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Burson-Marsteller Releases Annual Twiplomacy Study

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, June 25 2014

"What you tweet is what you get." Finnish PM @AlexStubb

The Spanish King's abdication, Narendra Modi's win, the loss of Malaysia airlines and an Olympic bet were just a few topics of the most popular tweets by world leaders this year. Each garnered more than 24,000 retweets, according to the 2014 Burson-Marsteller's Twiplomacy Study, which captures an annual snapshot of the power, influence and relationships of world leaders and diplomats on Twitter.

Narendra Modi's meteoric rise to the top of the Most Followed World Leaders list stole the show this year. Since he was elected in late May, he has accumulated enough followers (4.98 million, to be semi-exact, as of June 24) to be in the top five, after President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and, as of today, ahead of the Obama administration @WhiteHouse account.

However, the Twiplomacy study points out that the most followed leaders only use Twitter as a one-way message blast system: “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.” Barack Obama is the coldest of leaders, only mutually following two others: Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Foreign ministers, on the other hand, “have intensified their efforts to create mutual connections.” The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is now the best connected, followed by the EU External Action Service (@eu_eeas) and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (who has spoken highly of the diplomatic power of Twitter and even suggested it could play a part in resolving the conflict in Syria).

Most world leaders leave the tweeting to the communications staff, although Estonian President Toomas Henrik Ilves and UK Foreign Minister William Hague are exceptions to that rule.

How “conversational” a world leader is depends on how many of their tweets are direct responses to other users. The most “conversational” world leader is the Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi—95 percent of his tweets are replies—followed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame (who is known for fiery Twitter exchanges like this one).

Matthias Lüfkens, the author of the report, even took into account the aesthetic qualities of world leaders' profile pages, observing that “world leaders and governments are not known for their design skills and many were taken by surprise in May 2014 when Twitter changes its website design.”

Lüfkens continues:

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. . .

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. . . Finnish Prime Minister @AlexStubb has a picture of him cycling in the barren landscape of Fuerteventura.

Alex Stubb is also one of the many world leaders who indulge themselves in a selfie or groupie every once in a while:

Finnish Prime Minister @AlexStuff, 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.

As you can see, Lüfkens has a sense of humor. The entire study is available here, and a Storify collection of world leader selfies available here.

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