Executive Summary – Introduction
“Twitter has proven to be a revolutionary social network even in politics. It is an extraordinary channel of diplomacy and of communication.”
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Cofrenmmission.
Over the past years Twitter has become the channel of choice for digital diplomacy between world leaders, governments, foreign ministries and diplomats. Social media in general and Twitter in particular is no longer just an afterthought but an essential communication tool for governments to interact and broadcast 140 character messages and six-second soundbites.
For many diplomats Twitter has become a powerful channel for digital diplomacy and 21st century statecraft and not all Twitter exchanges are diplomatic, real world differences are playing out on Twitter and sometimes end up in hashtag wars between embassies and foreign ministries.
- During the Iran talks in Lausanne in March/April 2015 Twitter was the preferred social media channel for all negotiating parties to update the media as well as the general public about the state of the negotiations.
- Twitter was essential to spread the historic handshake between Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro at the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015
- And in April 2015 former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose exclusively Twitter and YouTube to announce her 2016 presidential bid.
- No embassy can do without a Twitter presence and social media is now part and parcel of any diplomatic training for ambassadors and diplomats.
- Less and less leaders tweet themselves often outsourcing the posting to their staff, however there are notable exceptions.
Governments which are successful on Twitter often have substantial dedicated social media teams to produce engaging content adapted to all platforms. Governments which put more financial and human resources into their digital communications are often the ones who are the most effective.
While Twitter is certainly not the only governmental communication channel, a number of heads of state and government now enjoy massive followings, which often dwarf the circulation of the main newspaper in their respective countries.
Especially European foreign ministries have continued to make mutual Twitter connections with their peers, creating what can be best described as a ‘virtual diplomatic network’. They can and do send each other private direct messages on the platform which are often faster and more effective than traditional diplomatic demarches.
Foreign ministries have continued their expansion into the Twittersphere often communicating in several languages to local but also growing foreign audiences. Many have also expanded their own digital diplomatic networks, putting most of their embassies on Twitter and encouraging ambassadors to be personally active on the microblogging platform.
More than 4,100 embassies and ambassadors are now active on Twitter. In New York, Washington, Brussels and London most diplomatic missions use Twitter to have a voice at the digital table and even three Chinese missions are now tweeting, while Beijing remains the only G20 government without an official Twitter presence.
“I am a firm believer in the power of technology and social media to communicate with people across the world,” India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in his inaugural message on his new website. Since his election in May 2014 the @NarendraModi account has moved into the top three most followed Twitter accounts of world leaders.
As outgoing Finnish Prime Minister @AlexStubb wrote in a tweet in March 2014: “Most people who criticize Twitter are often not on it. I love this place. Best source of info. Great way to stay tuned and communicate.”
As of 24 March 2015, the vast majority (86 percent) of the 193 UN member countries have a presence on Twitter. 172 heads of state and heads of government have personal accounts on the social network.
More than half of the world’s foreign ministers and their institutions are active on the social networking site. In short Twitter has become an indispensable diplomatic networking and communication tool.
We have asked the digital leaders of some of the best connected foreign ministries to share their thoughts on digital diplomacy and their digital strategy on our blog. You will learn how to speak Twitter, especially in times of crisis and without feeding the trolls as well as tips on how to manage the activity 24/7 and maintain positive relations with the world. And finally here is our list of the #Twiplomacy Top Twenty Twitterati 2015.
Most Followed World Leaders
U.S. President @BarackObama is still the most followed world leader, with close to 60 million followers but Pope Francis (@Pontifex) is catching up fast with close to 20 million followers on his nine language accounts. Since his election in late May 2014, India’s Prime Minister @NarendraModi has skyrocketed into third place, surpassing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan) and the @WhiteHouse with more than six million followers each.
In Latin America Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto @EPN is slightly ahead of Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner @CFKArgentina with well over 3.6 million followers each. Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff @dilmabr and Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro complete the Latin American top five, with 3.3 and 2.4 million followers respectively.
Rwanda’s @PaulKagame has become Africa’s most followed president with 842,260 followers ahead of Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta @UKenyatta (781,929 followers) and South Africa’s presidential administration (@PresidencyZA) (388,418 followers).
The UK Prime Minister @Number10gov is the most followed EU leader with more than three million followers ahead of Italy’s @MatteoRenzi with 1.7 million followers.
India’s @SushmaSwaraj is the most followed foreign minister with 2,438,228 followers far ahead of Abdullah Bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates @ABZayed (1,608,831 followers) and Turkey’s Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) with only 376,429 followers.
Among the Foreign Ministries the State Department (@StateDept) is the most followed with 1,7 million followers ahead of the Turkish (@TC_Disisleri), the Russian (@MID_RF) and the French (@FranceDiplo) foreign ministries all with less than a million followers.
Does Size Really Matter?
The meteoric rise of the Indian Prime Minister and the large following of the Turkish President and the King of Saudi Arabia shows that leaders of the most populous countries and countries where Twitter penetration is high have a clear advantage in garnering a large army of dedicated followers. The number of followers of a country’s leader has in some cases become a question of national pride.
More than 100 of the 669 accounts analyzed have seen their follower numbers double since June 2014. Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia (@HRHPSalman) literally exploded his follower count when he doubled his followers within weeks after becoming @KingSalman in January 2015. Ukraine’s President Poroshenko has seen the most impressive growth in followers over the past year with the number of followers multiplying by 35 from 15,569 in June 2014 to 570,457 in March 2015. His followers mysteriously exploded in the first half of March 2015 but have been dwindling since which seems to indicate that the number was artificially increased or he suffered spam attack. It is unclear whether the presidential administration boosted his account or whether someone else did so to discredit him.
It is impossible to say whether governments pay to promote the accounts of their leaders but we have seen an interesting pattern on the @IndianDiplomacy and the @MEAIndia accounts whose tweets are automatically retweeted by an army of 90 tweeps who all follow each other and whose sole purpose is to retweet the tweets from @IndianDiplomacy, @MEAIndia and @TOIIndiaNews, three accounts listed on each of their public Twitter list, aptly entitled “RT”. Thanks to their dedicated action the tweets of @IndianDiplomacy and @MEAIndia are consistently retweeted 100 times but rarely favourited.
In 2016 @BarackObama will take his account into retirement and become the elder statesman with the largest social media following. Interestingly the @WhiteHouse and other official U.S. government accounts do not follow @BarackObama. By law there is a strict separation between the U.S. government accounts and personal campaign accounts. The White House has already reserved the @POTUS account should the next President of the United States decide to use an ‘official personal’ Twitter account as the First Lady Michelle Obama does on the @FLOTUS account. The @BarackObama account, set up in early 2007, has been on Twitter’s suggested user list and is still growing as it is often suggested to new Twitter users.
The five most followed world leaders have one thing in common: they have discovered Twitter as a powerful one-way broadcasting tool; they are only following a handful of other world leaders, if any, and are hardly conversational which is almost impossible, given the sheer size of their audience.
Pope Francis is the Most Influential
“Four more years.” @BarackObama’s Twitter picture sent on the day after the U.S. presidential election has become one of the most popular tweets ever, retweeted 806,066 times. However since then, the engagement on the account has been in decline. U.S. President @BarackObama might be the most followed world leader, but how influential is he really?
The @BarackObama account is a campaign account and is squarely geared towards an American audience, almost never tweeting about foreign affairs.
Despite the account’s massive following, @BarackObama tweets are on average ‘only’ retweeted 1,210 times. By this standard, Pope Francis @Pontifex is by far the most influential tweep with 9,929 retweets for every tweet he sends on his Spanish account and 7,527 retweets on average on his English account. Saudi Arabia’s @KingSalman is in second position, averaging 4,419 retweets per tweet, largely helped by his tweet sent on the day of his accession to the throne which was retweeted more than 360,000 times. Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro is in third place, receiving a phenomenal 3,198 retweets per tweet on average, strangely his tweets are favourited ten times less.
Fifteen world leaders have seen some of their tweets retweeted more than 20,000 times, reflecting major announcements and historic events, such as @NarendraModi’s election tweet: “India has won! The conquest of India. Good days are ahead”, Queen Elizabeth’s first personal tweet opening an exhibition at the Science Museum and Malaysian prime minister’s tweet about the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: “With deep sadness and regret I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight #MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” the abdication tweet of the King of Spain and the more trivial Sochi Olympics bet between Canada’s Stephen Harper and Barack Obama: “Like I said, #teamusa is good but #wearewinter. @BarackObama, I look forward to my two cases of beer. #CANvsUSA #Sochi2014.” Here is a collection of the most retweeted tweets of world leaders.
Creating Mutual Connections
Foreign ministers and their institutions on the other hand have put the accent on mutual connections with their peers.
Since our last study in June 2014, foreign ministers and their institutions have intensified their efforts to create mutual connections on Twitter. French Foreign Minister @LaurentFabius is the best connected foreign minister, mutually connected with 100 peers and world leaders. The Russian Foreign Ministry has made a conscious effort to connect with peers on their English-language account @MFA_Russia and is in second place, mutually following 93 other foreign ministries and world leaders. The French Foreign Ministry (@FranceDiplo) is third, closely followed by the EU External Action Service (@eu_eeas) with 90 and 89 mutual connections respectively. @LithuaniaMFA and @NorwayMFA occupy the fifth place with 86 mutual connections each.
In September 2013 the State Department started to follow 44 other foreign offices as well as Iran’s President @HassanRouhani and Foreign Minister @JZarif, timidly re-establishing diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran on Twitter.
Being mutually connected on Twitter is not only a courteous gesture, but also allows these leaders to direct message each other and to have private conversations on Twitter, a feature which can also be turned on by default. A number of foreign offices have used this channel to reach out to peers and other influencers to set the record straight or to coordinate their digital campaigns.
Twitter allows especially smaller countries to make valuable connection with their peers. The Croatian government (@VladaRH) has made a conscious effort to establish connections on Twitter, unilaterally following 511 other world leaders. The Foreign Ministry of Peru (@CancilleriaPeru) and the Swedish Foreign Ministry (@Swe_MFA) follow 384 and 296 world leaders respectively in the hope to tweet eye to eye with other world leaders.
U.S. President @BarackObama and the @WhiteHouse are the most popular among their peers, followed by 239 and 196 peers respectively. However, they are giving most other world leaders the cold shoulder. @BarackObama mutually follows only three other world leaders, namely Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiae), Norway’s Prime Minister @Erna_Solberg and Estonia’s Foreign Minister @KeitPentus. The latter two signed up to Twitter early and are among the 643,974 Twitter users automatically followed by @BarackObama.
The @WhiteHouse is mutually connected with only two other leaders, namely Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiae) and the UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov).
Virtual Diplomatic Network
By following each other Europe’s leading foreign ministers and foreign ministries have created what can best be described as a virtual diplomatic network on Twitter.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry under former Foreign Minister @CarlBildt has been spearheading efforts to promote #DigitalDiplomacy. In January 2014 the Swedish Foreign Ministry invited 30 digital diplomats from around the world to the Stockholm Initiative for Digital Diplomacy (#SIDD). The initial meeting in Stockholm has given birth to a loose diplomatic network of social media practitioners who are exchanging ideas on how to develop the use of digital tools beyond social media and coordinating digital campaigns beyond their own diplomatic network.
Over the past years, foreign ministries have massively expanded their own networks of ambassadors, embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions on Twitter.
According to the comprehensive Twitter list on @Twiplomacy more than 4,100 embassies and ambassadors are now active on Twitter and the list is growing daily. In London, New York and Washington D.C., foreign diplomatic missions can no longer ignore the diplomatic activity in the Twittersphere. Even the Chinese missions to the EU, Switzerland and Japan are now actively tweeting.
The UK Foreign Office actively encourages personal engagement of its ambassadors on Twitter and it has become virtually impossible to become a Foreign Office diplomat if you are not using digital tools. The UK @ForeignOffice has probably the largest ‘twiplomatic’ network and maintains a public Twitter list with a record 237 ambassadors, embassies and missions on Twitter. Canada’s is second with 184 missions and heads of missions on Twitter, followed by the Russian Foreign Ministry (160), the Polish Foreign Ministry (157) and Israel (146). The State Department and the Foreign Ministries of France, the EU, Sweden and Ukraine each list more than 100 diplomats and missions on Twitter.
Recently Saudi Arabia and Cuba have put their missions on Twitter and in 2014 Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs put most of their embassies and missions on Twitter with the added complication that all missions must maintain separate English and a French language accounts.
For the record Russia’s mission to NATO (@NATOmission_RU) is the most followed mission with 378,000 followers ahead of the @USEmbassyManila and the @USEmbassyJkt in Jakarta both with more than 200,000 followers. The United Nations (@UN) is followed by 1,396 ambassadors and missions ahead of @TheEconomist and our own @Twiplomacy account followed by 1,175 and 1,111 ambassadors and missions respectively.
Who else do they follow?
We 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 250 of the 669 world leaders. The @BarackObama account is second, followed by 239 ahead of the @WhiteHouse and @Number10gov followed by 196 and 165 leaders respectively. Our own @Twiplomacy account has made it into fourth position followed by 153 world leaders ahead of the @NYTimes, @UNICEF and @Reuters.
This chart clearly illustrates that the number of followers is not as important as the quality of these followers, whether you have an account with millions or just several thousand followers.
Are they tweeting themselves?
All but one of the G20 governments have an official Twitter presence and six of the G7 leaders have a personal Twitter account. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the only G7 leader to shun the social network. However, few world leaders are actually doing their own tweeting.
Notable exceptions include Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (@IlvesToomas), European Council President @DonaldTusk, Latvian Foreign Minister @EdgarsRinkevics and Norway’s Prime Minister @Erna_Solberg who admitted to suffering from dyslexia and makes the occasional spelling mistake.
Outgoing Finnish Prime Minister Alex Stubb who once stated in his Twitter profile: “What you tweet is what you get” often shares his athletic exploits and selfies on Twitter. He even co-authored an e-book in Finnish about what to do on Twitter and some of his tweets were even put to music.
Quite a number of world leaders occasionally sit down for Twitter chats, answering selected questions sent by their followers. Austria’s Foreign Minister @SebastianKurz did a Twitter chat on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September 2014. The hashtag for the chat was #KurzGefragt which literally means “Quick Question”.
Tweeting personally and in a language that is not your own, can put world leaders at risk of a faux pas, as Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders can testify after his first tweet in English read: “i’m coming on twitter”.
Over the past years, foreign ministries and world leaders have used hashtags to promote specific issues, be it #BringBackOurGirls or #ENDViolence against children as Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec did.
After the successful #IranTalks in Vienna in April 2015 the negotiating partners changed the hashtag to #IranDeal. In September 2013 the Cuban foreign ministry @CubaMINREX used the hashtag #GiveMeFive to push for the release of five (#LosCinco) Cuban intelligence officers convicted in Miami of conspiracy to commit espionage in the United States.
At the end of March 2014, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki posted a picture with the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine, a campaign that was coordinated with a number of Western allies including the UK Foreign Office, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish and the Ukrainian foreign ministries. Within days the hashtag had been tweeted more than 400 times garnering 23,000 retweets.
The hashtag campaign also caught the eye of the Russian foreign ministry which started to use the same hashtag. The @MFA_Russia and @MID_RF accounts used the hashtag more than 200 times garnering 8,000 retweets. This was probably the first “hashtag battle” on Twitter where opposing sides try to raise awareness for the same issue.
The foreign ministry in Moscow also initiated its own hashtag #BringBackOurBoys to press for the release of two journalists captured in eastern Ukraine.
Of course, hashtags alone will not bring back the girls from captivity in Nigeria or bring peace to Ukraine. However they serve as a powerful rallying cry on specific issues and causes, and help give them international recognition as a trending topic on Twitter.
Twitter Handover – Dormant Accounts
Quite a few politicians use social media in general, and Twitter in particular, only during election campaigns. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (@Jokowi_do2) was very active on Twitter during the election campaign in 2014 but has abandoned his 2.7 million Twitter followers since 21 August 2014. Likewise Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet mothballed her Twitter account @PrensaMichelle once elected on 11 March 2014 and the personal account of South Africa’s Jacob Zuma @SAPresident is dormant since October 2013.
Others such as the French Prime Minister @ManuelValls, President François Hollande (@FHollande) and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff (@DilmaBR) also suspended their Twitter activity for a while, but reactivated their accounts as the next election campaign approaches.
More than 80 of the 669 Twitter accounts analyzed in our study are dormant. The account of the Egyptian Presidency (@EgyPresidency) has been quiet since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in the beginning of July 2013 and all its previous tweets have been deleted.
In Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama new institutional accounts have been created for their respective foreign ministries as new governments came to power, leaving the previous accounts abandoned.
When the social media team of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to archive the @PMOIndia account, including its 4,400 tweets and its 1.2 million followers, it caused a public outcry because this action would have deprived the new government of a large and captive audience. What has become known as #Handlegate has since been reversed by the Indian government.
All the World’s a Tweet
The Twiplomacy Study 2015 found that the vast majority (85 percent) of the 193 UN member countries have a presence on Twitter. More than two-thirds (70%) of all heads of state and government have personal accounts on the social network. However, the Twitter craze is not evenly spread around the globe.
All European countries except San Marino and all South American countries except Suriname have an official Twitter presence. Only three countries in North America do not embrace Twitter communications, Barbados, Nicaragua and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. In Asia, Africa and Oceania 81%, 78% and 69% of their respective governments are using the micro-blogging service. The 32 countries without an official Twitter presence can mainly be found in Africa, Asia and in the central Pacific.
Are They Conversational?
Twitter 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 reply to their followers’ @mentions.
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 86% of his tweets being @replies to other Twitter users. @PaulKagame who often gets into memorable Twitter exchanges with his critics and does sometimes chat publically with his children.
The second most conversational leader is Norway’s Prime Minister @Erna_Solberg with two-thirds of her tweets being @replies to her followers. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael), Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo (@LMushikiwabo) and Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah (@kasnms) complete the top five list.
Most Listed World Leader
Another sign of Twitter popularity is the number of times an account appears on a Twitter list. This is one statistic hard to game and early Twitter adopters are the clear favourites. @BarackObama is the most listed world leader appearing on 211,922 Twitter lists. The @WhiteHouse and Russia’s Prime Minister @MedvedevRussia appear on 61,557 and 45,671 lists respectively. The UK Prime Minister @Number10gov and Jordan’s @QueenRania are featured on more than 20,000 Twitter lists.
Pope Francis (@Pontifex), Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff (@dilmabr), the U.S. State Department (@StateDept), India’s @NarendraModi, Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina), Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro, Colombia’s @JuanManSantos and Sheik Mohammed, the Ruler of Dubai all appear on more than 10,000 Twitter lists.
The vast majority of accounts (85%) have not created any Twitter lists, which are very useful to list other government ministries and agencies or diplomatic missions abroad and in each country. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has the most public Twitter lists with 21 lists on the @MID_RF account and 19 on the @MFA_Russia account. The Australian Foreign Office (@dfat) maintains 19 Twitter lists, the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador 18 and the @Israel account has 15 official Twitter lists.
Only 93 accounts have subscribed to other public Twitter lists. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has subscribed to a record 54 lists. Greece’s Foreign Minister NikosKotzias is following 33 lists and the EU External Action Service and the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador have subscribed to 21 lists each.
Quite a number of accounts have subscribed to one of the 50 public Twitter lists on the @Twiplomacy Twitter account including the full list of heads of state and government and a list of foreign ministers and their institutional accounts as well as a list of all diplomatic missions and head of missions worldwide.
When Did They Start Tweeting?
Barack Obama was the first world leader to set up a Twitter account on 5 March 2007 as user #813,286 when he was still a senator. The accounts of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN), Canadian Prime Minister @PMHarper and the U.S. State Department (@StateDept) are among the early adopters having signed up to the micro-blogging service in 2007.
Most world leaders followed suit between 2009 and 2012. The latest to have joined the Twitterverse at the end of March 2015 is the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (@SlavekSobotka).
Sixteen accounts are inactive and have never sent a single tweet, and five are protected accounts, including the account of @HannaTetteh the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana. Forty seven percent (307 accounts out of 669) have been officially verified by Twitter, giving them a blue star of appreciation on their Twitter profiles.
Most Active Twitter Accounts
As of 24 March 2015, all world leaders combined have sent 2,653,876 tweets posting on average four tweets each day. The Venezuelan presidency (@PresidencialVen) has sent close to 60,000 tweets, averaging almost 41 tweets each day. The Mexican Presidency (@PresidenciaMX) places second with more than 57,000 tweets sent, followed by the Foreign Ministry of Venezuela (@vencancilleria) with more than 54,000 tweets sent.
The Mexican presidency is also the most prolific, posting on average 68 tweets each day. The Mexican governmental account @gobrep is not far behind with 60 tweets each day. Both institutions often repeat their tweets several times over several days to capture different audiences at different times. Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro is the second most prolific tweep posting on average 64 tweets per day.
Spanish is the Most Tweeted Language
World leaders tweet in 54 different languages, and English is by far the lingua franca of digital diplomacy. Two hundred forty one accounts tweet in English and have posted 737,057 tweets to a combined following of 115 million followers. However, the 74 Spanish language accounts are far more prolific, having sent 853,503 tweets to a combined following of 36 million followers, making Spanish the most tweeted language among world leaders.
French is the third most-used language in world leaders’ tweets with 178,754 tweets sent, followed by Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Turkish, Croatian, Bahasa Indonesian, Korean, Japanese, and German.
Pope Francis tweets in nine different languages including Latin (@Pontifex_ln) which has more followers than his German (@Pontifex_de) and Arabic (@Pontifex_ar) language accounts. The State Department has eight different language Twitter accounts for Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. The French and Turkish foreign ministries both have accounts in English as well as in Spanish and Arabic. The Russian government and their leaders have been tweeting in Russian and English since inception.
Most major European foreign ministries have set up specific English accounts for their foreign audience and the Albanian Foreign Ministry even shuttered their Albanian language account. Sign of the times, even and the French government has set up an English language account in 2014 tweeting @French_Gov.
A number of leaders tweet in the local language and in English on the same account which can be confusing if you don’t speak both languages.
World leaders and governments are not known for their design skills and many were taken by surprise in May 2014 when Twitter changed its website design to make the header picture the central element, spread across the entire screen. Almost two thirds of the 669 accounts analyzed have a custom header picture, which is, with the avatar, the most important visual element of any Twitter account.
Institutional Twitter accounts for governments and foreign ministries often feature flags, buildings or both, while personal accounts of presidents and prime ministers obviously feature the account holder.
The government of Monaco @GvtMonaco is the only one which is able to show the entire country in the header picture. The presidency of Mali @PresidenceMali has chosen an unusual picture of cattle at a watering hole. @PresYameen, the president of the Maldives opted for an aerial picture of one of the islands.
A handful of governments regularly change the header picture to highlight special events. The foreign ministry in Paris is currently promoting the upcoming COP21 summit in Paris on all its accounts. The French @Elysee palace promoted the visit of François Hollande to Mexico including the relevant hashtag #PRMexique and the Croatian government posted a large “Thank You” to the Croatian Red Cross after the devastating floods in the Balkans.
Less than half of the accounts also have a custom background which has become almost irrelevant as it is only seen when viewing an individual tweet on Twitter.com.
A Picture Says More Than 140 Characters
Since the famous election embrace posted by @BarackObama in November 2012, which has become one of the most tweeted pictures ever, many world leaders have understood the power of pictures in their Twitter feeds which increases engagement by 62% according to a study of government accounts by Twitter.
A third of all tweets sent by the campaign account of @David_Cameron include either a picture or an infographic. However, the picture showing him on the phone with @BarackObama was lampooned by actors such as Rob Delaney and Patrick Stewart and became an instant internet meme.
The White House sometimes posts unusual pictures taken by the official photographer @PeteSouza. The French Foreign Ministry posted a series of before and after pictures of their missions around the world.
Mongolia’s President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj posts unusual pictures, including black and white family pictures and images of him on horseback or riding a camel in the vast steppes of Mongolia.
#Selfies of World Leaders
The selfie craze has also reached the higher echelons of government, most notably the infamous funeral selfie with Barack Obama and David Cameron captured by Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt during the funeral ceremony for Nelson Mandela.
A number of world leaders, including Pope Francis, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, have all posed with admirers for the now obligatory souvenir selfie.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made history when he posted a selfie in the election booth on 30 April 2014. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak is one of the few world leaders who is actually taking the selfies himself, posing with his foreign guests including @BarackObama, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and French President François Hollande. He now even uses a selfie stick to capture and engage his audiences.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took a group selfie to engage his audience during a visit to Manila, as did Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas. Outgoing Finnish Prime Minister @AlexStubb, one of Twiplomacy’s stars often tweets #selfies and #groupies to engage his audiences. Alexander Stubb also tweets pictures of his triathlon training gear and doesn’t hesitate to promote other body parts.
You can find a collection of the most historic world leader selfies on Storify.
Making a Scene – Vine Videos
Most governments post videos from their respective YouTube channels but several have become very effective in sharing Twitter’s six-second Vine videos. What can you say in six seconds you might ask? Quite a lot. @Number10gov attempted to explain the UK’s #LongTermEconomicPlan, while the @ForeignOffice broadcasted a highly political message with a six second video of the Falklands’ flag flying over the Foreign Office in remembrance of the British liberation of the islands in 1982. The Foreign Office also produced a hilarious series of what not to do with your passport.
@JohnKerry posted one Vine video to promote his Twitter chat ahead of his trip to Africa as did the Foreign Ministry of Israel @IsraelMFA with a fun video promoting a Twitter Q&A with its spokesperson.
The @Elysee palace has perfected the art of the Vine videos and regularly captures the key moments of the French President in six seconds including a time lapse video of the Galette des Rois, the traditional French puff pastry cake rising in the Elysee’s kitchen.
The now dormant @Matignon account boasts 27 Vines videos of red carpet arrivals of world leaders, the last one being the handover between outgoing Prime Ministers Jean Marc Ayrault and Manuel Valls on 1 April 2014.
The German Foreign Ministry used Vine videos creatively to support its team during the Football World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
You can find a collection of the most historic Vine videos of world leaders on Storify.
Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos is the first head of state to have used Twitter’s livestreaming application Periscopeco for an important announcement and Mexico’s @JoseAMeadeK is the first Foreign Minister to have gone live on Periscope at the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015. The @Elysee palace, the French President @FHollande, the @KremlinRussia, @QueenRania and the Norwegian royal couple are all early adopters and have set up accounts on Periscope but none of them have gone live yet.
Follow @Twiplomacy on Periscope to get notified when a world leader is livestreaming.
About the Study
Twiplomacy is the leading global study of world leaders on Twitter, conducted by leading global public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller.
Burson-Marsteller identified 669 Twitter accounts of heads of state and government, foreign ministers and their institutions in 166 countries worldwide. The study analyzes each leader’s Twitter profiles, tweet history, and their connections with each other.
Data was collected on 24 March 2015 using Twitonomy. More than 60 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, and platforms most tweeted from.
Burson-Marsteller looked at each account to see if it has a header and/or a background 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.
Burson-Marsteller used our proprietary Burson Tools to analyze the 435,000 possible Twitter relations between world leaders.
The full Twitonomy data set can be downloaded here.
A big thank you to all of Burson-Marsteller’s offices around the world who have helped compile the study, particularly Andra Alexandru, Gabriel Andriollo, Jorė Astrauskaitė, Alejandra Azocar, Paula Bakaj, Nikolina Batarelo, Raul Baz, Stephanie Becker, Moray Bernal, Mathilde Bonmarchand, Kjetil Brun, Michael Caballero, Jessica Camara, Nicolas Celi, Maria Teresa Ceruti, Vibor Cipan, Katia Consentino, Irma Cordella, Gustav Dahlgren, Sara de la Torre, Maxime Drouet, Tarek ElMoukachar, Joelle Esmoris, Encarnacion Ezcurra, Bradley Gerber, Rogerio Gonçalves, Karl Haechler, Anaite Hernandez, Stephanie Hu, Jan Jõgis-Laats, Adam Kaliszewski, Kasper Kankelborg, Patrick Kerley, Gunārs Klēģers, Sam Kupfer, Sabrina Larroca, Adelin León, Linea Lidell, Francisco López, Marcos López, Jane Marchetti, Markus Myhre, Muriel Ñañez, Agustina Navarro, Nina Nawara, Jaime Negredo, Johan Nijlaan, Sahar Nikou, Eve Noone, Mladen Panić, María Alejandra Paz, JoseLuis Peralta, Ana Pineres, Jarrod Pines, Ling-Yi Pont, Marina Pulido, Sidney Richner, Marshall Roach, Cynthia Sarafianou, Suzanne Schols, Ayşegül Seferoğlu, Aishwarya Singh, Fernando Soriano, Alejandra Stein, Thomas Tang, Max Terzini, Mildred Thabane, Marren Tiivits, Tuomas Välimaa, Santiago Vasquez, Alejandra Vecchini, Alejandra Vecchini, Abigail Vistas, Bogna Wojciechowska, Lucía Zazueta and Katarina Wallin Bureau.
Geneva, 28 April 2015