account, with the beautifully short name @Presidencia, was created in 2008 and had 87,000 followers in 2015, was taken offline by Portugal’s new President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is not a fan of social media. When the French government changed on April 1, 2014, the @Matignon Twitter account was abandoned and a new @GouvernementFR account was established to post official government news.

Some 114, or 13 percent, of the 856 Twitter accounts analyzed in our study are currently dormant. The account of the Egyptian Presidency (@EgyPresidency) has been silent since Mohamed Morsi was ousted at the beginning of July 2013 and all its previous tweets have been deleted.

In Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama, new institutional accounts have been created for their respective foreign ministries, as their previous owners did not pass on login details of the accounts which have now been abandoned.

Most-Followed Regional Leaders

latin_american-most_followedIn Latin America, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto @EPN has 6.3 million followers, far ahead of Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos, Argentina’s @MauricioMacri, and Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro, each with well over 3 million followers.

sub_saharan-most_followedKenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta @UKenyatta is Sub-Saharan Africa’s most followed leader with 2 million followers, ahead of Rwanda’s @PaulKagame and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) with more than 1 million followers each.

eu-most_followedThe UK Prime Minister @Number10gov is the most followed EU leader, with more than 5.1 million followers, ahead of the British @RoyalFamily and France’s @Elysee Palace, with 2.9 and 1.5 million followers, respectively. Newly elected French President @EmmanuelMacron has shot into fifth place behind Spanish Prime Minister @MarianoRajoy with more than one million followers each.

arab-most_followedSheikh Mohammed, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates @HHShkMohd is the most followed Arab leader with 7.9 million followers ahead of Jordan’s @QueenRania and @KingSalman with 6 million followers each.

@QueenRania is the second-most followed female world leader after India’s Foreign Minister, @SushmaSwaraj, who is also the most followed foreign minister, with 8 million followers. Abdullah Bin Zayed, @ABZayed, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is the second-most followed foreign minister with 3.9 million followers, followed by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister @AdelAljubeir with 1.3 million followers.

foreign_ministries-most_followedAmong the foreign ministries, the U.S. State Department (@StateDept) is the most followed, with 4.3 million followers, ahead of the Turkish Foreign Ministry (@TC_Disisleri), the @IndianDiplomacy and the Russian foreign ministry (@MID_RF) with 1.2 million followers respectively. The Saudi Arabian (@KSAMOFA) foreign ministries completes the top five list with more than 1 million followers.

Does Size Really Matter?

Over the past 12 months, most Twitter accounts have witnessed robust growth in followers. The Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider Al-Abadi, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, U.S. President Donald Trump and UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson have seen their follower number more than triple over the past year and 27 accounts have seen their follower numbers double year-on-year.

Obviously, leaders of the most populous countries where Twitter penetration is growing have a clear advantage in garnering a large army of dedicated followers. The number of followers of a country’s leader has, in some cases, become a question of national pride.

The 10 most followed world leaders have one thing in common: They have discovered Twitter as a powerful one-way broadcasting tool. In general, they are only following a handful of other world leaders (if any) and they are not very conversational, which is almost impossible given the sheer size of their audience.

Who is the Most Influential World Leader on Twitter?

Large Twitter accounts clearly translate into large interactions (the total of likes and retweets). Over the past 12 months the @realDonaldTrump has achieved 166 million interactions, almost five times as many as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with 35 million interactions, and 12 times as many as the Turkish President and Pope Francis. His overall interaction rate (the sum of all interactions divided by the number of tweets and the average number of followers) is 0.34 percent, on par with Pope Francis.

world_leaders-most_engagedHonduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who has garnered six million interactions on his 1,752 tweets over the past 12 months, enjoys one of the best interaction rates of almost two percent. However, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has an interaction rate of more than four percent on the ten tweets he sent over the past 12 months.

Since the number of retweets is the measure of effectiveness, Saudi Arabia’s @KingSalman is the most effective world leader on social media, considering that each of his tweets has received an average of 147,456 retweets. He posts exclusively in Arabic and without any visuals, but every tweet is a digital home run.

world_leaders-most_effectiveThe personal Twitter account of President Trump @realDonaldTrump is the second-most effective Twitter account of any world leader, considering that he receives an average of 13,000 retweets per tweet. His @POTUS account is in fourth place with almost 6,000 average retweets per tweet, behind the Spanish and English Papal accounts with more than 10,000 average retweets per tweet. Jordan’s King @KingAbdullahII also places in the top 10 with 2,800 average retweets on his 23 tweets since setting up his personal account on March 26, 2017.

Making Twitter Great Again

The political discussions on Twitter is credited by Twitter executives with helping the platform add 9 million new users in the first quarter of 2017.

realdonaldtrump-magaEspecially Donald Trump’s tweets resonate well with his supporters as he uses simple but powerful language. His most retweeted tweet, written in capital letters, was sent on election night 8 November 2016. The tweet “Today we make America great again” had more than 900,000 retweets and likes.

The U.S. President uses his personal Twitter handle, @realDonaldTrump, as his preferred channel for executive communications and global policy statements, rather than the official @POTUS account set up under Barack Obama for the President of the United States. On the day of his inauguration he asked the audience at the Freedom Ball: “Should I keep the Twitter going or not? Keep it going? I think so.” President Trump continued to explain that he sees Twitter as “a way of bypassing dishonest media.”

The U.S President is among a very select group of world leaders who manage their own Twitter account. Other leaders who tweet themselves include European Council President @DonaldTusk, Denmark’s Prime Minister @LarsLoekke Rasmussen and Foreign Minister @AndersSamuelsen, Latvia’s Foreign Minister @EdgarsRinkevics and Norway’s Prime Minister @Erna_Solberg who admitted to suffering from dyslexia and makes the occasional spelling mistake.

Just days before the U.S. elections, European Council President Donald Tusk famously tweeted advice from his wife: “One Donald is more than enough!” capturing the mood of concern surrounding the then U.S. presidential candidate.donaldtusk-on-donald-trump

How to Engage with @realDonaldTrump on Twitter?

The key questions foreign governments are asking is whether they should follow the personal account of the U.S. President and how they should they engage with @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. Many world leaders have tweeted the customary congratulatory tweet when he took office on January 20, 2017. The @realDonaldTrump account is now followed by 137 world leaders, up from 97 at the end of January, while 226 world leaders follow the official @POTUS account.


The frequent use of Twitter by the U.S. President presents unprecedented challenges to traditional diplomacy, and only a handful of world leaders have engaged directly with Donald Trump on Twitter. In one of her first radio interviews, new Swiss President Doris Leuthard explained that she was “worried” about the use of Twitter by President Trump: “It is a bit unexpected and we will see if he calms down,” she said. Former German Foreign Minister and now President Frank Walter Steinmeier acknowledged that: “Every President needs to develop and coin their own style,” adding: “I can’t imagine that tweets will be the way to go in the long run.”

The diplomatic community has been stunned by the Presidential tweets and does not react directly to rebuke him, not wanting to pick a Twitter fight with the most powerful world leader. The UK Foreign Office stayed mum when President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that former UKIP leader Nigel Farage “would do a great job” as the UK ambassador to the United States. While a spokesperson for Number 10 was quick to explain that “There is no vacancy. We already have an excellent ambassador to the U.S.” neither the Foreign Office nor the UK government reacted publicly on Twitter in an apparent attempt to downplay the diplomatic incident.

The Canadian government decided not to reply directly to Donald Trump’s tweet claiming that Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult. We will not stand for this. Watch!” However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau picked up the phone the following day to discuss bilateral trade issues with President Trump and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland went on Bloomberg TV to address the looming trade war.

Pope Francis’s two most popular tweets are clear references to Donald Trump’s policies without mentioning the U.S. President: “How often in the Bible the Lord asks us to welcome migrants and foreigners, reminding us that we too are foreigners!” he tweeted on February 18, 2017 and “I invite you not to build walls but bridges, to conquer evil with good, offence with forgiveness, to live in peace with everyone”, posted on March 18, 2017.pontifex-wallspontifex-migrantsOnly a handful of world leaders have directly addressed @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. On May 1, 2017, Hilda Heine, the President of the Marshall Islands, pleaded with President Trump not to abandon the Paris agreement on fighting climate change: “From one President to another, staying in #ParisAgreement is best way to create jobs & grow economy. US has most to gain” she tweeted, as the U.S. President declared May 2017 as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.president_heine-to-trump

The governor of Puerto Rico replied on Twitter to Trump’s tweet stating that Democrats are trying to bail out insurance companies from disastrous #ObamaCare, and Puerto Rico with your tax dollars. Sad!” Ricardo Rosselló hit back: “The American citizens of Puerto Rico deserve to be treated fairly. Health and civil rights are not partisan issues.realdonaldtrump-puerto-ricoricardorossello-reply-to-trump

On the day President Trump issued the travel ban for citizens from a number of Middle East countries, Canadian Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau tweeted the exact opposite message: To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada. This not so subtle sub-tweet has become the most popular tweet of any world leader over the past 12 months with 1.2 million likes and retweets.justintrudeau-welcome-to-canadawelcome-to-canada

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is the 12th most followed world leader on Twitter with more than 6.3 million followers on his @EPN account, is so far the only foreign leader who has replied directly to one of Donald Trump’s tweets.

After a meeting with the candidate Donald Trump in September 2016, @EPN bluntly replied to Donald Trump’s tweet that “Mexico will pay for the wall!,” explaining, in Spanish, that “Mexico would never pay for a wall,” a Twitter spat which has attracted more than 48,000 retweets.epn-tweet

After Donald Trump signed the executive order to build the border wall, the Mexican President posted a video reply on Twitter reiterating: “I’ve said time and again; Mexico won’t pay for any wall. I regret and condemn the decision of the United States to continue construction of a wall that, for years, has divided us instead of uniting us.” He added that “Mexico doesn’t believe in walls.” When President Trump replied in a tweet that: “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting,” Peña Nieto promptly cancelled the meeting in a tweet.

And Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin tweaked President Trump by posting a picture signing a climate bill surrounded by her female staffers, a subtle reference to the pictures from the White House showing U.S. President surrounded by an all-male staff when signing an executive order barring U.S. federal funding for foreign NGOs that support abortion.isabellalovin-singing-climate-law

Amplifying the Government’s Message

Governments or world leaders without many followers find it more and more difficult to get their messages heard. Some governments, therefore, encourage their diplomatic missions to amplify the tweets of the foreign minister or the foreign ministry.

Tagging up to 10 Twitter users in a picture is an easy way to drive engagement and get the message across. The Russian Foreign ministry consistently tags its relevant embassies and other influential Twitter users in its pictures, and the French government tags its ministers. The people tagged in a picture will receive a notification, ensuring that the tweet is seen, and possibly retweeted, by the relevant stakeholders.

In 2016 Twitter introduced Twitter Moments, an easy way to create a collection of tweets and give them a second life. So far, 67 governments and foreign ministries have created such Moments which work very well on mobile devices and are a great way to recycle and highlight memorable events such as state visits.

The social media team of Indonesia’s Presidential account (@KSPgoid) has created 48 such collections, highlighted on its Twitter profile. The Armenian Foreign Ministry (@MFAofArmenia) publishes a weekly moment with the Twitter highlights of Armenian diplomacy and has compiled 24 collections. The French Foreign Ministry collated the congratulatory tweets from world leaders after the election of President Emmanuel Macron in a Moment and the UK Foreign Office memorialized the Brexit signing in four tweets. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted the Twitter highlights of 2016 and the UK @RoyalFamily collected the Royal Twitter Moments from 2016.

The governments of Japan and Monaco both have paid Twitter ads to promote their respective accounts and boost their follower numbers. The French government has used paid Twitter promotion to amplify its campaign against racism by promoting the hashtag #TousUnisContreLaHaine (Everyone Against Hate) on the platform.gvtmonaco-japan-paid-promotion-1024x442

A few governments are rumored to have used click farms and bots to improve the Twitter ranking of their leaders, or to generate massive retweeting of a post, however we did not find any evidence of unorthodox activities in our study.

On the @Twiplomacy Twitter account we often use direct messages to alert journalists and world leaders about our latest studies, sending one direct message to up to 5,000 accounts following us. We also do receive the occasional private message from government officials such as this one from the Foreign Ministry of New Zealand inquiring about our upcoming Twiplomacy study. Other have sent us private messages, sharing tweets for amplification or alerting us about new accounts to

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has mastered the art of identifying influencers and spreading its messages to a global audience. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem regularly identifies key influencers and it frequently asks members of the Israeli diaspora to amplify specific tweets via direct message campaigns.

The #IsraelRetweetedMe campaign, launched in May 2016, is a case in point. Here, Twitter users are asked to show Israel some love on Twitter and the best tweets will be rewarded with a collective retweet from the 153 official Israeli diplomatic accounts, reaching a global audience of more than 1 million followers. More than 990 Twitter users, sympathetic to Israel, signed up to participate in the collective amplification campaign on the platform.israel-retweeted-me

Creating Mutual Connections

Building alliances is key to spreading a government’s message and to winning global hearts and minds. Quite a few foreign ministries use the platform to establish mutual Twiplomatic relations.

world_leaders-best_connectedIt comes as no surprise that the EU External Action Service (@EU_eeas) is the best-connected foreign office, mutually following 128 foreign ministries and world leaders. The Russian Foreign Ministry continues to make a conscious effort to connect with peers on its English-language account @MFA_Russia and is in second place with 127 mutual connections with peers. The German Foreign Office has moved into third position among the best connected Foreign Ministries with 116 mutual connections, just ahead of the UK Foreign Office which boasts 115 mutual connections. The Foreign Ministries of Norway, Iceland, Lithuania, Israel, the Netherlands and France have also made mutual connections their priority and complete the Top 10 list. The existence of mutual connections on Twitter is a good indicator of the diplomatic relations between two countries or the personal relations between their leaders.

While the Twitter accounts of the @WhiteHouse and @POTUS are the two most popular among their peers, followed by 272 and 226 world leaders respectively, they are giving all other world leaders the cold shoulder. The Trump @WhiteHouse is mutually following the @Cabinet, @POTUS, and @realDonaldTrump accounts, but the account is no longer following Russian Prime Minister @MedvedevRussiaE, and the UK’s @Number10gov accounts as the @ObamaWhiteHouse did.

The U.S. State Department used Twitter to re-establish ties with its Cuban counterpart on May 26, 2015 and the Cuban Foreign Ministry reciprocated several hours later, two months before the official re-establishment of diplomatic relations. The State Department is unilaterally following 10 other world leaders including Iran’s President @HassanRouhani and Foreign Minister @JZarif, in an attempt to establish relations between the United States and Iran on Twitter. The State Department enjoys mutual Twitter relations with 50 other leaders, mainly foreign ministries, and it is unilaterally followed by 185 other world leaders including the Russian Foreign Ministry, but it has no mutual Twitter relations with the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Being mutually connected on Twitter is not only a courteous gesture, but also allows these leaders to direct message each other and to have private conversations on Twitter, a feature which can also be turned on by default. A number of foreign offices have used this channel to reach out to peers and other influencers to set the record straight, or to coordinate their digital campaigns.

Twitter allows especially smaller countries to make valuable connections with their peers. The Foreign Ministry of Peru (@CancilleriaPeru) and the Croatian government (@VladaRH) have made a conscious effort to establish mutual connections on Twitter, unilaterally following respectively 461 and 420 other world leaders. The Swedish Foreign Ministry (@SweMFA) unilaterally follows 266 world leaders in the hopes of tweeting eye-to-eye with other world leaders.

Creating a Virtual Diplomatic Network

“We need an army of diplomats using new digital tools in an authentic, engaging and purposeful way,” wrote former UK Ambassador Tom Fletcher in the Future FCO Report, lamenting that ‘only’ 105 British heads of missions and 12 deputy heads of mission are active on Twitter. “More senior diplomatic staff at Post should build their social media profiles,” he added.

The UK @ForeignOffice has probably the largest ‘twiplomatic’ network and it maintains a public Twitter list with a record of 394 embassies, ambassadors and deputy heads of mission on Twitter. The State Department is in second position with 284 official accounts of the State Department and its missions abroad. The Russian Foreign Ministry lists 246 embassies, consulates and trade missions on its Twitter list and the Swedish Foreign Ministry counts 190 missions on its Twitter list.

Only 53 accounts have created such public Twitter lists, which is time consuming, but helps promote other relevant accounts such as diplomatic missions and other government accounts. The foreign ministries of Austria, Canada, France, India, Israel, Poland, Spain and Ukraine each list more than 100 diplomats and missions on Twitter and most foreign ministries have expanded their digital diplomatic network over the past few years. However, not all countries encourage their ambassadors to tweet; Russian and Swiss ambassadors for example have been advised not to engage personally on the platform.

Since 2014, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs put most of its embassies and missions on Twitter with the added complication that all missions must have separate accounts in English, French and sometimes also in the local language.

According to the Twitter lists on @Twiplomacy, more than 4,100 embassies and 1,100 ambassadors are now active on Twitter. In Brussels, Geneva, London, New York and Washington, foreign diplomatic missions can no longer ignore the diplomatic activity in the Twittersphere. Even the Chinese missions to Canada, the EU, Turkey, and the UN in New York, and Geneva are now actively tweeting.

@USEmbassyManila is the most followed mission on Twitter with 708,515 followers, ahead of Russia’s mission to NATO (@NATOmission_RU) and the U.S. Embassy in China (@USA_China_Talk) with 657,509 and 651,762 followers, respectively. @NikkiHaley, the US ambassador to the UN and former Governor of South Carolina, is the most followed diplomat with 338,640 followers. All 5,306 embassies and ambassadors combined, have 26.1 million followers and the median average of each ambassador and mission is 1,299 followers.

The United Nations (@UN) is followed by 2,153 ambassadors and missions, ahead of @TheEconomist and our own @Twiplomacy account, followed by 1,649 and 1,532 ambassadors and missions, respectively.

Who else do World Leaders Follow?

Burson-Marsteller’s researchers also looked at the accounts most followed by world leaders and found that the United Nations Twitter account, @UN, is the most popular, followed by 338 of the 856 world leaders’ Twitter accounts, ahead of @BarackObama and the @ObamaWhiteHouse which are followed by 312 and 254 world leaders respectively. @UNICEF is the second-most followed international organization and The New York Times (@NYTimes) is the news organization most followed by world leaders.

world_leaders-popular_accountsOur own @Twiplomacy account, which boasts 50,000 followers, made it into seventh position of non-governmental accounts, followed by 184 world leaders behind former U.S Secretary of State @JohnKerry and ahead of @Reuters and @TheEconomist.

This chart clearly illustrates that the number of followers is not as important as the quality of these followers, whether one has an account with millions or just several thousand followers.

Visual Communications on Twitter

The analysis of the 946,000 tweets sent by world leaders since January 1, 2016 shows that Twitter is first and foremost a text-based social network. Three quarters of all tweets are simply text tweets including link tweets which automatically display the visual from the linked website.

Less than a quarter of the tweets reviewed included a picture attached natively which generally boosts the chances of a retweet by 35 percent, according to Twitter’s own analysis. And only 1.3 percent of the tweets captured included a Twitter native video.

According to CrowdTangle, which captures only original tweets without retweets, tweets with native video garner 2,044 average interactions (likes & retweets) compared to only 329 interactions for links to videos on other platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo. Tweets containing links to other website receive an average of 371 interactions and tweets containing a picture are liked and shared 619 times on average. However, simple text updates still garner the most engagement with 2,696 average interaction per post.

Since Twitter now allows users to post 140-second long videos, governments are slowly posting more videos natively to Twitter. Those governments which have access to Twitter’s Amplify platform can post even longer videos on the platform.

Twitter’s Periscope app, used for live broadcasts, has seen a major uptake over the past 12 months by government leaders. While 207 world leaders have secured their live channel, only 118 have gone live on the platform and the broadcasts no longer disappear after 24 hours. Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos was the first head of state to use Twitter’s livestreaming application Periscope at the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015.

periscope-most_followedTurkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has received 5.4 million likes for his 53 live broadcasts and the 37 broadcasts on his presidential channel have garnered 1.7 million likes. President Trump has close to 400,000 followers on Periscope and his only live broadcast from an election rally in Pennsylvania, the day before the elections in November 2016, received 1.2 million likes. The Russian Foreign Ministry ‘scopes’ the weekly press briefing of spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as well as the press conferences of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and its 99 broadcasts have garnered close to half a million likes. Periscope is a cost-effective way to stream press conferences and quite a number of Latin American leaders such as the President of Venezuela, the Presidency of Paraguay, the Presidency of Bolivia and Guatemala, as well as the government of Pakistan, are avid users of the platform. While many governments will stream their weekly press conference on the platform, no world leader has done a live Q&A session on the platform yet.

periscope-summitOn International Women’s Day 2017, the Swedish Foreign Ministry organized the first digital video summit of female foreign ministers streamed live on YouTube, Facebook and Periscope simultaneously. The broadcast hosted and moderated by Foreign Minister Margot Wallström was a live discussion between the foreign ministers of Kenya, Luxemburg, and Panama.

A number of world leaders have use animated gifs to lighten up their tweets in a fun and playful way. Gifs are a great way to bring static pictures to life and several governments have stitched together photos of bilateral meetings to create short silent video animations as gifs. Others used gifs to animate infographics and charts.

On International Peace Day in September 2016 the European Commission used a gif to underscore how the EU has ensured 70 years of peace on the continent and the UK Cabinet Office stitched together a gif of the 12 Prime Ministers who served during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi created a gif to promote his mobile app.

The German Foreign Office used gifs to celebrate Germany’s goals during the Euro 2016 football championships and occasionally attaches Twitter’s pre-loaded gifs in reply to comments from followers. Iceland’s Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson sent a Jimmy Fallon high five gif in reply to another member of parliament.

Gifs have largely replaced six-second Vine videos, which were Twitter’s first video product, a platform which was shuttered at the end of 2016. While 43 world leaders had set up Vine accounts, very few governments had mastered the art of editing looping six-second videos. The French Elysée Palace and the German Foreign Office, who were among the most creative users of Vine, still feature their dormant Vine channels and the million Vine loops on their Twitter profiles. Read all about World Leaders on Vine here.

Hashtag Diplomacy

This word cloud illustrates the most used hashtags by world leaders. #EU, #UNGA, #Rio2016, #Turkey, #Ukraine and #Brexit are up at the top of the most talked about international topics.

most-used-hashtagsRwandan President Paul #Kagame and #Rwanda feature prominently as they are consistently mentioned on his government’s Twitter accounts. India’s #PresidentMukherjee, Polish Foreign Minister Witold #Waszczykowski, German Chancellor Angela #Merkel, and former German Foreign Minister and now President Frank Walter #Steinmeier are also among the 250 most used hashtags. Lacking personal Twitter profiles, their respective governments consistently mention them using hashtags.

The hashtags which have generated the highest volume of retweets, thanks mainly to the social media footprint of President Trump, are #MakeAmericaGreatAgain and #MAGA for short with a combined total of more than 2 million retweets. These are followed by the hashtags #DrainTheSwamp and #AmericaFirst, which have generated 881,407 and 762,023 retweets, respectively. The hashtag #WelcometoCanada initiated by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been retweeted 622,694 times.

most-mentioned-accountsThis world cloud shows us the most mentioned world leaders. Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro is the most mentioned Twitter account, often quoted in tweets by his very active presidential accounts. The EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog), Ecuador’s former President Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael), Puerto Rico’s Governor @RicardoRossello, Polish Prime Minister @BeataSzydlo, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet (@MBachelet) and former French President François Hollande (@FHollande) are also prominent in this world cloud of the 250 most mentioned accounts by world leaders over the past 12 months.

Are World Leaders Conversational on Twitter?

Twitter allows citizens direct access to their leaders. Anyone can @mention a world leader on Twitter. Whether the world leader answers, however, is another matter, although a select few do reply to their followers’ @mentions.

world_leaders-most_conversationalThe Dutch government is the most conversational on its @Rijksoverheid account, answering citizens’ questions about policies, laws and regulations Monday to Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. More than 95 percent of their tweets are @replies to other Twitter users. The government of Nepal is in second position with the “Hello Government” account, consistently answering questions from users.

Quite a few African leaders seem to use Twitter solely to converse with their followers. Rwanda’s President @PaulKagame is the most conversational world leader with 79 percent of his tweets being @replies to other Twitter users. @PaulKagame sometimes gets into memorable Twitter exchanges with his critics, even sometimes chats publicly with his children. Paul Kagame’s personal Twitter engagement shows that, even if you have 1.6 million Twitter followers, you can still be on top of the conversation and personally reply to comments on your Twitter feed.

Rwanda’s Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi is in fifth position, occasionally holding Twitter chats with the hashtag #TalkToPMRwanda and half of the 2,219 tweets of Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo are also direct replies to questions from followers.

Two thirds of the tweets from Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg are replies to her followers and German Foreign Minister makes it into the top 10 with almost half of his tweets being @replies to other Twitter users.

A number of world leaders occasionally sit down for Twitter chats, answering selected questions sent by their followers. Austria’s Foreign Minister @SebastianKurz did a Twitter chat on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September 2014; the hashtag for the chat was #KurzGefragt which literally means “Quick Question.”

mfatgovtnz-twitter-profile-01The Foreign Ministry of New Zealand is the only government institution which has integrated Twitter’s business features, adding its opening hours on its Twitter profile. The account is ‘most responsive’ between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (Auckland time) which is nighttime in Europe.

The @MFATgovNZ account, which was activated in June 2016, accepts direct messages from any Twitter user, sporting a ‘Message‘ button on its profile. Since activating the feature in November 2016, the foreign ministry has received 20 direct messages, which shows that opening direct messages to anyone is a smart and effective way to interact with Twitter users.

narendramodi-dmIn 2015 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a Direct Message to his then 12.5 million followers celebrating one year in government. Today selected accounts can still send him direct messages and are greeted by this welcome message.

mirexrd-twitter-profileThe Foreign Ministry of the Dominican Republic (@MIREXRD) is the only institution which has added its telephone number to its Twitter bio, which is a more traditional way to open its doors to two-way conversations with its citizens.

Both foreign ministries are also proudly flying their colors in their Twitter name. Since we suggested the addition of the flag emojis in the name or the Twitter bio, 67 accounts are now sporting their national flags adding a touch of color to their Twitter profiles including the UK Foreign Office, the Brazilian, French and Russian foreign ministries.

Most Listed World Leaders

Another sign of Twitter popularity is the number of times an account appears on a Twitter list. This is one statistic that is hard to fake and early Twitter adopters are the clear favorites. @realDonaldTrump is the most listed world leader, appearing on 68,886 Twitter lists. In comparison, his predecessor @BarackObama appears on 223,125 Twitter lists. Russia’s Prime Minister @MedvedevRussia is in second position, on 44,436 lists, followed by the disaster readiness account of the Japanese government @Kantei_Saigai. Pope Francis @Pontifex, the UK Prime Minister @Number10gov, Indian Prime Minister @NarendraModi and Jordan’s @QueenRania are featured on more than 20,000 Twitter lists. The @POTUS account has remained in the top 10 of the most listed accounts, while the new @WhiteHouse account has dropped out of the top listed accounts.

world_leaders-most_listedOnly 117 accounts of governments and foreign ministries have created public Twitter lists, very useful tools to catalogue other government ministries and agencies or diplomatic missions abroad and those accredited in their respective country.

The Colombian Presidency has created a record 44 lists including list of government agencies, municipalities, athletes, journalists and selected international summits. The European Council media department (@EUCouncilPress) maintains 27 lists, often for specific council meetings and events, to be able better to follow online discussions of participants. The Australian Foreign Office (@dfat) maintains 21 Twitter lists, and the Russian Foreign Ministry has 23 lists on the @MID_RF account and 20 on the @MFA_Russia account.

Only 117 have subscribed to a Twitter list, which is a very convenient way to follow specific Twitter activity on these accounts. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has subscribed to a record 52 lists. Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is following 31 lists and the Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano has subscribed to 21 lists.

Quite a number of world leader accounts have subscribed to one of the 50 public Twitter lists on the @Twiplomacy Twitter account, including the full list of heads of state and government and a list of foreign ministers and their institutional accounts as well as a list with all diplomatic missions and a list with the heads of missions worldwide.

Most Active Twitter Accounts

As of May 22, 2017, all world leaders combined have sent a total of 5,204,579 tweets since their account creation. Latin American governments are by far among the most active on Twitter. The Mexican government (@GobMx) is the most prolific government account, posting 123 tweets each day on average. The government often repeats its tweets several times over several days to capture different audiences at different times and has posted more than 127,000 tweets in total since inception.

world_leaders-most_activeVenezuela’s Foreign Ministry (@vencancilleria) is the second-most active, with an average of 95 tweets per day and has posted more than 97,000 tweets in total since the account’s creation. Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro is equally prolific on his Spanish account with 82 tweets per day, 97 percent of which are retweets from other accounts. His English, French and Portuguese accounts also made it into the top 10 of the most active accounts. The governments of Puerto Rico, El Salvador and the Presidencies of El Salvador, Panama, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic are averaging more than 40 tweets per day. These governments use Twitter as their automated governmental newsfeed, although their hyperactivity does not translate into more engagement.

It is interesting to note that Twitter, which until recently did not allow users to tweet the same tweet, now allows the retweet of one’s own tweets once, which is practical to capture different audiences at different times of day with the same message.

Who Tweeted First?

Barack Obama was the first world leader to set up a Twitter account on March 5, 2007 as user #813,286 when he was still Senator of Illinois. The @Japan account was also registered in March 2007 but the government in Tokyo only took ownership of the handle in March 2015. The Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) and the U.S. State Department (@StateDept) are among the early adopters having signed up to the micro-blogging service a decade ago. Most world leaders followed suit between 2009 and 2014.

The latest to have joined the Twitterverse in May 2017 is French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe who set up his @EPhilippe_LH account which was renamed to @EPhilippePM on May 18. Jordan’s @KingAbdullahII signed up in March 2017 and Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull created an institutional account for the Office of the Prime Minister @thePMO.

Thirty accounts are inactive and have never sent a single tweet, and seven are protected accounts and 114 are dormant for more than a year. More than half of the accounts (453 accounts out of 856) have been officially verified by Twitter, giving them a blue star of appreciation on their Twitter profiles.

Dormant Accounts

Quite a few politicians use social media – Twitter in particular – only during election campaigns. The personal Twitter account of South African President Jacob Zuma @SAPresident has been dormant since 2013 and his 425,000 followers are still waiting for their next tweet.

Other leaders such as Indonesian President Joko Widodo (@Jokowi), Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet (@PrensaMichelle), and former President François Hollande (@FHollande) also suspended their Twitter activity for a period of time, but then reactivated their accounts as the next election campaign approached.

About this Study

Twiplomacy is the pre-eminent global study of world leaders on social media, conducted by leading strategic communications and global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller.

Burson-Marsteller identified 856 Twitter accounts of heads of state and government, foreign ministers, and their institutions in 178 countries worldwide. The study analyzes each leader’s Twitter profiles, tweet history and their connections with each other.

Data was collected on May 22, 2017 using Burson-Marsteller’s proprietary Burson Tools to analyze the 731,880 possible Twitter connections between world leaders. Other variables considered included: tweets, following, followers, the date the user joined Twitter, tweets/day, retweets, percent of retweets, @replies, percent of @replies, tweets retweeted, average number of tweets retweeted.

We also used to capture the historic data for all accounts including the total interactions (likes and retweets), interaction rates as well as all video views and posts over the past 12 months.

Burson-Marsteller looked at each account to see if it has a header picture, if the account is dormant, active or protected and if the world leader tweets personally. We checked the language the account tweets and checked for the presence of Twitter lists.

The full Twiplomacy data set can be downloaded here.

Matthias Lüfkens
Geneva, May 31, 2017