Over the past five years, Twitter has become the ultimate channel for digital diplomacy for world leaders and governments. It is the prime social network used by heads of state and government in 173 countries, representing 90 percent of all United Nations (UN) member states, according to Burson-Marsteller’s Twiplomacy study, an annual global survey of world leaders on social media. Facebook is the second-most used social platform by world leaders, with 169 governments having set up official pages. However, leaders have on average twice as many followers on their Facebook pages as followers on Twitter.
YouTube ranks third among social sharing platforms, used by 78 percent of all UN member states, ahead of Instagram which is used by 70 percent. While Twitter communication is mainly text-based including visuals, Instagram is picture-driven with minimal text and more behind-the-scenes pictures. Governments with larger social media teams also have been exploring more visual communications with Vine and Snapchat, both of which target a younger audience of Millennials. Governments that do not have full broadcasting capabilities, mainly in Latin America, are embracing Periscope and Facebook Live to broadcast their press conferences.
The 2016 edition of Twiplomacy, which previously focused solely on Twitter, has been expanded to examine the use of other social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and more niche digital diplomacy platforms such as Snapchat, LinkedIn, Google+, Periscope and Vine. The Twiplomacy website includes live rankings and the first ever social media atlas for each country studied.
“Our Twiplomacy study shows people in positions of power are increasingly tapping social media platforms to connect with the audiences most important to them,” said Don Baer, Worldwide Chair and CEO, Burson-Marsteller. “As engagement becomes one of the critical measures of social media influence, our Twiplomacy study shows which political communicators are most successful on which social platforms and what we can learn from them.”
This final installment of Twiplomacy 2016 provides lessons for communicators on creating successful social media accounts and driving online engagement. Based on combining data from the different profiles with an in-depth analyses of the content, the most notable findings include the importance of being visual and creative, tailoring content to the specific platform, projecting a human face and timeliness. The world leaders using social media with the most success are U.S. President Barack Obama and his White House team, Mauricio Macri(Argentinian President) and Justin Trudeau (Canadian Prime Minster), among others found in the study.
“This cross-platform study shows that world leaders are increasingly taking an integrated approach across several social media channels, an indication of where more and more business leaders are likely to move as well,” said Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Europe, Middle East and Africa and Global Chief Strategy Officer. “We are seeing that world leaders are allowing people to ‘meet’ the personality behind the official title – and that today, much more than words, creative or personal images get messages across most powerfully, a tactic that corporate leaders can use just as effectively.”
The latest installment of the 2016 Twiplomacy study analyzed 793 Twitter accounts of heads of states and governments in 173 countries with a combined total audience of 324 million followers.
This year’s U.S. elections will not only signal the end of Obama’s presidency, but the loss of the uncontested leader of the digital diplomatic world. With the largest following of all world leaders combined, the man who has most successfully managed to communicate his personal image through his online profile will retire with an audience of 137 million followers, fans and subscribers. The Barack Obama Twitter account following alone numbers 74 million, well ahead of Pope Francis in second position, with 28 million, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in third with 19 million followers.
However, Burson-Marsteller’s Twitter study revealed that a massive following does not always translate into influence. The official presidential @POTUS Twitter account, set up in May 2015, has become the seventh most followed account with 7.6 million followers, and it is by far the most effective account considering it averages 12,350 retweets per tweet. In comparison, the tweets sent by the @BarackObama account, which has ten times as many followers as @POTUS, are only retweeted on average 1,572 times.
Foreign ministries tend to use Twitter to establish mutual relations. In May 2015, the U.S. State Department used Twitter to re-establish ties with its Cuban counterpart, months before the official re-establishment of diplomatic relations. The State Department also tried to connect with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, but has unfollowed both men who had not reciprocated.