Twiplomacy Study 2012

Twitter has become a new way to communicate with world leaders and a way for these leaders to communicate with each other. On the one hand it allows heads of state and government to broadcast their daily activities and government news to an ever-growing audience, on the other, it allows citizens direct access to their leaders. Anyone can @mention a world leader on Twitter. Whether the world leader answers is another question, although a select few do actually reply to their followers’ @mentions. “Life is tweet”, former UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott recently wrote in The Guardian: “Twitter has given me a voice and a connection to millions of people that the distorted prism of the mainstream media denied.” Indeed, a few world leaders use Twitter precisely to debunk false information and correct media reports.

Two thirds of all world leaders on Twitter

Presidents, prime ministers or their institutions in 125 countries have a presence on Twitter. Twitter is especially popular in North and South America where 83% and 75% of the heads of state and government, respectively, have a Twitter account. Three-quarters of European governments are active on Twitter, while in Africa and Asia the number drops to 60% and 56% respectively. In Oceania governments in only 4 out of the 14 countries (i.e. 29% of leaders) have a Twitter presence. Barack Obama is the most followed world leader with 17,115,077 followers, and the 5th most popular account in the Twitterverse just behind Britney Spears. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is the second most followed leader with 3,152,608 followers, followed by the White House (2,951,928), Queen Rania of Jordan (2,174,187) and the UK prime minister (2,022,685). Presidents Abdullah Gül of Turkey, Felipe Calderón of Mexico, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and prime ministers Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğanof Turkey all have more than one million followers.

Barack Obama Superstar

More important than the number of followers are the connections between these world leaders. More than a quarter of all world leaders and governments (76) are following Barack Obama. However @BarackObama only mutually follows Norway’s Jens Stoltenberg and Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev, and hasn’t established mutual Twitter relations with other world leaders yet. Interestingly the White House doesn’t follow @BarackObama, which is a campaign account. EU President Herman van Rompuy (@euHvR) is the best connected world leader, mutually following 11 other peers. Australia’s Prime Minister @JuliaGillard is the second best connected leader with 10 mutual connections, followed by the Korean presidency (@BlueHouseKorea), the UK government (@Number10gov) and the Russian prime minister (@MedvedevRussia), all of whom follow 9 other world leaders. Almost half of world leader accounts (120 of the 264) don’t follow any of their peers.

Twitter is sometimes used by small nations to put them on the world map and tweet eye-to-eye with their peers. The president of the Dominican Republic unilaterally follows 71 other world leaders. The president of Portugal and the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago both unilaterally follow more than 50 peers, perhaps in the hope that they will return the favour; so far they haven’t.

Barack Obama follows a record 676,247 tweeps. Like the UK prime minister, initially he automatically followed anyone who followed him. Today only Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Korean presidency continue to automatically follow all their followers. Russian President Putin, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Dutch Royal Household don’t follow any other Twitter user. In total 42 accounts do not follow any other Twitter user; effectively cutting themselves out of the conversation.

Are they tweeting themselves?

Thirty heads of state and government actually do their own tweeting. The most conversational are the prime minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi, and Rwanda President Paul Kagame who frequently engage personally in tweets with their followers. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati holds occasional Twitter chats with his followers and President Barack Obama has become more active on the White House Twitter channel, participating in a recent White House chat. The Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak invited his 500,000th follower for breakfast and the Croatian government has started to organize regular tweet-ups at the government offices for 50 lucky followers. Politicians often discover Twitter during election campaigns when their teams document their every word and deed in 140 characters. Once elected, these accounts often go silent. Among the 57 dormant profiles are the accounts of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff @DilmaBR and French President François Hollande @FHollande, both of whom have abandoned their Twitter followers since taking office. Of the G20 countries, 16 have a presence on Twitter. In Germany and Switzerland the government spokesperson is the official Twitter representative for the head of government and both have been included in this study.

US President Barack Obama was the first world leader to sign up to Twitter on 5 March 2007 followed the same month by @EPN, the account now used by Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto. Belgium’s Elio Di Rupo and Canada’s Stephen Harper also set up their Twitter account in 2007, while most world leaders signed up in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The most recent joiners of the social network are the French government @Matignon, the Swiss government spokesperson, the President of the Maldives @MaldivesPO and the Estonian President @IlvesToomas.

World Leaders Twitter Statistics

The 264 world leader twitter accounts have sent 350,289 tweets to 51,990,656 followers. The most popular tweet is the announcement by Barack Obama that: “Same-sex couples should be able to get married”, retweeted 62,047 times on 9 May 2012. The British Monarchy is the most prolific with 11,509 tweets sent (an average of 14 tweets/day), followed by the presidential administrations of the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Chile each having sent more than 10,000 tweets. World leaders tweet in 43 different languages; however a large majority (90 accounts) use English as their main language. Spanish is the second most used language with 41 accounts; French comes in third place with 25 accounts, followed by Arabic with 17 accounts. Spanish-language accounts are the most prolific in terms of tweets, posting 125,220 Spanish tweets to their 12.5 million followers. English tweets come only second with 93,888 English tweets sent to 27.7 million followers. Some governments have created new accounts as a new administration took office like the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron who changed the @DowningStreet account to @Number10gov. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra changed @PooYingluck to @PouYingluck and Haitian president @PresidentMicky changed his account to @MichelJMartelly so no one would make fun of him anymore. And finally, three world leaders have used foul language in their Twitter stream. Two have deleted the offensive posts claiming it wasn’t them, and the third one has let it remain for posterity.

About the Study

“Twiplomacy” is a study of the use of Twitter by world leaders, conducted by leading global public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller.

Burson-Marsteller identified Twitter accounts of 264 heads of state and government and their institutions in 125 countries world-wide. The study analyses their Twitter profiles, their tweet history and their connections with each other. Data used was taken in July 2012 using Twitonomy (http://twitonomy.com). Over 30 variables were considered, including: tweets, following, followers, listed, the date the user joined Twitter, ratio followers/following, ratio listed/100 followers, tweets/day, retweets, % of retweets, user @mentions, average number of @mentions/tweet, @replies, % of @replies, links, average number of links/tweet, hashtags, average number of hashtags/tweet, tweets retweeted, proportion of tweets retweeted by others, total number of tweets retweeted, average number of tweets retweeted, users most retweeted, users most replied to, users most mentioned, hashtags most used, platforms most tweeted from. Burson-Marsteller also used Twitonomy to pull together the entire Tweet history for each account to find the most popular tweet. You can find the full Twitonomy data set here To find the first tweet of each world leader Burson-Marsteller used MyFirstTweet (http://myfirsttweet.com). (When the account had more than 3,200 tweets it was sometimes impossible to find their first tweet). Doesfollow (http://doesfollow.com) was used to analyze Twitter relations between world leaders. We used Wordle (http://wordle.net) to create tag clouds of each feeds most frequently used terms.

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to Georgia Angelopoulou, Domingas Carvalhosa, Vibor Cipan, Damon Clinkscales, Gary Crane, David Folley, Matthieu Fyot, Angel Garcia, Karl Haechler, Karl Haechler, Jessica Hedberg, Nicole Ioannidi, Sam Jackson, Julio Jaton, Adam Kaliszewski, Gunārs Klēģers, Maria Lazarimou, Francisco Lopez, Ian McCabe, Abha Malpani, Karen Massin, Isabelle Merillet, Alexandra Mota, Flávia Paluello, Mladen Panić, Phillip Perry, Chrysanthi Sarafianou,  Lukas Sieber, Dean Siriščević, Sam Sivarajah, Stine Sørensen, Katarina Wallin Bureau who have helped compile this study.

Matthias Lüfkens

Geneva 26 July 2012