Executive Summary – Introduction
We need an army of diplomats using new digital tools in an authentic, engaging and purposeful way (…) We need a permanent cadre of digital professionals who can drive digital diplomacy across the network (…) Our content should make people lean forward.
Tom Fletcher, Former UK Ambassador to Lebanon in the Future FCO Report
Social 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 newsfeeds for the latest news. This recent 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 even become a diplomatic ‘barometer, a tool used to analyze and forecast international relations.
There is a vast array of social networks for government communicators to choose from. 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 emerging platforms such as Snapchat, WhatsApp and Telegram where communications are under the radar and almost impossible to track.
Burson-Marsteller’s 2016 Twiplomacy study has been expanded to include other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, as well as more niche digital diplomacy platforms such as Snapchat, LinkedIn, Google+, Periscope and Vine.
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 have continued to increase their audiences, while new leaders have emerged in the Twittersphere. Argentina’s Mauricio Macri, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama have all made a significant impact on Twitter and Facebook over the past year.
Obama’s social media communication has become even more personal through his @POTUS Twitter account and Facebook page, and the first “president of the social media age” will leave the White House in January 2017 with an incredible 137 million fans, followers and subscribers. Beyond merely Twitter and Facebook, world leaders such as the Argentinian President have also become active on new channels like Snapchat to reach a younger audience and potential future voters. Similarly, a number of governments, mainly in Latin America, have started to use Periscope, a cost-effective medium to live-stream their press conferences.
We have witnessed occasional public interactions between leaders, namely the friendly fighting talk between the Obamas, the Queen of England and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. Foreign ministries continue to expand their diplomatic and digital networks by following each other and creating coalitions on specific topics, in particular the fight against ISIS.
We have found that for governments, Twitter is still a text-based social network and only a quarter of 1.3 million tweets analyzed in this study had a picture attached. Over the past year, many world leaders have embraced visual communications and many have become active on Instagram, sharing behind-the-scenes pictures or simply chronicling the activities of their leaders. 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 Foreign Ministry in Finland has even produced its own set of 49 emoticons depicting summer and winter in the Nordic country.
We asked a number of digital leaders of some of the best connected foreign ministries and governments to share their thoughts on their preferred social media channel and examples of their best campaigns on our blog. You will learn:
- How social media has become the main driving force for change in diplomatic communication for the European Union External Action Service
- How Digital Diplomacy is a team tester across the Spanish diplomatic network
- How Social media has transformed how the Foreign Ministry of Iceland operates in times of crisis
- How digital diplomacy can influence public opinion in the case of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry
- How the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine is active on eleven social media channels
- How @Canada paints a country portrait one tweet at a time
- How Quality trumps Quantity in Finland’s country branding communication
- How comments and feedback are key measures of success for the Foreign Ministry of Peru
- How the government of Montenegro uses Twitter to reach out to a local and international audience
Here is our list of the #Twiplomacy Top Twenty Twitterati in 2016.
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 793 Twitter accounts belonging to heads of state and government in 173 countries, representing 90 percent of all UN member states, with a combined audience of 324 million followers. All European and South American countries have a presence on the social network, although some of the accounts, such that of San Marino’s Captain Regent, are inactive.
Only 20 countries, mainly in the Pacific and Africa, 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 up 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 537 Facebook pages have a combined audience of 255 million likes. On average, Facebook pages are more popular than Twitter accounts, with a median average of 31,000 likes per page, compared to 14,000 followers for each Twitter account.
YouTube is the third-most used network among governments and 151 use it as a video repository, although the median average of subscribers is only 486. The photo-sharing network Instagram is the fourth-most popular social network and 71 percent of all UN member states have set up an account to share behind-the-scenes pictures of their activities.
Google+ completes the Top Five list, with 129 governments present on the platform. However two-thirds of the 271 pages are either dormant or inactive and have on average only 59 followers. Despite their size, LinkedIn, Vine, Periscope and Snapchat are niche networks used by fewer than 40 percent of all UN member states.
Top 10 Tips for Building Engagement on Social Media
As engagement becomes the new measure of social media success, driving it has become the objective of social media strategies today. The Twiplomacy study provides working examples of how to do it right.
The Twiplomacy research team has developed 10 tips for communicators which are reinforced by extensive data looking at effectiveness, followers and activity, and in-depth analyses of the different content posted on the studied social media accounts.
The lessons learned are universal and help not only world leaders and governments to position themselves, but also CEOs and their companies or organizations. These cross-platform tips can help establish a solid social media presence in today’s social media landscape:
- Be visual
As the saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The use of videos and images are critical to communicating with impact today; the more visual the post, the more interaction it is destined to have. This established trend is further driven by the emergence of new visual platforms such as Instagram, Vine, Periscope and Snapchat.
- Be Creative
With a saturated communications environment, cutting through noise is now more important than ever. Standing out is necessary to be noticed, and platforms such as Instagram, with its advanced editing tools and filters, has become a breeding ground for creativity. One example is the Estonian Prime Minister’s Instagram post of his leg and that of an unidentified visitor both wearing colorful socks.
- Entertain your audience
Entertaining posts create the most engagement. From our YouTube study’s most viewed video of Barack Obama dancing on the Ellen show and Michelle Obama on Vine with “Turnip for what” in honor of her White House garden, to the European Commission’s sexually explicit trailer to promote European films – these are the posts which tend to go viral and generate the most engagement.
- Tailor your content to your channel
Where your audience is present dictates which platform you should be on, so know your audience well and tailor your content accordingly. Do not automatically post from Facebook or Instagram into Twitter as the audience will not appreciate it. Connect with influencers on Twitter, build communities on Facebook and talk directly (literally) to your younger audiences on Snapchat and Vine – each platform plays its role.
- A dormant account is no better than no account
Your social media account is not just an election accessory, it is also useful for your time in office to communicate government actions. If you are going to broaden the amount of social media profiles you are present on, then do it well, allocate the appropriate resources and go for quality rather than quantity.
- Have a human face
We are all human beings, so communicate like one. The Twiplomacy study shows that the most popular images posted by world leaders are personal posts. These include decorating the Christmas tree, hitting the gym, trick or treating or posting your holiday snaps. Family posts tend to be found on the Facebook and Instagram profiles of world leaders.
- Social media should be a dialogue
Communication is no longer one way. Social media is all about creating a dialogue with your audience, so invite them to contribute and ask questions! Some organize Twitter Q&A sessions, such as Rwanda’s Prime Anastase Murekezi who branded his chats #TalktoPMRwanda, others have used Facebook’s new live feature to chat and the EU Parliament even asks viewers to “Snap us back” on their Snapchat account.
- Content must be timely
Forward planning is crucial, ensure that what you are posting is relevant to that particular audience, at that particular time. But beware of scheduling posts that can become obsolete. The U.S. Mission in the Philippines had scheduled a post about an invitation to a garden party at the mission while a tropical cyclone was wreaking havoc in the country.
- Post with caution
All the world’s a stage – social media has an incredible reach but this can be dangerous if something goes wrong. If you are not tweeting in your native language, then get someone to proofread it for you.
- Your online network is now your net worth
Your virtual network is just as important as your offline network. Both are necessary and both complement each other. Barack Obama will leave his post as President of the United States with a digital footprint of 137 million – that’s got to be worth something!
In honor of the uncontested digital president, we will end this with the final words from Barack Obama’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner speech, which the @WhiteHouse account appropriately turned into a gif.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 1, 2016
Most Followed World Leaders
U.S. President Barack Obama is still the uncontested leader of the digital world. His @BarackObama Twitter account now has 75 million followers. He also leads the rankings on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Google+ with his campaign accounts, which he used effectively for his election campaigns in 2008 and 2012, but which are not managed by the U.S. administration. When he leaves office in January 2017, he will become an elder statesman with a combined audience of 137 million followers, fans and subscribers, a social media footprint which will not be very hard to monetize.
Barack Obama also will go down in history as the first digital president who effectively used social media while in office. He will be credited with putting the @WhiteHouse on social media and setting up personal Twitter accounts for the First Lady (@FLOTUS), the Vice President (@VP) and the President of the United States (@POTUS).
The @POTUS Twitter account went live on May 18, 2015 and is now the seventh-most followed world leader account, barely a year after it was set up. The @POTUS, @FLOTUS and @VP accounts are institutional-personal accounts which will be handed over to the next office holder, much like the @Pontifex account which was set up under Pope Benedict XVI and is now managed by Pope Francis. Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has likewise set up institutional accounts for his office in English (@CanadianPM) and in French (@PMCanadien).
Pope Francis (@Pontifex) is the second-most followed world leader with more than 28 million followers on his nine language accounts. His official accounts dispense daily thoughts and prayers in 140 characters in English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Latin, French, German and Arabic. He is closely followed by Indian Prime Minister @NarendraModi who has close to 20 million followers on his personal account and 11 million followers on his institutional account, @PMOIndia, which is in fourth place. The White House is in fifth place with more than 10 million followers @WhiteHouse, ahead of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan).
In Latin America, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto @EPN has 5.2 million followers, far ahead of Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos, Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro and Argentina’s @MauricioMacri, each with well over 2.8 million followers.
Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta @UKenyatta has become Sub-Saharan Africa’s most followed leader with 1.4 million followers, closely followed by Rwanda’s @PaulKagame and ahead of South Africa’s presidential administration (@PresidencyZA) which has 673,000 followers.
The UK Prime Minister @Number10gov is the most followed EU leader, with more than 4.4 million followers, ahead of Italy’s @MatteoRenzi and the British @RoyalFamily with 2.3 million and 2.2 million followers, respectively.
India’s Foreign Minister, @SushmaSwaraj, is the most followed female world leader with 5 million followers, ahead of Jordan’s @QueenRania with 4.7 million followers. Abdullah Bin Zayed, @ABZayed, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is the second-most followed foreign minister with 3 million followers, with U.S. Secretary of State @JohnKerry behind with 1.3 million followers.
Among the foreign ministries, the U.S. State Department (@StateDept) is the most followed with 3.3 million followers on its multiple language accounts, ahead of the Indian Diplomacy with 1.3 million followers on its two accounts. The Turkish (@TC_Disisleri), the Russian (@MID_RF) and the French (@FranceDiplo) foreign ministries complete the Top 5 with more than 1 million followers each.
Does Size Really Matter?
Since our last study in April 2015, most Twitter accounts have witnessed robust growth in numbers of followers. Secretary of State @JohnKerry has tripled his followers. The @StateDept, the UK @RoyalFamily, the Indian Prime Minister @PMOIndia, the Indian Foreign Minister @SushmaSwaraj and Saudi Arabia’s @KingSalman are just some of the 165 accounts that 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 five 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?
The official @POTUS account is by far the most effective Twitter account of any world leader, considering that it receives an average of 12,350 retweets and an average of 19,600 likes per tweet.
What is it that make the presidential tweets so popular? The @POTUS Twitter account is putting quality over quantity. The U.S. President does not tweet every day, but every tweet is carefully crafted and comes across as hand-written by Barack Obama himself.
Among his most popular tweets is his friendly conversation with Bill Clinton about the newly created @POTUS Twitter handle: “Good question, @BillClinton. The handle comes with the house. Know anyone interested in @FLOTUS?”, he tweeted in allusion to Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
Some of the @POTUS tweets contain a picture, a short video or a gif, but it is in the tone of his tweets where the U.S. President excels. His tweet “¿Que bolá Cuba?” – Cuban slang, meaning: “What’s up, Cuba?” – posted when he touched down in Havana has become the defining moment of the first visit by a U.S. President to the island since 1928.
In comparison, the tweets sent by the @BarackObama account, which has 10 times as many followers as @POTUS, are ‘only’ retweeted on average 1,572 times. The @BarackObama account has lost some of its punch since it posted what is still one of the most popular tweets ever: The Obamas hugging and three simple words: “Four more years.”
Saudi Arabia’s @KingSalman, is in second place among the most retweeted world leaders. He only tweets intermittently and mainly in Arabic without any visuals, but when he does his messages are amplified on average 9,986 times. Pope Francis @Pontifex is the third-most influential tweep, with 9,905 retweets for every tweet he sends on his Spanish account and 7,604 retweets on average on his English account. Interestingly, the Pope rarely includes visuals in his tweets, leaving visual communications to his Instagram account which has become the third-most followed account over the past two months.
Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro and the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia also boast miraculous retweet figures of more than 2,300 for each tweet posted on their respective accounts. Strangely, however, their tweets are favorited much less.
Twenty-two world leaders have seen some of their tweets retweeted more than 20,000 times, reflecting major announcements and historic events. Examples include @NarendraModi’s election tweet “India has won!”; Queen Elizabeth’s first personal tweet opening an exhibition at the Science Museum; or the abdication tweet of the King of Spain.
Sad news often dominates the most retweeted tweets, such as the Malaysian Prime Minister’s tweet about the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, and the tweets by French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls after the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015. Here is a collection of the most retweeted tweets of world leaders.
Spreading the Government’s Message
Governments or world leaders without a large number of followers find it more and more difficult to get their messages heard. Some governments therefore encourage their diplomatic missions on Twitter 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 their 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.
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 Crime) on the platform.
A couple of 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 to our latest studies, and some government officials have sent us private messages, sharing tweets for amplification or alerting us to new accounts to include.
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 152 official Israeli diplomatic accounts, reaching a global audience of more than 1 million followers. More than 240 Twitter users, sympathetic to Israel, signed up to participate in the collective amplification campaign on the platform. Needless to say, the hashtag #IsraelRetweetedMe became an immediate battleground in the Arab-Israeli conflict which also plays out online.
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.
It comes as no surprise that the EU External Action Service (@EU_eeas) is the best-connected foreign office, mutually following 122 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 112 mutual connections with peers. The Foreign Ministry of Norway (@NorwayMFA) is in third position with 101 mutual connections. The existence of mutual connections on Twitter are a good indicator of the diplomatic relations between two countries or the personal relations between their leaders.
While the Twitter accounts of @BarackObama and the @WhiteHouse are the two most-popular among their peers, followed by 275 and 234 world leaders respectively, they are giving most other world leaders the cold shoulder. @BarackObama mutually follows only three other world leaders, namely Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiae), Australia’s Prime Minister @MalcomTurnbull and Norway’s Prime Minister @Erna_Solberg. The latter two signed up to Twitter early and are among the 636,399 Twitter users automatically followed by @BarackObama when the account had an auto follow on. The @WhiteHouse is mutually connected with only two other leaders, namely Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiae) and the UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov). The official presidential @POTUS account is followed by 140 other leaders and does not follow any other world leader or government account.
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. In September 2013, the State Department started to follow 36 other foreign offices, as well as Iran’s President @HassanRouhani and Foreign Minister @JZarif, in an attempt to establish relations between the United States and Iran on Twitter, but neither of the two men have yet reciprocated. Moreover, the State Department is unilaterally followed by 157 other world leaders including 54 foreign ministries, but it has not returned the favor and it currently 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) has made a conscious effort to establish mutual connections on Twitter, unilaterally following 509 other world leaders. The Croatian government (@VladaRH) and the Swedish Foreign Ministry (@Swe_MFA) follow 473 and 288 world leaders, respectively, 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 305 embassies, ambassadors and deputy heads of mission on Twitter. Canada is second and the State Department is third with 227 and 213 missions and heads of missions on Twitter, respectively. Russia, Poland, Sweden, Israel, India, France, Albania, the EU, 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 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.
In 2014, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs put most of their 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 comprehensive Twitter list on @Twiplomacy, more than 5,000 embassies and ambassadors are now active on Twitter. In London, New York, Washington, Brussels and Geneva, foreign diplomatic missions can no longer ignore the diplomatic activity in the Twittersphere. Even the Chinese missions to Canada, Turkey, the EU, and the UN in New York, and Geneva are now actively tweeting.
For the record, Russia’s mission to NATO (@NATOmission_RU) is the most followed mission with 645,896 followers, ahead of the U.S. Embassy in China (@USA_China_Talk) with half a million followers and the @USEmbassyManila and the @USEmbassyJkt in Jakarta 410,000 and 288,000 followers, respectively. All 5,000 embassies and ambassadors combined have 19.6 million followers and the median average of each mission is 962 followers. The United Nations (@UN) is followed by 1,924 ambassadors and missions, ahead of @TheEconomist and our own @Twiplomacy account followed by 1,517 and 1,387 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 296 of the 793 world leaders Twitter accounts. The New York Times (@NYTimes) is the most-followed news organization and @UNICEF is the second-most followed international organization.
Our own @Twiplomacy account made it into fourth position of non-governmental accounts followed by 162 world leaders ahead of The Economist, the BBC, Reuters and CNN.
This chart clearly illustrates that the number of followers is not as important as the quality of these followers, whether you have an account with millions or just several thousand followers.
Are World Leaders Tweeting Themselves?
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. However, few world leaders are actually doing their own tweeting.
Notable exceptions include Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (@IlvesToomas), European Council President @DonaldTusk, Latvian Foreign Minister @EdgarsRinkevics and Norway’s Prime Minister @Erna_Solberg who admitted to suffering from dyslexia and makes the occasional spelling mistake.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has reportedly asked his staff to share the password of his Twitter account. However, the social media team is reluctant to give him access to the account in order to shield him from some of the more negative tweets and trolls which can become quite annoying for high-profile users.
Quite 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.”
Visual Communications on Twitter
The analysis of the 1.3 million tweets sent by world leaders showed that Twitter is first and foremost a text-based social network. Only a quarter of the tweets reviewed had a picture attached natively which generally boosts the chances of a retweet by 35 percent, according to Twitter’s own analysis.
Less than one percent of the tweets analyzed had used Twitter native videos. Twitter allows users to shoot 30-second videos from mobile devices and those governments which have access to Twitter’s Amplify platform can post longer video uploads natively. Most governments still post links to videos on their respective YouTube channels representing 0.69 percent of all tweets.
A handful of governments also use SnappyTV, Twitter’s own video service, which allows users to clip, edit and distribute excerpts from live broadcasts as they happen on Twitter. Only the @StateDept, the @WhiteHouse, @BarackObama, the UK @ForeignOffice, @Number10gov the @Elysee Palace and Spanish Prime Minister @MarianoRajoy have so far used this service.
Six-second Vine videos, which were Twitter’s first video product and initially used to capture short videos at events, are less and less used by world leaders to report on their activities. While 47 world leaders have set up a Vine account, very few governments have mastered the art of editing looping six-second videos. The French Elysée Palace, the UK Foreign Office and the German Foreign Office are among the most creative users of Vine videos. Read all about World Leaders on Vine here.
Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos was the first head of state to have used Twitter’s livestreaming application Periscope at the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015. Over the past year, 93 governments and world leaders have downloaded the app, representing a third of all UN member countries, and 62 governments and world leaders have gone live from a mobile device on the platform.
Most of their broadcasts have disappeared after 24 hours, but since May 5, 2016 these live broadcasts can be saved for eternity by adding the hashtag #save in the title before starting the broadcast.
Periscope is mainly used by governments in Latin America and it offers an inexpensive way to broadcast live events. Many governments will stream their weekly press conference on the platform, however no world leader has done a live Q&A session on the platform yet.
Read our full analysis of World Leaders on Periscope here.
A number of world leaders have started to use animated gifs to lighten up their tweets in a fun and playful way. Quite a few accounts such as the Foreign Ministry of Peru have stitched together photos of bilateral meetings to create a short silent video animation of the meeting as a gif.
The Argentinian and the Colombian presidencies, as well as the UK government and the Colombian Foreign Ministry, have all created custom-designed animated gifs to explain complex issues and messages such as encouraging its citizens to register with their embassy before travelling.
On International Women’s Day 2016, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom shared a powerful visualization of the three Rs of the Swedish feminist foreign policy, including Rights, Resources and Representation.
The UK Foreign Office has created a series of animated gifs including Shakespeare quotes or, on a more somber note, a visualization of “Russia’s illegal actions in Crimea”. The French government even shared an animated gif of the generally static family picture of the new French government. The Presidency of Ukraine, the German Foreign Ministry, the Indian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Foreign Ministry have all produced animated gifs to thank their followers for important milestones on their Twitter journeys.
Animated gifs are currently the most fun element on Twitter where users can chose from a number of custom gifs when posting from mobile devices. The Foreign Ministry in Berlin shared an animated gif of the Simpsons in front of a fan explaining the best way to survive the heatwave in July 2015 and posted animated Easter greetings in 2016 with the Easter bunny hiding eggs in the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.
#COP21, #Ukraine and #EU are some of the most used hashtags by world leaders as illustrated by this word cloud, reflecting the most talked about current topics. Rwandan President Paul #Kagame and #Rwanda feature prominently as they are consistently mentioned on his government’s Twitter accounts. India’s #PresidentMukherjee, German Chancellor Angela #Merkel and German Foreign Minister Frank Walter #Steinmeier are also among the 100 most popular hashtags. Lacking personal Twitter profiles, their respective governments consistently mention them with hashtags. Over the past few years, foreign ministries and world leaders have used hashtags to promote specific issues, be it #BringBackOurGirls or #ENDViolence against children.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who only joined Twitter recently, is lobbying for a sea access for his landlocked country with the hashtags #SeaForBolivia and #MarParaBolivia prominently displayed on his Twitter cover. After the successful #IranTalks in Vienna in April 2015, the negotiating partners changed the hashtag to #IranDeal.
At the end of March 2014, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki posted a picture with the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine, a campaign that was coordinated with a number of Western allies including the UK Foreign Office, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish and the Ukrainian foreign ministries. Within days the hashtag had been tweeted more than 400 times garnering 23,000 retweets.
The hashtag campaign also caught the eye of the Russian Foreign Ministry which started to use the same hashtag. The @MFA_Russia and @MID_RF accounts used the hashtag more than 200 times, garnering 8,000 retweets. This was probably the first “hashtag battle” on Twitter, where opposing sides try to raise awareness for the same issue.
The foreign ministry in Moscow also initiated its own hashtag #BringBackOurBoys to press for the release of two journalists captured in eastern Ukraine.
Of course, hashtags alone will not bring back the girls from captivity in Nigeria or bring peace to Ukraine. However, they serve as a powerful rallying cry on specific issues and causes, and help give them international recognition as a trending topic on Twitter.
The analysis of all Twitter @mentions by the 793 accounts surveyed shows that U.S. Secretary John Kerry’s Twitter account @JohnKerry is by far the most mentioned Twitter account slightly ahead of Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro who has 14 Twitter accounts in different languages, on top of the institutional governmental accounts which are among the most active. The EU’s Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog), @POTUS, Paraguay’s President @HoracioCartes, France’s François Hollande (@FHollande) and Norway’s Foreign Minister @BorgeBrende also stand out among the most mentioned world leaders on Twitter.
Twitter Handover – Dormant Accounts
Quite a few politicians use social media – Twitter in particular – only during election campaigns. Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari was very active on his personal Twitter account during his election campaign in 2015, but then abandoned his half a million Twitter followers in September of that year and his office only communicates on the @NGRPresident account. The personal Twitter accounts of Korea’s President Park Geun-hye (@GH_PARK) and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma @SAPresident have been dormant since 2013 and both have 400,000 followers waiting for their next tweet.
Other leaders such as Indonesian President Joko Widodo (@Jokowi), Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, French Prime Minister @ManuelValls and 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.
Sometimes, when governments change, the Twitter accounts also change. 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 and the new government under Maurico Macri had to set up a new @CasaRosada account from scratch which now has 235,000 followers.
The Portuguese Presidency Twitter account, with the beautiful short name @Presidencia, created in 2008 and which 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.
One hundred thirty-four of the 793 Twitter accounts analyzed in our study are 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.
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.
The Dutch government is the most conversational on its @Rijksoverheid account, answering citizens’ questions about policies, laws and regulations Monday to Friday between 08:00 and 20:00. Ninety-three percent of their tweets are replies to other Twitter users.
Quite a few African leaders seem to use Twitter solely to converse with their followers. Rwanda’s President @PaulKagame is the second most conversational world leader with 81 percent of his tweets being @replies to other Twitter users. @PaulKagame, who often gets into memorable Twitter exchanges with his critics, even sometimes chats publically with his children. Paul Kagame’s Twitter engagement shows that even if you have 1.4 million Twitter followers, you can still be on top of the conversation and personally reply to comments on your Twitter feed.
The third most conversational leader is the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo Mapon Matata, with three-quarters of his tweets being @replies to other Twitter users, including world leaders and heads of international organizations. Matata is also famous for his live commentary on Twitter of matches of the national football team.
Norway’s Prime Minister @ErnaSolberg is the fourth most conversational leader with 70% of @replies and Rwanda’s Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi is in third position, having organized several Twitter chats with the hashtag #TalkToPMRwanda. The Foreign Ministers of Rwanda and Ghana and the President of Guatemala are equally engaging, often replying and chatting with other Twitter users.
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. @BarackObama is the most-listed world leader, appearing on 215,002 Twitter lists. The @WhiteHouse and Russia’s Prime Minister @MedvedevRussia appear on 65,709 and 44,831 lists, respectively. Pope Francis @Pontifex, the UK Prime Minister @Number10gov and Jordan’s @QueenRania are featured on more than 20,000 Twitter lists and the new @POTUS account has made it into the Top 10 which is a tribute to its popularity less than a year after it was created.
Only around 50 foreign ministries and a handful of governments 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 European Council (@EUCouncil) has created 25 lists, often for specific council meetings and events, to be able better to follow online discussions of participants. The Australian Foreign Office (@dfat) maintains 23 Twitter lists, and the Russian Foreign Ministry has 22 lists on the @MID_RF account and 19 on the @MFA_Russia account.
Only 110 accounts have subscribed to other public Twitter lists. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has subscribed to a record 51 lists. Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is following 32 lists and the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador has subscribed to 21 lists.
Quite a number of 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 of all diplomatic missions and head of missions worldwide.
Most Active Twitter Accounts
As of May 2016, all world leaders combined have sent 3,940,104 tweets posting on average five tweets each day. Latin American governments are by far among the most prolific on Twitter. The Mexican Presidency (@PresidenciaMX) has sent more than 84,000 tweets and the presidential accounts of the Dominican Republic (@PresidenciaRD) and Venezuela (@PresidencialVen) are not far behind with close to 80,000 tweets on their respective accounts.
The Mexican government (@GobMx) is the most prolific government account, posting on average 135 tweets each day. The government often repeats its tweets several times over several days to capture different audiences at different times. The government of Bolivia @MinComBolivia is the second most prolific account, posting on average 80 tweets per day, followed by the presidency of Colombia (@InfoPresidencia) with 72 tweets per day or roughly three tweets per hour.
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 Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN), the U.S. State Department (@StateDept) and Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Selimi Petrit are among the early adopters having signed up to the micro-blogging service in 2007.
Most world leaders followed suit between 2009 and 2012. The latest to have joined the Twitterverse in April 2016 are Iceland’s new Foreign Minister Lilja Alfredsdottir (@LiljaAlfreds), Bolivia’s President Evo Morales (@EvoesPueblo) and Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Igor Luksic (@I_Luksic) in his bid to become the next UN Secretary General.
Twenty-seven accounts are inactive and have never sent a single tweet, and seven are protected accounts, including the account of Yahya Jammeh, the President of Gambia (@JammehOfficial). Forty six percent (370 accounts out of 793) have been officially verified by Twitter, giving them a blue star of appreciation on their Twitter profiles.
About this Study
Twiplomacy is the leading global study of world leaders on social media, conducted by leading global public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller.
Burson-Marsteller identified 793 Twitter accounts of heads of state and government, foreign ministers and their institutions in 173 countries worldwide. The study analyzes each leader’s Twitter profiles, tweet history, and their connections with each other.
Data was collected on May 1, 2016 using Burson-Marsteller’s proprietary Burson Tools to analyze the 628,000 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.
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.