A picture is worth a thousand words, and world leaders have taken this to heart in adopting Instagram as part of their communications.
Over the past five years, governments and world leaders have flocked to the mobile photo and video sharing social network to share their official pictures with a worldwide audience. Government use of Instagram as a communications channel is particularly frequent in Europe, Middle East, Latin America and parts of Asia.
The heads of state and government, as well as foreign ministers of 140 countries, currently have personal and institutional accounts on Instagram, representing 72.5 percent of all 193 United Nations (UN) member states. One-hundred-eleven heads of state and government maintain personal profiles on the platform. On February 24, 2017, the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan (@AzerbaijanMFA) became the latest foreign ministry to set up an official Instagram account.
Instagram, which claims 600 million active monthly users, has an ever-increasing following – something world leaders and their advisors have not been slow to recognize.
Instagram is a platform dedicated to highly visual communication. Users can upload up to 10 pictures or videos in a single post, and can apply a range of different filters to their visuals as well as add an unlimited amount of text. The platform is primarily associated with more artistic shots, which allows followers to like and comment on posts. Unlike other platforms, the image, rather than the text, tells the story.
Since 2016, users have been able to post Instagram Stories which disappear after 24 hours and live videos which disappear immediately after the broadcast unless the user saves them to his or her mobile device. The visual nature of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, makes it a perfect channel for leaders to address their constituents with engaging visuals.
As of April 1, 2017, the 325 accounts analyzed in this study, conducted by the global PR firm Burson-Marsteller, have a combined total of 48,705,021 followers and published 61,281 posts in the past 12 months which have garnered a total of 371,711,417 interactions (comments and shares).
Who is the Most Followed?
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become the most followed world leader on Instagram with 6.8 million followers, closely followed by U.S. President Donald Trump with 6.3 million followers. Both leaders combined have fewer followers than former U.S. President Barack Obama who left office on January 20, 2017 and now has 13.8 million followers on his @BarackObama account.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has posted only 53 photos – 20 times less than the 1,028 posts posted by Donald Trump – but over the past 12 months, Modi has enjoyed a far better interaction rate, with 5.15 percent compared to Trump’s 3.39 percent.
Pope Francis, who started his Instagram journey on March 19, 2016, is in third position with 3.7 million followers, just ahead of the White House account with 3.4 million followers. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo @Jokowi has seen a 673 percent growth of his followers over the past 12 months, putting him in fifth position. Queen Rania of Jordan; Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev; HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai; Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei complete the Top 10 list.
Trump leads the rankings in terms of total interactions (comments and likes). Over the past 12 months, @realDonaldTrump has garnered more than 114 million interactions. Surprisingly, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in second position with 89 million interactions on his 1,423 posts, twice as many as Pope Francis with 45 million interactions.
Who is the Most Effective?
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also the most effective world leader on Instagram, with each of his posts receiving on average 223,000 interactions (comments and likes). Turkey’s President is in second position with 141,000 interactions and Pope Francis’ Instagram posts receive an average of 138,000 interactions. With 9.67 percent, the Turkish President has one of the highest interaction rates, which is the total number of interactions divided by the number of posts and the average number of followers over the past 12 months.
U.S. President Donald Trump has received 111,000 average interactions on his Instagram posts over the past 12 months, while Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is in fifth position with an average of 76,000 interactions on each of his posts. Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is in sixth position in terms of average interactions and has the second-best interaction rate 6.4 percent.
Over the past 12 months, Ayatollah Khamenei has garnered 89 million interactions on his 1,423 posts, behind Donald Trump with 114 million total interactions followed by Pope Francis with 45 million total interactions. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Queen Rania of Jordan, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, complete the Top 10 list receiving more than 35,000 interactions per post.
The most-liked post of all world leaders over the past 12 months is a picture of Michelle and Barack Obama during the Halloween celebrations at the White House with a total of 1.5 million interactions. The most commented post with more than half a million comments and half a million likes is the picture of Donald Trump and his family watching the election results on November 9, 2016, with a total of more than a million interactions.
Notably, Barack Obama was the first world leader to set up an Instagram account, on January 4, 2012, followed by Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri and Danilo Medina, the President of the Dominican Republic. However, quite a few world leaders have given up posting on the network after the initial enthusiasm wore off – as a third of the accounts surveyed have either been dormant for more than a year or have never been active.
All world leaders combined have posted a total of 61,281 photos and videos and the clear majority are pictures of large gatherings such as election rallies, conferences, government meetings and bilateral meetings with their foreign counterparts. Only 10 percent of all posts are video posts but on average, video posts tend to get significantly more likes and comments than regular photo posts. The @Elysee account of the French presidency is the most audiovisual account, with 25 of its 30 posts over the past 12 months being videos.
The most liked video, watched 1.7 million times, is a repost by President Donald Trump of @IvankaTrump’s video playing with her son Theodore in the White House. Donald Trump’s election advertisement, which was posted on November 9, 2016 to encourage his followers to vote, has become the most commented video with 76,000 comments, and was watched 2.2 million times.
The Obama – Trump Transition
On January 20, 2017, the White House Instagram account, set up under President Barack Obama in January 2012 and all its 1,747 posts were archived on the @ObamaWhiteHouse Instagram account. A new @WhiteHouse Instagram channel was set up for the Trump administration which started with a clean slate, while keeping the 3,586,458 followers accumulated under Obama.
The Obama administration was known for its cutting-edge use of Instagram, managed by the official White House photographer Pete Souza and his team. The official photographer followed the President every waking hour and shot private photos of him and his family, to visually document daily life at the White House.
The Trump White House has yet to make an impact on Instagram. Most of the 33 pictures shared on the account are group pictures of advisors and delegations surrounding President Donald Trump when signing orders. The most liked and commented picture of the Trump White House is a picture of the empty Oval Office which has received its fair shares of negative comments from his critics. Since the transition the new @WhiteHouse account has lost more than 100,000 followers as Obama supporters have unfollowed the Trump White House Instagram account.
Most of the official White House communications on Instagram are done through the personal account of Donald Trump @realDonaldTrump. The Instagram account does not seem to be run by the president himself and his team posts mainly group pictures of the president’s meetings and screenshots of his most memorable tweets. The @realDonaldTrump account has also posted occasional reposts from his children @IvankaTrump and @DonaldJTrumpJr, giving a glimpse into the family life at the White House. During the election campaign in 2016, the account became a formidable electoral tool and his most-liked post is a picture of him and his family awaiting the election results, with more than 1 million interactions.
Who is the Most Active?
The Information Department of the government of Brunei is the most active government account, with more than 16 posts per day on average. The Foreign Ministry of Kuwait is the second most prolific with 6.6 posts per day. The President of Ghana, the presidential administration of Honduras and Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, complete the top five with more than 3.5 posts per day.
The most active governments and world leaders have discovered Instagram as a formidable channel to post pictures of their leaders’ daily activities and their Instagram accounts have become the central repository for all official government pictures. However, few of the pictures are particularly riveting and many are of staged handshakes, which get few likes and which would possibly be better used as Instagram ‘stories’ where they disappear after 24 hours.
What do World Leaders Post on Instagram?
Instagram is not the most obvious social network to make sweeping policy statements or hard-hitting announcements. President Donald Trump often posts screenshots of his tweets on Instagram in the hope of increasing their impact- and while that might not be the best use of the platform, the tactic does gain him considerably more engagement.
Several governments use quote cards, a picture of their leader with an excerpt from a speech or a memorable statement. The German government used a quote card on Instagram to post Angela Merkel’s reaction to the election of Donald Trump. The quote, taken from her speech, reminded the then-President-elect of the common values that bind Germany and the USA.
Other governments have shared pictures of presidential decrees, or even entire press releases which require zooming in and are rather hard to decipher, especially on mobile devices. The British Royal Family often posts pictures of state dinner menus. The French and Irish governments, as well as South American governments such as Brazil, have shared infographic-style visuals capturing government initiatives in easy-to-read visuals.
Over the past 12 months, tragic news of terror attacks has also dominated postings on Instagram. However, it is difficult to break sad news or express condolences on Instagram because users only have the option to ‘like’ pictures, or share their grief in the comments. In 2016, the German government posted pictures of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin draped in the British, German, Israeli, and Turkish flags to show solidarity with the victims of terror attacks.
The Irish government posted a picture of the lowered tricolor on the government building after the terror attacks in Brussels, Nice and Orlando and the UK Foreign Office posted Boris Johnson’s handwritten letter in French on its Instagram account, in solidarity with the French people.
Family snapshots – and generally pictures with children – tend to rank high among the most popular Instagram posts of world leaders. The picture of Andrej Kiska, the President of Slovakia, playing with his granddaughter has become his most liked Instagram post.
World leaders are no longer afraid to open their family albums and black and white pictures from their early childhood. In September, when school was starting for Many, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg shared a picture of her very first day at school.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs, who often posts wildlife and landscape pictures, has probably posted one of the most mystical and mysterious pictures from the Latvian seaside resort of Jurmala entitled “Grey Spring Filter.”
A number of world leaders have shown their creativity and Instagram mastery by building collages with a series of Instagram posts. The European Commission captured the State of the Union address in twelve pictures, asking its followers to see the bigger picture on their profile. The managers of the account also created a three-picture mosaic as a teaser for the debate which demanded quite a bit of planning by the community manager. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy posted a series of nine pictures to form a collage to say thank you when he was confirmed by parliament in October 2016. His Christmas messages were sprawled over three posts best viewed on his Instagram profile page. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte opened his Instagram account with a nine-picture mosaic in February 2017.
Many politicians take to Instagram during election campaigns and use the network to show a lighter side of their personality. Once elected, their accounts become less interesting with less engagement. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte opened an Instagram account on February 14, 2017, but the @markopinsta account has been dormant since the day after the elections on March 16, 2017. The personal Instagram accounts of Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet and Polish President Andrzej Duda have also been dormant since their respective elections and the pictures of their election victories are their last posts. The account of the Dutch royal household (@Koninklijkhuis) went into abeyance shortly after King Willem-Alexander acceded to the throne in April 2013.
Whether it’s supporting national sports teams, or showing off their football, cycling and even archery skills, many world leaders are keen sports enthusiasts and some, like the Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, don’t even leave their office to play! Some act as light entertainment like Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson playing cricket in his suit in India and Moldova’s President Igor Dodon taking a plunge in ice cold water.
2016 was a great year for sports teams across the world, and world leaders have come out in full support of their national teams. From selfies with Olympic champions to shots with supporters at football matches, or simply just watching big football games and Olympic moments from their own living rooms like Senegal’s President Macky Sall, world leaders are sports fanatics!
As a joke, on April 1, 2017, the German Foreign Ministry announced that it would temporarily shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts and that it could be reached via Fax: +49-30-181752627.
Accounts Worth Following
Very few world leaders manage their own Instagram account and they often have their official photographers, or their social media teams, managing the account. Thirteen world leaders have occasionally taken their own pictures and selfies, namely Presidents Joko Widodo (@Jokowi), @MauricioMacri, @PenaNieto, Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev (@damedvedev), @Erna_Solberg, @LeeHsienLoong, @TurnbullMalcolm, @Najib_Razak, and Foreign Ministers @AndersSamuelsen1, @EdgarsRinkevics, @GebranBassil, @Khalid_bin_Ahmad, and @NasserJudeh.
A handful of accounts stand out for posting unusual, behind-the-scenes pictures. These accounts are often run by the official photographer, or a dedicated social media team. While some photographers will slavishly follow their leader and post every single picture of their meetings, others have been given artistic license to post unusual pictures, capturing private moments of our leaders.
The official photographer of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has clearly been inspired by Pete Souza, the former official photographer of the Obama White House, who has in turn liked some of the pictures posted on the account of the @Bundeskanzlerin. The photographers following Angela Merkel often share pictures taken from unusual angles which chronicle her official activities. One of the most intriguing pictures is a close-up of the UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s shoes, standing next to Angela Merkel during her July 2016 visit to Berlin.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is somewhat of a social media darling and his Instagram posts tend to get on average 21,000 interactions. The captions of his Instagram posts are always in English and in French and videos are uploaded twice in English and in French. His looping Boomerang video showing him wearing Canada’s Olympic medals has been liked 61,000 times and was watched more than 310,000 times.
The social media team of Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz shares unusual and candid #BehindTheScenes pictures and snapshots of the young minister. The team often uses the hashtags #BusyDay and #BusyWeek in the captions. The account occasionally also highlights some of the staff working with the Austrian Foreign Minister.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen clearly manages his own Instagram account, sometimes sharing selfies from meetings and personal snapshots of his weekend activities, be it cycling with friends or grilling asparagus on his BBQ.
Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen is the quintessential ‘cool dude’ on Instagram. He clearly also manages the account himself, posting cool shots, including a picture of the colorful carpet during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, or showing off his mastery of the double bottle flip challenge in an Instagram video.
Probably one of the most entertaining and engaging world leaders on Instagram is Singapore’s Prime Minister @LeeHsienLoong. The 65-year-old politician often posts selfies and ‘wefies’ or group selfies to engage his audiences. His regular “#GuessWhere” photographic riddles are one of the key reasons to follow his account.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (@damedvedev) is an amateur photographer and occasionally posts his pictures on Instagram. He is less active than before, but posts pictures of swans on a pond or his ice-fishing catch which receive quite a bit of engagement from his 2.7 million followers. His New Year’s video message has been watched more than half a million times. Occasionally he reposts pictures from @Photogovernment, the Russian government’s dedicated picture feed for all official Instagram pictures.
The most interesting pictures on the Instagram channel of Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, are not his official pictures but rather his holiday snaps, and he clearly seems to enjoy life judging from his Instagram posts. His Instagram feed @Khalid_bin_Ahmad is a mix of official pictures, selfies with friends and colleagues and very personal holiday snaps.
But First, Let Me Take a Selfie
Most world leaders have embraced the selfie culture of their fans, happily agreeing to be featured in selfies – the digital equivalent of an autograph. A group of admirers will generally cuddle up close to their favorite leader to take a selfie. Instagram accounts come alive particularly during dlection campaigns, with pictures of politicians surrounded by a crowd of admirers wanting to capture a selfie.
Quite a few world leaders have joined the selfie craze and are happy to capture a group selfie with their audiences at political rallies and meetings. To take a group selfie you often need a long arm and a handful of government leaders have taken selfies to a new level; The Presidents of Argentina and Colombia and the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Spain have all been pictured using selfie sticks to capture their audience in group selfies or “groufies.” Singapore’s Prime Minister innovatively uses a 360° camera, which is “handy to squeeze everyone into the same photo”. He also sometimes captures other world leaders in his selfies and even started to present his snapshots as official presents to his guests.
Najib Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, has continued his series of selfies with his illustrious international counterparts including King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Argentina’s Mauricio Macri shared a selfie with Canada’s Justin Trudeau, and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also memorialized his meetings with New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with selfies. He also took a farewell selfie with former U.S. President Barack Obama. Whatever you think about selfies, they are far more personal and entertaining than traditional, handshake pictures.
A few world leaders have also shared solo selfies on Instagram such as Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke and his Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen who posted the “ultimate selfie” of his reflection in his sunglasses. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s mirror-selfie in an elevator posted in 2012 is still his most liked post with more than 200,000 times.
One in 10 posts of world leaders on Instagram is a video post. The share of video posts on the accounts of world leaders has more than doubled over the past 12 months, from 4 percent in our first study in 2016 to 10 percent in this year’s edition. Instagram videos tend to receive a higher interaction rate and each video posted by world leaders over the past 12 months has received on average 7,908 interactions (likes & shares) compared to only 5,881 for simple photo posts. With the introduction of Instagram Stories and Instagram Live video, the number of video posts is bound to increase as governmental community managers take full advantage of all Instagram functionalities.
Instagram Live videos are hard to catch, as they disappear immediately after the broadcast, unless the user saves the video to the camera roll which would then allow him or her to edit and repost a 60-second highlight video on Instagram.
Given the ephemeral nature of Instagram live videos, it is impossible to say how many governments have already used this broadcasting functionality. The Prime Minister of Slovenia Miro Cerar and the Brazilian Foreign ministry both recently conducted unscheduled live broadcasts. It is important to note that Instagram live broadcasts do not support horizontal video and should therefore be shot holding the mobile device vertically. And finally, it is important to be as close to the speakers as possible, or use a cabled microphone for optimal sound quality.
Quite a few world leaders and governments have started to compose Instagram Stories, a feature which Instagram copied from Snapchat. Users can add photos and 10-second videos to their stories which disappear after 24 hours. In total, Facebook claims that Stories receive 150 million weekly views.
When the UK government triggered Article 50 to leave the European Union, the UK Foreign Office posted an Instagram Story including four pictures of the UK Prime Minister Theresa May signing the letter, Ambassador Tim Barrow delivering it to EU Council President Donald Tusk, and a close-up of the letter and the subsequent statement in parliament. While the Instagram Story disappeared after 24 hours, the first two pictures were also posted on the Foreign Office’s Instagram main feed.
On the same day, the European Parliament, which has been quite active on Snapchat and Instagram, posted its own Instagram Story including reactions from the President and advised its readers to “swipe up” to read more about the upcoming negotiations on the Parliament’s website.
It is rather time consuming to assemble Instagram Stories and it makes sense to script the slides and videos elements before producing and posting them.
Latin American Presidents appear to be leading the field in terms of Instagram innovation. The social media team of Argentinian President Mauricio Macri has been composing Snapchat Stories chronicling his daily activities and has also posted some his snaps as Instagram Stories. The Stories of Mauricio Macri are a succession of snapshots and video snippets shot and posted throughout the day, chronicling his daily activities in minute detail. The Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the Foreign Ministry of the United Arab Emirates, and the Iranian leadership have all posted Instagram Stories.
About This Study
World Leaders on Instagram is Burson-Marsteller’s latest research into how world leaders, governments and international organizations communicate via social media. The research builds on Burson-Marsteller’s highly acclaimed annual Twiplomacy study. Initially focused solely on Twitter, the study has been expanded to other social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google+ and more niche digital diplomacy platforms such as Snapchat.
For its second edition of the World Leaders on Instagram study, Burson-Marsteller has identified a total of 325 Instagram profiles, 82 of which have been verified by Instagram and carry a blue verification mark. The 243 remaining pages are not verified, but we believe that they can be considered official pages. Interestingly, 66 pages have been dormant for more than a year and 25 are inactive and have never posted a single photo. Seven accounts are private and we could therefore not retrieve any data.
We did not include accounts set up by private individuals, such as a fan page for Pope Francis (@Pontifex_es) which, despite its 200,000 followers, is clearly not official, nor the page of the Russian President @President_Vladimir_Putin which has more than 65,000 followers but is not his official page. We also discarded the @Kremlin_Russian page, which has 790,000 followers but posts political cartoons and unflattering pictures of Western leaders. Finally, we have not included inactive pages without profile pictures as it was virtually impossible to determine their authenticity.
Data was collected on April 1, 2017, using Crowdtangle to analyze the 325 world leaders’ Instagram accounts covering their publications over the past 12 months.
The full data set can be downloaded here.