Twiplomacy Study 2018

Executive Summary

All the world’s atwitter! Or almost. Ninety-seven percent of all 193 UN member states have an official presence on the platform. The governments of only six countries, namely Laos, Mauritania, Nicaragua, North Korea, Swaziland and Turkmenistan do not have an official presence on the platform. Even the Chinese government’s State Council Information Office maintains a presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and seven Chinese embassies as well as one Chinese ambassador are now active on Twitter.

BCW’s Twiplomacy study 2018 identified 951 Twitter accounts – 372 personal and 579 institutional accounts – of heads of state and government and foreign ministers of 187 countries.

Facebook is the second-most popular network among government leaders and it is where they have the biggest audiences. The heads of government and foreign ministers of 179 countries are present on the platform, representing 93 percent of all UN member states. Instagram has become the third-most popular social network for governments and 81 percent of all UN member states have set up an account many of which are sharing daily Instagram stories.

Undeniably, Donald Trump has made the biggest impact on Twitter since taking office on January 20, 2017. @realDonaldTrump is the most followed world leader with more than 52 million followers. He has garnered by far the most interactions over the past 12 months, and his tweets average more than 20,000 retweets. He has posted the most retweeted tweet of any world leader, ‘slamming’ what he describes as “fake news CNN.”

The U.S. President has also changed the tone of discourse on Twitter, frequently insulting his opponents and lampooning foreign leaders, calling North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “little rocket man,” describing the Syrian president as a “gas killing animal,” and threatening air strikes and war via tweets.

Donald Trump’s undiplomatic tweets have left many governments around the world speechless and wondering how to reply to these Twitter outbursts. Very few leaders have replied directly to President Trump on Twitter, mindful not to start a Twitter spat with the most powerful world leader on on the platform. While some leaders have sub-tweeted the U.S. president without mentioning his Twitter handle, others, such as the leaders in the Nordic countries, have started to poke fun at him.

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.

The U.S president is also among a very small group of world leaders who are personally active on their own Twitter accounts. 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.

Twitter is the key channel of communication for digital diplomacy, and 131 foreign ministries and 107 foreign ministers maintain active accounts. Foreign ministries continue to expand their digital diplomatic networks, encouraging their missions and ambassadors worldwide to become active on social media.

For the third year running, the European External Action Service, the foreign policy arm of the European Union, is the best-connected government institution, mutually following 132 of its peers. @realDonaldTrump, @POTUS and the @WhiteHouse do not follow any other foreign leaders. However, the State Department has established mutual Twitter relations with 54 other world leaders and foreign ministries, and is even following Iran’s President @HassanRouhani and Foreign Minister @JZarif.

It is fair to say that those governments that do not allocate sufficient resources to their digital communications and social media channels risk being left behind and left out of the global digital diplomacy movement.

How Donald Trump’s use of Twitter has changed Diplomacy

When Donald Trump was elected U.S. president on November 9, 2016, the world was stunned and world leaders were baffled by his unorthodox use of Twitter to bypass traditional media channels. Many chancelleries had hoped he would use the official @POTUS Twitter account rather than his personal campaign Twitter account (@realDonaldTrump) once he was inaugurated.

When he took office, the @realDonaldTrump account was followed by 97 world leaders on Twitter while 226 world leaders were following the @POTUS account. Today, heads of state and government realize that the @realDonaldTrump account is not going away and, as a result, the @realDonaldTrump handle is now followed by 185 of the 951 world leader accounts and it occupies the fifth position among the most followed accounts by world leaders behind the @WhiteHouse (290), @POTUS (250) the @StateDept (210) and @10DowningStreet (194).

The undiplomatic 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 the @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. On May 18, 2018, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, expressed publicly what many diplomats only think privately: “with friends like that who needs enemies” he tweeted.

In general, the diplomatic community has decided not to react directly to tweets from @realDonaldTrump and avoid any public quarrel in order not to offend him on the platform. No one wants to pick a fight with the most powerful and most followed world leader on Twitter.

During the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington in April 2018, the German government carefully avoided mentioning @realDonaldTrump in its tweets, referring to the U.S. president as “@POTUS Trump” instead.

When Donald Trump publicly berated his closest ally, Prime Minister Theresa May on Twitter, the UK government kept an embarrassed silence on Twitter, not wanting to endanger their special relationship.

Likewise, 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.

Only a handful of world leaders have directly addressed @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. In May 2017, the leaders of Fiji and the Marshall Islands, both island states directly affected by climate change, appealed directly to @realDonaldTrump “not to abandon the Paris Agreement” as Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama tweeted.

When President Trump decided to leave the Paris Climate Agreement on June 1, 2017, the Prime Ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden coordinated their Twitter reply urging @realDonaldTrump “to show global leadership” and not to leave the accord.

In a last-ditch effort to sway the U.S. President, the French Foreign Ministry specifically tagged the personal Twitter account of the president’s daughter @IvankaTrump in its tweet, in the hope that the First Daughter and Special Adviser to the President would be able to convince her father not to “refuse the worldwide solution.”

When that failed, the French Foreign Ministry annotated the video posted by @WhiteHouse explaining that “Leaving the Paris Accord is a bad deal for America and the World.” It was the first time a foreign ministry publicly rebuked an ally on Twitter, and the tweet has become its most retweeted tweet with more than 19,000 retweets.

African and Latin American leaders were incensed in January 2018 when it was reported that the U.S. President had called African countries and El Salvador “shithole” countries. The leaders of Botswana, El Salvador, Ghana and Senegal all tweeted their disapproval in no unclear terms. “We will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful,” tweeted Nana Akufo-Addo, the President of Ghana.

In early May 2018, the French Foreign Ministry tweeted a strongly worded statement after Donald Trump declared in a speech to the National Rifle Association that the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015, which had left 130 people dead, could have been avoided if the people had had guns. While President @EmmanuelMacron stayed mum, former French president Francois Hollande tweeted a video statement calling the remarks “shameful and obscene.”

It is easy for opposition politicians to openly criticize the U.S. President. Sebastian Pinera, Chile’s new president and then opposition leader tweeted on January 31, 2017 that with Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s vice president: “the US is ruled by Donald and Mickey. Would Walt Disney have dreamt of it?”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the few leaders who wholeheartedly welcome Donald President Trump’s decisions to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or to rescind the Iran nuclear deal. His most retweeted tweet ever welcomes President Trump to build the border wall: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea,” he tweeted with Trumpian exaggerations.

However, the unease about Donald Trump’s liberal use of his personal Twitter account is also evident within his own administration. The @StateDept is notably the only U.S. government department that does not follow the personal account of @realDonaldTrump since it is not an official administration account. The newly created account for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, @SecPompeo, started following the @realDonaldTrump’s personal account three weeks after its inception.

In line with U.S. State Department guidelines about the private and official use of social media accounts, the @StateDept account has never mentioned the @realDonaldTrump account, consistently referring to the U.S. president as “@POTUS Trump.” However, that rule does not prevent the State Department from following the Iranian Foreign Minister @JZarif and Iran’s President @HassanRouhani who haven’t reciprocated yet.

The @WhiteHouse, on the other hand, has mentioned @realDonaldTrump 412 times and @POTUS 290 times. Under the Obama administration, the White House did not follow nor mention the campaign account of @BarackObama nor @MichelleObama.

French President Emmanuel Macron has made a dazzling appearance on the Twittersphere in 2017. Since his election on May 14, 2017, the @EmmanuelMacron account has tripled in size, adding more than 2 million new followers and becoming the EU’s third most followed leader.

Macron’s subtweet of the U.S. president, with the call to Make Our Planet Great Again, the day after the U.S. administration pulled out of the Paris climate accord, has become his all-time most retweeted tweet with more than half a million retweets and likes.

The Twitter communication of the French presidency has clearly pivoted to promote the personal Twitter account of @EmmanuelMacron. Under his predecessor, François Hollande, the @Elysee account averaged more than 16 tweets per day, but since the election of Emmanuel Macron @Elysee has become a secondary account, posting on average fewer than two tweets per day.

In all his public appearances, the French president is followed by his social media team which captures and records his every move, livestreaming his speeches on Periscope, Facebook Live and Instagram Stories. The best quotes and snippets of his meetings are shared on Twitter, including a 17-second clip taken of his phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his attempt learn how to say “Make our planet great again” in Chinese.

The German Foreign Ministry scored a couple of viral hits with humorous tweets. In September 2017, it greeted Twitter’s character extension to 280 characters with a tweet including #Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungs-aufgabenübertragungsgesetz, a 61-letter word literally meaning cattle marking and beef labelling supervision duties delegation law. When Germany beat nine-time Olympic champions Canada in the ice hockey semi-finals at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, the Foreign Ministry issued this humorous travel advisory: “Germans in Canada should exercise a high degree of empathy. Be nice, don’t gloat, give hugs, buy rounds of hot chocolate. Just imagine how you would feel if Canada beat us in soccer,” which has become its most retweeted tweet.

The Belgian Foreign Ministry celebrated International Waffle Day on March 25, 2018, posting mouth-watering pictures of the Belgian national delicacy and explaining the difference between the Liège and Brussels versions, clearly showing that culinary diplomacy is part of nation branding and digital diplomacy.

The Italian Foreign Ministry celebrated Twitter’s character extension with a tweet including 30 flag emojis forming the shape of the country which was initially crafted by the community manager of the Italian Embassy in Washington.

The use of emojis and especially flag emojis has become widespread in governmental tweets to draw the reader’s attention to links or videos.

The UK Foreign Office has found an elegant solution to make 280-character tweets more readable and visually appealing. Its long-form tweets include: a title or a key quote with the main news, a lead sentence, a link preceded by an emoji and a picture, all visually separated by carriage returns.

Covfefe Moments

World leaders do occasionally make mistakes and have their “covfefe” moments, a reference to the garbled tweet sent by President Trump in May 2017 which left the Twittersphere baffled.

President Trump took it in a stride, deleted the original tweet and followed up with a tweet asking his followers: “Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” ??? Enjoy!” The U.S. president, who often manages the account himself, has misspelled the First Lady’s name calling her “Melanie” and written “Capital Hill” instead of Capitol Hill, the seat of the U.S. government institutions.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters’ most retweeted tweet is a failed vanity search in which he confused the “compose tweet” window with the Twitter search bar.

The internet, and especially Twitter, do not forget and thanks to Twitter’s advanced search function you can retrieve old tweets such as this hilarious first tweet from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when she was New Zealand’s youngest sitting member of Parliament almost a decade ago. 

Tweeting in Multiple Languages

The French President tweets mainly in French, but his team often translates tweets for an international audience in English and quotes the original French tweet with the English version. At the awards ceremony for the prestigious Charles Prize in Germany, he posted a group selfie which his team quoted five times in English, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

The French, foreign ministry tweets in Arabic, English, German, Russian and Spanish besides French, and the Russian Foreign Ministry has activated a Spanish channel in addition to English and Russian. The Israeli Prime Minister and the Foreign Ministry have Twitter channels in Arabic and Farsi to reach audiences in countries with which they do not have diplomatic relations.

Pope Francis maintains nine separate language accounts, in Arabic, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and even Latin, tweeting the same message in each language. Interestingly, his Latin account has more followers than his Arabic and German accounts.

Venezuela’s president has set up 14 different language accounts, however only his Arabic, English, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish accounts are actively tweeting.

In April 2018, the Turkish Presidency activated specific Twitter channels in Arabic, French, German, Russian and Spanish besides the main Turkish account (@tcbestepe). The social media team in Ankara even set up the first channel Twitter account for the hearing impaired. The @EngelsizBestepe Twitter channel shares YouTube videos of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speeches with sign language translation. Using Twitter’s Media Studio, it is even possible to posts these same videos as native videos including closed captions.

And finally, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro posted a video entirely in sign-language.

Personal or Institutional Twitter Accounts

The Dutch Foreign Ministry has found an ingenious way to build a sustainable personal Twitter account for the foreign minister, modeled after the @POTUS Twitter account but retaining the name of the minster. When Halbe Zijlstra became Dutch Foreign Minister in November 2017, his personal Twitter handle was mothballed and changed to @HalbeZijlstra1. The institutional account @MinisterBZ, set up by the Dutch Foreign Ministry for the minister, was renamed @HalbeZijlstra and used for his official tweets during his tenure. When he resigned in February 2018, he re-took control of his personal handle, @HalbeZijlstra, and the institutional account was simply renamed to include the name of the new minister @MinisterBlok while preserving also all the Tweets sent under his predecessor.

In February 2018, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry opened an institutional channel for Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi @Menlu_RI which will be handed to her successor. Alternatively, Canadian Foreign Minister Cynthia Freeland has abandoned the institutional channels @MinCanadaFA and @MinCanadaAE set up by her predecessor, preferring to tweet on her personal account, @cafreeland.

In February 2018, the German Foreign Ministry opened 12 thematic, regional and sector-specific Twitter channels (@AA_Kultur, @AA_SicherReisen, @AA_stabilisiert, @GermanyonBrexit, @GERMANYonUN, @GERClimatEnergy, @GERonEconomy, @GERonAfrica, @GERonAsia, @GERonOstpolitik, @GERonStratCom, @planungsstab). The new thematic channels, which mainly post in English, are part of a “transparency initiative, intended to make German foreign policy even more visible and to invite it to dialogue,” as the Foreign office wrote on its website.

These Twitter accounts have an institutional handle; however, the account name and the avatar are those of the current office holder. These institutional/personal accounts have two advantages: 1) these accounts will remain with the institution regardless of the office holder, and 2) they allow for more targeted interactions on a defined topic. Interestingly, the @GermanyonBrexit, managed by Peter Ptassed has become the most followed account of the set with 6,900 followers.

The Social Media Platforms of World Leaders

Judging by the number of governments on the platform, Twitter is the social media channel of choice for governments and foreign ministries. BCW’s research team identified 951 Twitter accounts belonging to heads of state and government and foreign ministers in 187 countries, representing 97 percent of all UN member states, with a combined audience of 485 million followers.

All 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; though her party set up the @AngelaMerkel Twitter account in August 2017, it is inactive. All European governments have a presence on the social network, and in the Americas only the government of Nicaragua does not have an official Twitter account.

Only six countries, including Laos, Mauritania, Nicaragua, North Korea, Swaziland and Turkmenistan, 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. The Chinese State Council Information Office (@ChinaSCIO) has been on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube since September 1, 2015, sharing government information from Chinese media outlets. A handful of Chinese diplomatic missions are also actively engaging with peers on Twitter, in Brussels, Berne and Geneva, and even the Chinese Ambassador to India is now on Twitter: @China_Amb_India.

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 179 countries are present on the platform, representing 93 percent of all UN member states. The 677 Facebook pages have a combined audience of 311 million likes. On average, Facebook pages are more popular than Twitter accounts, with a median average of 37,103 likes per page, compared to 18,135 followers for each Twitter account.

Over the past year Instagram has become the third-most popular social network for governments, and 81 percent of all UN member states have set up an account to share behind-the-scenes pictures and videos of their activities. The 403 Instagram accounts have a median average of 4,228 followers.

YouTube has dropped into fourth place and 80 percent of all UN governments use it as a video repository, although the median average of subscribers is only 1,037.

Twitter’s Periscope platform for live broadcasts has grown, and there are 204 Periscope channels representing almost half of the 193 UN member states. Half of these channels have broadcast live over the past 12 months. And finally, Snapchat is used by 30 world leaders, representing 11 percent of all UN governments.

Most-Followed World Leaders

Over the past 12 months, most Twitter accounts have witnessed robust growth in followers with 154 accounts more than doubling their followers, pushing the average growth rate of all accounts to 84 percent. Accounts of newly appointed prime ministers or recently elected officials tend to grow exponentially. The world leaders’ accounts also see significant growth during election campaigns.

U.S. President Donald Trump has 52 million followers on his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, which has more than doubled adding 31 million new followers since taking office on January 20, 2017.

President Trump became the most followed world leader in October 2017, passing Pope Francis (@Pontifex) who is the second most followed world leader with more than 47 million followers across his nine language accounts. His official accounts dispense daily thoughts and prayers in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish.

Indian Prime Minister @NarendraModi is the third-most followed world leader with 42 million followers on his personal account and 26 million followers on his institutional account (@PMOIndia), which boasts the fourth-largest following.

The official @POTUS Twitter account of the U.S. president and the @WhiteHouse accounts occupy the fifth and sixth rankings, with 23 and 17 million followers respectively. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan) has more than 12 million followers.  India’s Foreign Minister (@SushmaSwaraj), @QueenRania of Jordan and the Indonesian president (@Jokowi) complete the Top 10 list of the most followed leaders with more than 10 million followers each.

Sixty-nine world leaders have more than 1 million followers each. @KingAbdullahII of Jordan, who set up his personal account in late March 2017, and French President Emmanuel have seen their follower numbers triple year-over-year as they are making an impact on the platform.

On the other hand, Russian Premier Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry have seen their follower counts decline year-over-year by several percentage points. In February 2018, most of the Kazakh, Russian and Ukrainian governmental accounts witnessed massive drops in their follower numbers after Twitter decided to cut down on fake followers and bot farms.

Some 125, or 13 percent, of the 951 Twitter accounts analysed in our study are currently dormant, 33 are inactive and nine accounts are protected.

Most-Followed Regional Leaders

Mexico’s outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) has 7 million followers, far ahead of Colombia’s President (@JuanManSantos), and Argentina’s president (@MauricioMacri), with 5 and 4 million followers, respectively.






Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta @UKenyatta is Sub-Saharan Africa’s most followed leader with 3 million followers, ahead of Rwanda’s @PaulKagame and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari), with more than 1 million followers each.





The institutional account of the UK Prime Minister, recently renamed from @Number10gov to @10DowningStreet. is the most followed EU leader, with more than 5 million followers, ahead of the British @RoyalFamily and French President Emmanuel Macron, both with more than 3 million followers. @EmmanuelMacron has almost tripled his followers since his election in May 2017 and he has surpassed the @Elysee Palace and former Spanish Prime Minister @MarianoRajoy who complete the top five list of the most followed EU leaders.


Jordan’s @QueenRania has become the most followed Arab leader account with more than 10 million followers, surpassing Sheikh Mohammed, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (@HHShkMohd) and Saudi Arabia’s @KingSalman, with 9 and 6 million followers respectively.

@QueenRania is the second-most followed female world leader after India’s Foreign Minister, @SushmaSwaraj, who is also the most followed foreign minister, with 11 million followers. Abdullah Bin Zayed, @ABZayed, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is the second-most followed foreign minister with 4 million followers, followed by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister (@AdelAljubeir) with 2 million followers.


Among the foreign ministries, the U.S. State Department (@StateDept) is the most followed, with 5 million followers, ahead of the Foreign Ministry of Saudi Arabia (@KSAMOFA) which has shot into second position with more than 2 million followers. The @IndianDiplomacy, the Turkish Foreign Ministry (@TC_Disisleri), the Russian foreign ministry (@MID_RF) and @FranceDiplo complete the top six list with more than 1 million followers each.

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, @realDonaldTrump has achieved 264 million interactions, more than five times as many as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with 52 million interactions, and 12 times as many as Pope Francis. His overall interaction rate (the sum of all interactions divided by the number of tweets and the average number of followers) is 0.25 percent, less than half that of Pope Francis.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia has an exceptionally good interaction rate of 3.63 percent on the 11 tweets he has sent over the past 12 months. Japanese Prime Minister @AbeShinzo has achieved a 2.90 percent interaction rate with more than 2 million interactions on his 98 tweets.

Considering the number of retweets as a measure of effectiveness, Saudi Arabia’s @KingSalman is the most effective world leader on Twitter. He has only tweeted 11 times between May 2017 and May 2018, but each of his tweets has received an average of 154,294 retweets. He posts exclusively in Arabic and without any visuals, but every tweet is a digital home run.

The 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 20,319 retweets per tweet. The Spanish and English Papal accounts garner more than 10,000 average retweets per tweet. South Korean President Moon Jae-in (@Moonriver365) and Japanese Prime Minister @AbeShinzo complete the top-five list of the most effective world leaders with more than 6,000 retweets per tweet, respectively. The newly created Twitter account for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also places in the top 10 with 4,642 average retweets per tweet, illustrating the impact his tweets are having.

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 effective 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, 116 governments and foreign ministries have created such Moments which work very well on mobile devices and are useful to recycle and highlight memorable events.

The social media team of Indonesia’s Presidential account (@KSPgoid) has created 207 such collections, highlighted on its Twitter profile. The Pakistani government (@pid_gov) has published 168 Moments including the photos of the week and the top stories of the day.

In October 2017, the German Foreign Ministry conducted a 24-hour Twitter marathon asking its embassies and missions to share their activities on Twitter. The pictures and videos from the outposts around the world were amplified on the German language account of the @AuswaertigesAmt and the 50 best posts are available in a Twitter Moment, including the view of the wildlife in the grounds of the German embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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.

In March 2018 the press spokesperson of the Russian Embassy in Washington suggested establishing mutual Twitter relations between the U.S. State Department and the Russian Embassy in Washington to allow for Direct Messaging since “Twitter seems to be more reliable & quicker communication channel (under your gov control) on urgent issues.” However, the @StateDept did not reply to the request and is not following @RusEmbUSA or @MFA_Russia.

For the past three years, the EU External Action Service (@EU_eeas) has been the best-connected foreign office, mutually following 132 foreign ministries and world leaders. The UK @ForeignOffice has moved into second place with 130 mutual connections, overtaking the Russian Foreign Ministry @MFA_Russia with 126 mutual connections. The foreign ministries of Germany, Iceland, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Norway all have more than 100 mutual connections.

The existence of mutual connections on Twitter is a good indicator of the state 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 290 and 250 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 White House is no longer following Russian Prime Minister @MedvedevRussiaE nor the UK’s @Number10gov accounts as the @ObamaWhiteHouse did.

Despite President Trump’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. State Department is unilaterally following eight 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.

On May 26, 2015, the State Department used Twitter to re-establish ties with its Cuban counterpart and the Cuban Foreign Ministry reciprocated several hours later, two months before the official re-establishment of diplomatic relations.

The State Department enjoys mutual Twitter relations with 54 other leaders, mainly foreign ministries, and it is unilaterally followed by 210 other world leaders, including the Russian Foreign Ministry, but it hasn’t reciprocated Moscow’s overture yet.

Being mutually connected on Twitter is not only a courteous gesture, but also allows these leaders to direct message to each other and to have private conversations on Twitter, a feature which can also be turned on by default. Several 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 smaller countries to make valuable connections with their peers. The Foreign Ministry of Peru (@CancilleriaPeru) and the Danish Foreign Ministry (@DanishMFA) have made a conscious effort to establish mutual connections on Twitter, unilaterally following 430 and 381 other world leaders, respecitvely. The Swedish Foreign Ministry (@SweMFA) unilaterally follows 253 world leaders in the hopes of tweeting with other world leaders.

Creating Digital Diplomatic Networks

The UK @ForeignOffice has probably the largest ‘twiplomatic’ network, maintaining a public Twitter list with a record of 413 embassies, ambassadors and deputy heads of mission. The Russian Foreign Ministry is in second position with 244 embassies, consulates and trade missions on its Twitter list followed by the State Department with 191 official missions and ambassadorial accounts on its Twitter lists.

Only 70 accounts have created such public Twitter lists of their digital network, which is time consuming, but helps promote other relevant accounts such as diplomatic missions and other government accounts. The foreign ministries of Albania, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, India, Israel, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine each list more than 100 diplomats and missions on Twitter, and most foreign ministries have expanded their digital diplomatic networks over the past few years. Not all countries encourage their ambassadors to tweet, however; Russian and Swiss ambassadors, for example, have been advised not to engage personally on the platform – the accounts of ambassadors @Amb_Yakovenko and @Martin_Dahinden are the exception to the rule.

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 and French, and sometimes also in the local language.

According to the Twitter lists on @Twiplomacy, more than 4,600 embassies and 1,400 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 embassies in Canada, Pakistan, Turkey, Uganda and the Chinese Missions to the EU, the UN in New York, and Geneva and Luo Zhaohui, the Chinese Ambassador to India (@China_Amb_India) are now actively tweeting.

The @USEmbassyManila is the most followed mission on Twitter, with 831,546 followers, ahead of Russia’s mission to NATO (@NATOmission_RU) and the U.S. Embassy in China (@USA_China_Talk) with 739,030 and 634,382 followers, respectively.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN and former Governor of South Carolina, is the most followed diplomat in the world. She has seen her followers balloon to 1,604,434, but the use of her personal Twitter account @NikkiHaley has recently raised protocol concerns at the State Department. The British Ambassador to Egypt @FCOJohnCasson is in second position with 1,179,416 followers.

All 6,050 embassies and ambassadors combined have 39 million followers, and the median average of each ambassador and mission is 1,501 followers. The United Nations (@UN) is followed by 2,523 ambassadors and missions, ahead of @TheEconomist and @BBCBreaking account, followed by 1,859 and 1,771 ambassadors and missions, respectively.

The UN missions – @NLatUN, @CanadaUN, @SwedenUN, @EUatUN and @RussiaUN – are the best connected diplomatic missions, mutually following more than 250 other missions and ambassadors. U.S. UN Ambassador @NikkiHaley and @USUN are the most followed by 369 and 324 of their peers.

Who Else do World Leaders Follow?

BCW’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 375 of the 951 world leaders’ Twitter accounts, ahead of @BarackObama and the @ObamaWhiteHouse, which are followed by 316 and 233 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 ahead of the BBC, Reuters and CNN.

Our own @Twiplomacy account, with 56,000 followers, makes it into the top 10 list, followed by 190 heads of state and government and foreign ministers, demonstrating that quality of followers does not always correspond with the highest follower quantities. 

Visual Communications on Twitter

The analysis of the 253,195 original tweets sent by world leaders between May 2017 and May 2018 shows that Twitter is first and foremost used to share tweets with links to other websites. Forty-one percent of all the tweets shared by world leaders are link tweets, which automatically display the visual from the linked website, generating on average 443 interactions/tweet.

Tweets with photos represent almost one third of all the tweets, garnering 617 average interactions per tweet. Twenty percent of the tweets are plain text tweets while only six percent are native video tweets which tend to perform best, garnering on average 3,518 interactions per tweet, five times as much as tweets with pictures. Tweets with links to videos on other platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo only receive 265 average interactions per tweet.


Twitter’s Periscope app, used for live broadcasts, is being used more and more by government leaders. While 325 world leaders have secured their live channel, only 204 have gone live on the platform. Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos was the first head of state to use the livestreaming application Periscope at the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his administration are avid users of Periscope and their frequent broadcasts of his speeches and rallies have garnered a total of 15 million likes. U.S. President Donald Trump is the most followed world leader on Periscope with 453,655 followers although he has only gone live twice on the platform, garnering more than 1.5 million likes.

The social media team of French President @EmmanuelMacron regularly ‘scopes’ all his speeches and ceremonies, including the townhall at George Washington University where he used the word ‘bullshit’ garnering more than 2 million likes. Key extracts of his speeches are also shared on his Twitter feed. The French @Elysee Palace also livestreams the weekly press conference after the cabinet meeting and has garnered more than 800,000 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 broadcasts have garnered more than half a million likes.

Periscope is a cost-effective way to stream press conferences, and the governments of Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Paraguay, and South Africa are frequent users of the platform. While many governments will stream their weekly press conference on the platform, only one world leader has done a live Q&A session on the platform, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou.

The presidency of Madagascar has set up a specific Twitter channel titled @Le_RendezVous and linked to a YouTube channel, designed to allow President Hery Rajaonarimampianina to organize regular fireside chats with his constituents.

On 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.

Are World Leaders Conversational on Twitter?

Twitter allows citizens direct access to their leaders. Whether the world leader answers, however, is another matter, although a select few do reply to @mentions. Public Twitter exchanges between leaders are rare, but when they happen they often make headlines.

The German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert (@RegSprecher) felt obliged to reply to @Rihanna, who has 88 million followers on Twitter, when she called out the German government’s commitment to fund education. “Hi @Rihanna, education is a key area of German development policy. We have nearly doubled spending since 2013.Thanks for spreading the word!” he tweeted.

On International Women’s Day 2018, the Russian Embassy in Washington congratulated @StateDeptSpox Heather Nauert. Heather Nauert replied with a stern political message: “Thank you, but on this #InternationalWomensDay the @StateDept & @USUN would prefer that #Russia live up to its international commitments & stop bombing innocent men, women & children in #Syria.”

The 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 97 percent of its tweets are @replies to other Twitter users. The @GOVUK channel is in second position followed by the government of Nepal’s “Hello Government” account, with 95 and 90 percent of their tweets being @replies 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 85 percent of his tweets being @replies to other Twitter users. @PaulKagame sometimes gets into memorable Twitter exchanges with his critics, and even sometimes chats publicly with his children. Kagame’s personal Twitter engagement shows that, even if you have 1.8 million Twitter followers, you can still be on top of the conversation and personally reply to comments on your Twitter feed.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister @JacindaArdern, Serbia’s Prime Minister @AnaBrnabić and Norway’s Prime Minister all occasionally reply directly to questions from their followers.

Forty-two heads of state and government have opted to receive Twitter Direct Messages from anyone, such as @CyrilRamaphosa, the President of South Africa, sporting a ‘Message’-button on his profile. However, when we sent messages to inquire about the number of messages they receive on average, only three replied.

The accounts queried reported receiving on average one direct message per week to one message per day and the number of spam messages seems to have significantly decreased as it is no longer possible to send bulk direct messages to users.

The Foreign Ministry of New Zealand is the only government institution that encourages users to opt-in to receive occasional direct messages, allowing the foreign ministry to share important tweets or messages to a large audience easily through with the click of a button.

Many foreign ministries and foreign ministers are also proudly flying their colours in their Twitter name and Twitter bios. Since we suggested the addition of the flag emojis in the name or the Twitter bio, 76 accounts are now sporting their national flags, adding a touch of color to their Twitter profiles, among them the Brazilian, the Dutch, the French, Polish, Russian foreign ministries and UK Foreign Office.

However, only a handful of governmental Twitter accounts have made use of the extended character count of Twitter names to 50 characters, which has allowed the European External Action Service (EEAS) to write its name in full.

Interestingly, Alan Peter Cayetano, the Foreign Minister of the Philippines, renamed his account to “God bless the Philippines” in the wake of the latest typhoon to hit the island state.

Hashtag Diplomacy

#EU and #UNGA are the most used hashtags by world leaders, reflecting the importance of the European Union and the United Nations General Assembly in the digital diplomacy discourse on Twitter. #Qatar #Syria and #Somalia are the most tweeted about regional flashpoints.

#Rwanda and Rwandan President Paul #Kagame feature prominently in this word cloud since they are consistently mentioned on his government’s Twitter accounts as is Italian President Mattarella, who does not have a personal Twitter presence.

Italian President Sergio #Mattarella, 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.

Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro is by far the most mentioned Twitter account, often quoted in tweets by his very active presidential accounts. @YouTube is also prominent in this world cloud of the 250 most mentioned accounts by world leaders since many are automatically sharing their YouTube videos on Twitter.

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 favourites. @realDonaldTrump is the most listed world leader, appearing on 88,165 Twitter lists. In comparison, his predecessor @BarackObama appears on 228,366 Twitter lists. Russia’s Prime Minister @MedvedevRussia is in second position, on 44,073 lists, followed by the disaster readiness account of the Japanese government @Kantei_Saigai. Pope Francis @Pontifex, the UK Prime Minister @10DowningStreet, Indian Prime Minister @NarendraModi and the U.S. State Department @StateDept are featured on more than 20,000 Twitter lists.

Only 167 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 45 lists including list of government agencies, municipalities, athletes, journalists and selected international summits. The European Council media department (@EUCouncilPress) maintains 28 lists, often for specific council meetings and events, to be better able to follow online discussions of participants. The Australian Foreign Office (@dfat) maintains 25 Twitter lists, and the Russian Foreign Ministry has 25 lists on the @MID_RF account and 19 on the @MFA_Russia account.

Only 142 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 29 lists and the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador has subscribed to 21 lists.

Quite a number of world leader accounts have subscribed to one of the 66 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 18, 2018, all world leaders combined have sent a total of 6,667,039 tweets since their account creation. Latin American governments are among the most active on Twitter. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry (@CancilleriaVE) is the most prolific government account, posting 55 tweets each day on average over the past 12 months. The Foreign Ministry of Venezuela has posted more than 124,000 tweets in total since the account’s creation in August 2010.

The Presidency of El Salvador with the (@GobSV_Comunica) and the @Presidencia_sv accounts and the governments of the Dominican Republic and of South Africa complete the top-five list of the most active accounts with more than 30 tweets per day.

The Mexican government (@GobMx) has posted a total of 161,384 tweets, consistently retweeting tweets from the @PresidenciaMx account which is also among the 10 most active accounts and has shared more than 104,000 tweets since the account’s creation.

Overall the activity of the most active accounts has declined over the past 12 months and Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro has dropped out of the top-10 list of the most active Twitter users.

It is interesting to note that Twitter, which until recently did not allow users to tweet the same tweet twice, now allows the retweet of one’s own tweets, which is practical in order to reach different audiences at different times and in different time zones 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 more than a decade ago. Most world leaders followed suit between 2009 and 2015.

The latest to have joined the Twitterverse in May 2018 is U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (@SecPompeo) who has quickly garnered more than 127,000 followers.

Thirty-three accounts are inactive and have never sent a single tweet, nine are protected accounts and 125 have been dormant for more than a year. More than half of the accounts (509 accounts out of 951) have been officially verified by Twitter, giving them a blue checkmark symbol on their Twitter profiles.

About this Study

Twiplomacy is the preeminent global study of world leaders on social media conducted by BCW, a top-three and the first truly integrated global communications agency in the world.

BCW identified 951 Twitter accounts of heads of state and government, foreign ministers and their institutions in 187 countries worldwide. The study analyses each leader’s Twitter profiles, tweet history and their connections with each other.

Data was collected on May 18, 2018 using BCW’s proprietary tools to analyze the 903,450 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.

BCW 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, July 10, 2018

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
[email protected]
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