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Twitter has become an immensely powerful political tool. But it’s not just presidents and popes using the social network to push their messages across. More than half of the world’s foreign ministers and their institutions are active on Twitter. But are they all using it in the same way?
According to the most recent Twiplomacy study by research house Burson Marsteller, governments are putting more effort into their social media communication and are including more visuals and videos in their tweets. Some, such as the @Elysee Palace, are regularly posting six-second Vine videos to summarise state visits or to cheer their national team, as the German Foreign Ministry did during the World Cup.
The study also shows that Twitter has become a virtual diplomatic network for most government officials. For many diplomats, Burson-Marsteller says, Twitter has become a powerful channel for digital diplomacy and 21st century statecraft.
It analysed 669 government accounts in 166 countries and revealed that 86% of all 193 United Nations governments have a presence on Twitter. One hundred and seventy-two heads of state and government have personal Twitter accounts and only 27 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia-Pacific, do not have any Twitter presence.
“This study illustrates that governments are becoming savvier and more professional in the use of social media,” said Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Europe, Middle East and Africa and Global Chief Strategy Officer. “It is interesting to see how foreign ministries have honed their social strategies and built substantial dedicated teams to manage their online channels. We believe corporations can learn a lot from governments and their leaders on Twitter.”
Not all political leaders use Twitter in the same way however. US president Barack Obama for instance, lays claim to some 57-million followers, making him the most followed world leader on Twitter. But, he is dwarfed in terms of retweets per tweet by Pope Francis who averages almost 10 000 retweets for each tweet sent on his Spanish account, against 1 210 for each tweet sent by Obama.
European foreign ministers also use Twitter to establish mutual connections, creating a virtual diplomatic network. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (@LaurentFabius) is the best connected foreign minister, mutually connected to 100 peers. Russia’s Foreign Ministry is in second position maintaining mutual Twitter relations with 93 other world leaders. The Foreign Ministry in Paris is in third place with 90 mutual connections. These mutual connections among foreign ministers allow for private conversations via direct messages on Twitter.
This kind of Twitter-based diplomacy isn’t always done in private though. In September 2013 for instance, 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 US.
Despite the fact that so many leaders now have accounts, very few actually tweet as themselves. Notable exceptions, Burson-Marsteller points out, include Estonian President @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.
For more highlights from the report, check out the infographic below: