Over the past five years, Twitter has become a new way to communicate with world leaders and a way for these leaders to communicate with each other. On the one hand, it allows heads of state and government and foreign ministers to broadcast their daily activities to an ever-growing audience; on the other, it allows citizens direct access to their leaders. Anyone can @mention a world leader on Twitter. Whether the world leader answers is another question, although a select few do actually reply to their followers’ @mentions.
“Using social media channels is a way for a country to punch above its weight” said former Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton @AlecJRoss in February 2013. Indeed a number of governments are using Twitter to put themselves on the proverbial digital map, to broadcast their messages to a global audience and to connect with their peers around the world.
Three quarters of all governments are on Twitter
The study found that more than three-quarters (77.7%) of world leaders have a Twitter account. Presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers or their respective administrations in 153 countries have a presence on Twitter. All 45 European governments and all South American countries except Suriname now have an official Twitter presence. In North America, Asia and Africa 79%, 76% and 71% of all governments are using the micro-blogging service. In Oceania governments in only four out of the 14 countries (i.e. 38.4% of governments) have a Twitter presence.
U.S. President @BarackObama is still the most followed world leader on Twitter with 33,510,157 followers as of 1 July 2013 and is the fourth most popular account in the Twitterverse, just behind Lady Gaga. Pope Francis is the second most followed world leader with 7,200,332 followers on his nine different @Pontifex accounts. The White House is in third position with 4,018,510 followers – @WhiteHouse and the @LaCasaBianca accounts combined. Turkish President Abdullah Gül (@cbabdullahgul) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan) are among the top five most followed world leaders with 3.4 million followers each.
Queen Rania of Jordan (@QueenRania), Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (@SBYudhoyono), Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussia & @MedvedevRussiae), the UK government (@Number10gov), and Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina) complete the top 10 list of most followed leaders with more than two million followers each. Twenty-two world leader accounts have more than one million followers. As of 1 July 2013 all 505 accounts of world leaders together had 105,733,356 followers.
Barack Obama is the Least Connected
More important than the number of followers are the connections between these world leaders on Twitter to allow which allows for direct private interactions. @BarackObama was the first world leader to join Twitter, he is the most followed, the most listed and following a record 661,084 other Twitter users, but he is only following two other world leaders. The U.S. president and the U.S. government accounts might be among the most followed but they are the least connected. @BarackObama, the @WhiteHouse and the @StateDept are followed by 148, 132 and 99 peers respectively, however they only follow four world leaders, namely Russia’s Prime Minister @MedvedevRussiae, the UK government @Number10gov, Norway’s Prime Minister @JensStoltenberg and Chile’s President @SebastianPinera. Interestingly the State Department @StateDept does not follow any other foreign service.
Two-thirds (68%) of world leaders have established mutual connections with their peers on Twitter. Swedish Foreign Minister @CarlBildt is the best connected world leader, mutually following 44 peers. The European External Action Service (@eu_eeas), the EU’s Foreign & Security Policy Service led by Catherine Ashton comes second with 36 mutual connections to other world leaders; the Polish Foreign Ministry is third with 31 mutual connections, followed by the UK Foreign Office and the French Foreign Ministry with 27 and 26 mutual connections respectively. Of the 505 accounts analyzed, 161 don’t have any mutual connections on Twitter.
Twitter is sometimes used by small nations to increase their global visibility and tweet on a level playing field with other nations. Several governments have recognized the power of Twitter relations, actively seeking to connect with their peers around the world. The Croatian government (@VladaRH) unilaterally follows 195 other world leaders’ accounts. The Foreign Ministry of Iceland, which started its Twitter journey on 19 March 2013, follows 142 peers. The Foreign Ministries of Norway, Sweden and Kosovo unilaterally follow more than 80 other leaders and foreign ministries in hopes that they will return the favour. Twenty-two accounts don’t follow any other world leaders and are not followed by any other world leader. The Pope is only following the other papal accounts. On average, world leaders follow eight other peers.
All world leaders combined are following 2,058,109 other Twitter users. The majority of this figure, 78%, can be attributed to the five accounts that follow most other Twitter users, namely @BarackObama (661,084), @KRuddMP (420,311), @Number10gov (371,578), @bluehousekorea (96,886), @GH_PARK (65,229) all of which had at some point automatic following enabled and were automatically following anyone who followed them. This practice has been disused as it didn’t improve the quality of the followers or the interaction.
Pope Francis the most influential
“Four more years. http://pic.twitter.com/bAJE6Vom”. @BarackObama’s Twitter picture sent on the day after the U.S. presidential election has become the most popular tweet ever, retweeted 806,066 times. Despite his massive following, his tweets are on average only retweeted 2,309 times. By this standard, Pope Francis is by far the most influential tweep with 11,116 retweets for every tweet he sends on his Spanish account. His English tweets receive on average 8,219 retweets. Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro gets on average 4,767 retweets per tweet. Six world leaders have sent at least one tweet which was retweeted over 10,000 times: Indonesia’s President @SBYudhoyono, UK Prime Minister @David_Cameron, US Secretary of State @JohnKerry, Japan’s government @kantei, Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro and ousted Egyptian President @MuhammadMorsi.
The @Pontifex account which started on 12 December 2012 under Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has seen phenomenal Twitter growth over the past six months, becoming the second most followed world leader. His Twitter success is dwarfed by the exponential growth of the Twitter accounts of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who both signed up to the micro-blogging service in March 2013 and now rank among the top 20 most followed world leaders.
Are they tweeting themselves?
All but one of the G20 governments have an official Twitter presence and seven of the G8 leaders have a personal Twitter account, however few of them are tweeting personally. French President François Hollande @FHollande and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff @DilmaBR even suspended their Twitter activity once elected. Almost half of the accounts featured in the study are personal accounts: 90 heads of state, 61 heads of government and 53 foreign ministers have personal accounts on Twitter and a third of these do tweet themselves, but only 14 tweet on a regular basis. In Germany and Switzerland, the government spokesperson is the official Twitter representative for the head of government and both institutional accounts (@RegSprecher and @BRSprecher) have been included in this study.
Are they conversational?
Ugandan Prime Minister @AmamaMbabazi is the most conversational world leader with 96% of his tweets being @replies to other Twitter users. The second most conversational leader is Rwanda’s President @PaulKagame. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt comes third with his @fragaCarlBildt “Ask-Carl-Bildt” account, which is exclusively used for Twitter chats. On his Swedish account (@cbildt) Carl Bildt is also replying to other Twitter users in every second tweet. Ecuador President Rafael Correa and Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo complete the top five list.
Most Listed World Leader
A sure sign of influence is the number of times a person appears in a Twitter list. Barack Obama is the most listed world leader appearing on 195,304 Twitter lists. The @WhiteHouse and Russia’s Prime Minister @MedvedevRussia appear on 54,225 and 51,122 lists respectively. The Japanese’ government’s @Kantei_Saigai account is listed 31,401 times. Jordan’s @QueenRania, the UK government @Number10gov, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff @dilmabr, Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner @CFKArgentina, the US State Department @StateDept, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül @cbabdullahgul and Pope Francis @Pontifex all appear on over 10,000 Twitter lists.
When did they start Tweeting?
Barack Obama was the first world leader to sign up to Twitter on 5 March 2007 as user #813,286. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto @EPN, Belgian Prime Minister @ElioDiRupo, Canadian Prime Minister @PMHarper and the US State Department @StateDept are among the early adopters having signed up to the micro-blogging service in 2007. Most world leaders followed suite in 2011 and 2010. The last to join the Twitterverse are Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leancă, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Slovakia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in June 2013.
Most active Twitter Accounts
All world leaders combined have sent 1,081,728 tweets. The Venezuelan presidency @PresidencialVen has sent more than 34,000 tweets averaging more than 40 tweets each day. The @StateDept places second with 29,259 sent tweets. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry @vencancilleria is third with 21,612 and Costa Rica’s presidency @presidenciacr is fourth (19,662 tweets sent).
World leaders tweet in 48 different languages. One hundred seventy-six English language accounts have sent 316,728 tweets to a combined following of 52,617,262 followers. However, the 60 Spanish language accounts are the most prolific having sent 342,121 tweets to 18,158,992 followers. 44 accounts tweet in French (69,036 tweets), 38 in Arabic (41,299 tweets), 14 in Russian (34,705 tweets), 12 in Portuguese, eight in Italian, German and Croatian respectively.
405 are active accounts, 79 are dormant accounts, 17 are inactive accounts and have never sent a single tweet and four are protected accounts, namely those of Afghan President Hamid Karzai @PHamidKarzai, Armenian President @SerzhSargsyan, Finnish Prime Minister @JyrkiKatainen and Zambia’s @MichaelSata. 167 accounts have been officially verified by Twitter, giving them a blue star of appreciation on their Twitter profile.
The vast majority of accounts (85%) have not created any Twitter lists, which are useful to list other government agencies or diplomatic missions abroad. Israel’s Foreign Office has the most public Twitter lists with 15 lists on the @Israel account and eight on the @IsraelMFA account. The @EU_Commission maintains 12 lists, the @StateDept maintains eight lists and the @ForeignOffice and Malaysia’s Prime Minister @NajibRazak seven lists respectively The UK @ForeignOffice lists 194 ambassadors, embassies, consulates and missions on Twitter followed by the Polish Foreign Ministry @PolandMFA, (150), Israel’s Foreign Ministry @IsraelMFA (127), the US State Department @StateDept (127) and the Swedish Foreign Ministry @SweMFA (116).
World leaders have not taken advantage of Twitter’s design yet. While 54% of all analyzed accounts have a custom background only 37% have a custom Twitter header which appears on mobile devices. Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj makes the best use of pictures on his Twitter profile and in his Twitter stream showing him on horseback or taming a camel in the vast steppes of Mongolia. Finland’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Trade, Alexander Stubb, is one of Twiplomacy’s stars and “tries not to take himself too seriously…”. During one of the long all night negotiations in Brussels he posted a picture of himself having a “vertical nap” while waiting for the results.
Almost half of the world leaders use Twitter’s website to tweet. Twitter clients Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are used by 8% and 4% respectively. Eight percent tweet their status updates directly from Facebook and 9% ‘tweet on the go’ from an iPhone or an iPad. Five world leaders have “made a scene” and created six-second Vine videos such as the French government during official state visits.
About the Study
“Twiplomacy” is a study of the use of Twitter by world leaders, conducted by leading global public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller. Burson-Marsteller identified Twitter accounts of 505 heads of state and government, foreign ministers and their institutions in 153 countries worldwide. Burson-Marsteller expanded the breadth of the Twiplomacy study in 2013 with 315 new accounts, including 148 accounts of heads of state and government and 167 accounts of Foreign Ministers and Foreign Ministries. The study has also added 30 more countries, for a total of 153 countries. The study analyzes each leader’s Twitter profiles, tweet history, and their connections with each other. Data used was taken in July 2013 using Twitonomy. More than 50 variables were considered, including: tweets, following, followers, listed, the date the user joined Twitter, ratio followers/following, ratio listed/100 followers, tweets/day, retweets, % of retweets, user @mentions, average number of @mentions/tweet, @replies, % of @replies, links, average number of links/tweet, hashtags, average number of hashtags/tweet, tweets retweeted, proportion of tweets retweeted by others, total number of tweets retweeted, average number of tweets retweeted, users most retweeted, users most replied to, users most mentioned, hashtags most used, platforms most tweeted from. Burson-Marsteller also used Twitonomy to pull together the entire Tweet history for each account to find the first and the most popular tweet. (When the account had more than 3,200 tweets it was sometimes impossible to find their first tweet). Burson-Marsteller also looked at each account to see if it had a header and/or a background, if the account is dormant, active or protected and if the world leader tweets personally. We checked in which language the account tweets and checked for the presence of Twitter lists.
The full Twiplomacy study 2013 can be downloaded here: Twiplomacy: Heads of state and government on Twitter, July 2013 (PDF, 535 pages). The full Twitonomy data set can be downloaded here: Twiplomacy July 2013 Data Sheet (730kb, XSLX).
A big thank you to all of Burson-Marsteller’s offices and particularly Aisha Allee-Mosaheb, Ben Aryeetey, Jorė Astrauskaitė, Andrés Ávila, Paula Bakaj, Nissan Balaban, Raúl Baz, Timothée Beckert, Mario Boada, Kjetil Brun, Elaine Cameron, Cely Carmo, Maria Teresa Ceruti, Leandro Cervantes, Damon Clinkscales, Sarah Cole, Katia Consentino, Paul Cordasco, Irma Cordella, Fabio Couto, Toni Cowan-Brown, Gustav Dahlgren, Sara de la Torre, David Folley, Maria Alejandra Galdo, Desiree Gomes, Karl Haechler, Jessica Hedberg, Richard Hemmer, Sam Jackson, Jan Jogis, Adam Kaliszewski, Saehee Kim, Gunars Klegers, Tereza Kobelkova, Verónica Lara, Mariana Maldonado, Abha Malpani, Ian McCabe, Anibal Nogueira, Eve Noone, Mladen Panić, Lauren Papp, Vitor Pavarini, Ana Pineres, Carlos Rabago, Martin Rubagumya, Claudia Santamaria, Cynthia Sarafianou, Ayşegül Seferoğlu, Stine Soerensen, Anke Stockhausen, Kelsey Suemnicht, Alexis Tadifo, Massimiliano Terzini, Thomas van Oortmerssen, Katarina Wallin Bureau, Jordan Watson, Emma Weedon, Wulfran Yao, Marek Zaremba-Pike, and Mohamed Zourkaleini who have helped compile this study.