The Twiplomacy report is par excellence the guide book to the use of institutional tweeting or, as they better put it, it is an annual global study looking at the use of Twitter by heads of state and government and ministers of foreign affairs.
While some heads of state and government continue to amass large followings, foreign ministers have established a virtual diplomatic network by following each other on the social media platform. Here is the executive summary from this great work put up by Matthias Lüfkens and Marek Zaremba-Pike together at Burston Marsteller. I had the pleasure to meet Matthias and Marek at their presentation of the report at BM’s offices in Brussels last July (See video below and my short intervention at 40:57)
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 spilling over reflected on Twitter and sometimes end up in hashtag wars.
“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. Within weeks of his election in May 2014, the @NarendraModi account has moved into the top four most followed Twitter accounts of world leaders with close to five million followers.
More than half of the world’s foreign ministers and their institutions are active on the social networking site. Twitter has become an indispensable diplomatic networking and communication tool. As 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 25 June 2014, the vast majority (83 percent) of the 193 UN member countries have a presence on Twitter. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of all heads of state and heads of government have personal accounts on the social network.
Most Followed World Leaders
Since his election in late May 2014, India’s new Prime Minister @NarendraModi has skyrocketed into fourth place, surpassing the the @WhiteHouse on 25 June 2014 and dropping Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül (@cbabdullahgul) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan) into sixth and seventh place with more than 4 million followers each.
Modi still has a ways to go to best U.S. President @BarackObama, who tops the world-leader list with a colossal 43.7 million followers, with Pope Francis @Pontifex) with 14 million followers on his nine different language accounts and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono @SBYudhoyono, who has more than five million followers and surpassed President Obama’s official administration account @WhiteHouse on 13 February 2014.
In Latin America Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the President of Argentina @CFKArgentina is slightly ahead of Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos with 2,894,864 and 2,885,752 followers respectively. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto @EPN, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff @dilmabr and Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro complete the Latin American top five, with more than two million followers each.
followers) and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma (@SAPresident) (325,876 followers).
Turkey’s @Ahmet_Davutoglu is the most followed foreign minister with 1,511,772 followers, ahead of India’s @SushmaSwaraj (1,274,704 followers) and the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates @ABZayed (1,201,364 followers)
Does Size Really Matter?
The meteoric rise of the Indian and Indonesian presidents shows that leaders of the most populous countries have a clear advantage in garnering a large army of dedicated followers. The number of followers of a country’s leader has even become a question of national pride.
Iran’s President @HassanRouhani has seen the most impressive growth of his account over the past year. Since our last study published in July 2013, the number of his followers multiplied by 19. The foreign ministry of Ukraine (@MFA_Ukraine) has seen its follower numbers multiplied by eleven and the English account of Russian President Vladimir Putin @PutinRF_Eng almost quintupled reflecting the global interest in the region. The average growth rate of the accounts analyzed has been 137 percent year on year.
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 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. 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 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, which is not followed by the @WhiteHouse and squarely geared towards an American audience, almost never tweeting about foreign affairs.
Despite the account’s massive following, the @BarackObama tweets are on average only retweeted 1,442 times. By this standard, Pope Francis @Pontifex is by far the most influential tweep with more than 10,000 retweets for every tweet he sends on his Spanish account and 6,462 retweets on average on his English account. Venezuela’s President @NicolasMadurois in second position, receiving on average 2,065 retweets per tweet on his Spanish account.
Eight world leaders have seen some of their tweets retweeted more than 24,000 times, reflecting major announcements and historic events, such as @NarendraModi’s election tweet: “India has won! The conquest of India. Good days are ahead”, 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.”
Creating Mutual Connections
Foreign ministers and their institutions on the other hand have put the accent on mutual connections with their peers. In September 2013 the State Department started to follow 22 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.
Since our last study in July 2013, foreign ministers and their institutions have intensified their efforts to create mutual connections on Twitter. French Foreign Minister @LaurentFabius has become the best connected foreign minister, mutually connected with 91 other peers and world leaders. The EU External Action Service (@eu_eeas) is second, followed by Swedish Foreign Minister @CarlBildt with 71 and 68 mutual connections respectively.
Being mutually connected on Twitter allows these leaders to direct message each other and to have private conversations. 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 outreach.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry (@Swe_MFA) has made a conscious effort to establish connections on Twitter, unilaterally following 355 other world leaders. French Foreign Minister @LaurentFabius is following 250 and the Croatian government @VladaRH has made overtures to 195 other world leaders.
The Foreign Ministry of Peru, Iceland, Kyrgyzstan and the Foreign Minister of Kosovo and Panama have all made similar attempts to put themselves into the diplomatic Twittersphere and create connections, hoping 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 222 and 179 peers respectively. But they are giving most other world leaders the cold shoulder. @BarackObama mutually follows only two other world leaders, namely Norway’s Prime Minister @Erna_Solberg and Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiae). The @WhiteHouse is mutually connected with only two other leaders: @MedvedevRussiae and the UK government (@Number10gov).
Virtual Diplomatic Network
Europe’s leading foreign ministers and foreign ministries are all following each other and have created what can be termed a virtual diplomatic network on Twitter.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry has been leading 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 3,100 embassies and ambassadors are now active on Twitter. In London, New York and Washington D.C., foreign diplomatic missions can no longer ignore the flurry of diplomatic activity on the social network.
Not a week goes by without a new Canadian embassy setting up shop on Twitter in English and French, Canada’s official languages. Ottawa, which was once described as a laggard in digital diplomacy has now caught up with its peers.
The UK @ForeignOffice maintains a Twitter list with 307 diplomats and embassies and missions on Twitter. The foreign ministries of Poland, Israel, Russia, Sweden, the U.S., and France each list more than 100 diplomats and missions on Twitter.
In late May 2014, the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine put its 33 missions on Twitter. Since 2013 all of Sweden’s embassies are on Twitter and Facebook, including its outpost in North Korea where Internet access is a challenge.
The UK Foreign Office actively encourages personal engagement on Twitter from its ambassadors and it has become virtually impossible to become a Foreign Office diplomat if you are not using digital tools.
Are they tweeting themselves?
Notable exceptions include Estonian President Toomas Henrik Ilves (@IlvesToomas) and UK Foreign Minister @WilliamJHague who bluntly tweeted: “#Twitter is a great way of making our staff nervous by communicating directly!”
Quite a number of world leaders occasionally tweet themselves during Twitter chats, answering a selection of questions sent by their followers. During his last Twitter chat Belgian Prime Minister @ElioDiRupoadmitted that he liked his “fries without mayonnaise”.
Finnish Prime Minister designate, @AlexStubb, who is known for sharing his athletic exploits on Twitter and his penchant for selfies, even co-authored an e-book in Finnish about what to do on Twitter and some of his tweets were even put to music.
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 year, 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.
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. Chile’s new President Michelle Bachelet mothballed her Twitter account @PrensaMichelle once elected on 11 March 2014. The personal Twitter account of French Prime Minister @ManuelValls has been dormant since the elections on 9 May 2012.
French President François Hollande (@FHollande) and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff (@DilmaBR) also suspended their Twitter activity, but they have reactivated their accounts as the next election campaign approaches.
More than 100 of the Twitter accounts analyzed in our study are dormant. The account of the Egyptian Presidency (@EgyPresidency) has been quiet since the ouster of Mohamed Morsiin 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 new Indian government.
All the World’s a Tweet
The Twiplomacy Study 2014 found that the vast majority (83 percent) of the 193 UN member countries have a presence on Twitter. More than two-thirds (68%) of all heads of state and heads of government in 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 now 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 78.7%, 77.4% and 62% 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.
African leaders seem to use Twitter solely to converse with their followers. Ugandan Prime Minister @AmamaMbabazi is the most conversational world leader with 95 percent of his tweets being @replies to other Twitter users.
The second most conversational leader is Rwanda’s President @PaulKagame who often gets into memorable Twitter exchanges with his critics. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael), Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo (@LMushikiwabo) and Norway’s Prime Minister @Erna_Solberg 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. Barack Obama is the most listed world leader appearing on 207,722 Twitter lists. The @WhiteHouse and Russia’s Prime Minister @MedvedevRussia appear on 58,914 and 45,779 lists respectively. The Japanese government’s @Kantei_Saigai account is listed 32,867 times and Jordan’s @QueenRania is listed 20,034 times.
The UK government (@Number10gov), Pope Francis (@Pontifex), Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff (@dilmabr), the U.S. State Department (@StateDept), Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina), Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül (@cbabdullahgul), India’s @NarendraModi, Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro and Colombia’s @JuanManSantos all appear on over 10,000 Twitter lists.
When Did They Start Tweeting?
Barack Obama was the first world leader to set up a Twitter account on 5 March 2007 (at the time as Senator Obama) as user #813,286 when he was still a senator. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN), Belgian Prime Minister @ElioDiRupo, 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 in 2010 and 2011. The latest to have joined the Twitterverse in May 2014, are the Spanish Royal Household @CasaReal, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry (@MarocDiplomatie) and Malawi’s new President Peter Mutharika (@ProfMutharika).
Thirty-one accounts are inactive and have never sent a single tweet, and seven are protected accounts, including those of outgoing Finnish Prime Minister @JyrkiKatainen and Zambia’s @MichaelSata. Two hundred forty nine accounts have been officially verified by Twitter, giving them a blue star of appreciation on their Twitter profiles.
Most Active Twitter Accounts
As of 25 June 2014, all world leaders combined have sent 1,935,308 tweets posting on average four tweets each day. The Venezuelan presidency (@PresidencialVen) has sent close to 50,000 tweets, averaging almost 40 tweets each day. The Foreign Ministry of Venezuela (@vencancilleria) places second with more than 42,000 tweets sent, followed by the Mexican Presidency (@PresidenciaMX) with 38,000 tweets sent. The Mexican presidency is also the most prolific, posting on average 78 tweets each day. The Mexican governmental account @gobrep is not far behind with 71 tweets each day. Both institutions often repeat their tweets several times over several days to capture different audiences at different times.
World leaders tweet in more than 53 different languages, but English is the lingua franca on Twitter. Two hundred thirty four accounts tweet in English and have posted 530,554 tweets to a combined following of 79,283,641 followers.
Spanish is the Most Tweeted Language
World leaders tweet in more than 53 different languages, but English is the lingua franca on Twitter. Two hundred thirty four accounts tweet in English and have posted 530,554 tweets to a combined following of 79,283,641 followers.
However, the 70 Spanish language accounts are far more active, having sent 603,735 tweets to 27,158,180 followers, making Spanish the most tweeted language among world leaders.
French is the third most-used language in world leaders’ tweets with 126,353 tweets sent, followed by Arabic 93,107, Russian 66,709, Portuguese 42,718, Ukrainian 33,385, Bahasa Indonesian 31,292, Turkish 30,606, Croatian 29,755 and Korean in 21,210 tweets.
The vast majority of accounts (85 percent) have not created any Twitter lists, which are very useful to list other government agencies or diplomatic missions abroad. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has the most public Twitter lists with 23 lists on the @MID_RF account and 18 on the @MFA_Russia account. The @Israel account maintains 15 Twitter lists and the Australian Foreign Office (@dfat) has 14 official Twitter lists.
Fifty public Twitter lists can be found 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.
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.
More than half of the accounts analyzed have a custom header picture, but not all are in the correct resolution and the President of Burkina Faso even had his head cut off in the process.
Institutional Twitter accounts for heads of state, 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 and the foreign minister of the Seychelles @AdamJeanPaul is also promoting the pristine beaches of his island state. Finnish Prime Minister designate @AlexStubb has a picture of him cycling in the barren landscape of Fuerteventura.
A handful of institutions regularly change the header picture to highlight special events. The French @Elysee palace promoted the visit of François Hollande to Mexico including the relevant hashtag #PRMexique, while the foreign ministry in Paris highlighted the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and the Croatian government posted a large “Thank You” to the Croatian Red Cross after the devastating floods in the Balkans.
Half of the accounts also have a custom background which has become almost irrelevant as it is only seen when viewing an individual tweet.
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 recent study of government accounts by Twitter.
Swedish Foreign Minister @CarlBildt surprised his Iranian counterpart @JZarif when he took a picture of the audience during their joint press conference but he did not share it on the social network.
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.
Belgian Prime Minister @EliodiRupo promoted Belgian brews by posting picture drinking a beer
#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 new 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 Prime Minister @RT_Erdogan and Indonesian President @SBYudhoyono while sitting in a golf cart.
Finnish Prime Minister designate @AlexStubb, one of Twiplomacy’s stars who “tries not to take himself too seriously…” 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
A number of governments post videos from their respective YouTube channels and some have trialed 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.
Haiti’s Prime Minister @LaurentLamothe is the most prolific Viner with 65 often shaky videos of his meetings with other world leaders and campaign stops. 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 @Elysee palace has perfected the art of the Vine videos and produced 48 Vines including a time lapse video of the Galette des Rois, the traditional French puff pastry cake rising in the Elysee’s kitchen.
You can find a collection of the most historic Vine videos of world leaders on Storify.
Almost a third of all world leaders (31 percent) still use Twitter’s website to tweet, down from 46 percent in 2013. But 14 percent of all the tweets have been sent on the go either from an iPhone, iPad, Blackberry or an Android device. Twitter clients Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are used by five and four percent of word leaders respectively. Four percent tweet their status updates directly from their Facebook page.
Some have bespoke Twitter clients such as Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro who tweets from a special application called Traductor Nicolas.
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 643 Twitter accounts of heads of state and government, foreign ministers and their institutions in 161 countries worldwide. The study analyzes each leader’s Twitter profiles, tweet history, and their connections with each other.
Data was collected in June 2014 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 also used Twitonomy to pull the last 3,200 tweets of each account and used Tagxedo to create word clouds with the most frequently used terms.
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 Doesfollow.com to analyze the 414,000 possible Twitter relations between world leaders.