Twiplomacy: How Twitter Might Reshape Global Politics

Twitter is becoming the favored platform for world leaders to spread their views to the site's 500 million users and counting. With more than three-quarters of the world's leaders engaged in active Twitter accounts, analysts have termed the movement a new era in "Twiplomacy." Foreign Policy recently took a look at some of the leading analytics data to report how the world's leaders measure up on the popular website.

World leaders (or at least their PR teams), it turns out, are using Twitter more and more. While the top influencers on Twitter are largely expected voices from Washington, London, and the Vatican, their approaches to the social networking site are surprisingly diverse. While some leaders tend to maintain their pages for strictly political use, personal messages, rather than political, tend to gain the most online traction. Some accounts reach overwhelmingly international audiences, while others are limited to a primarily domestic following. Overall, the wide range of ways in which the site is used hints at the increasing importance of the site for the future of global politics.

President Obama (@barackobama) unsurprisingly tops the list as the most followed world leader on Twitter, with 35,002,557 followers and counting. The social media analytics group Klout, which measures user "influence" by the responses to users' liking and sharing online, rates the president's Twitter influence with a high score of 99/100, beating out popular users like Justin Bieber (96) and Lady GaGa (95). But Obama's readership is surprisingly diverse, and, according to Twitter analytics company TweepsMap, American voters only definitively make up about 28.8% of his overall Twitter following. And while he tends to tweet the most about employment and finances, Obama's most influential tweets have been simple. His top tweets to date include a short "Yes we can" after passing Obamacare, and an image of himself embracing Michelle Obama saying "Four more years" after his reelection.

With only 392,556 total followers, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (@david_cameron) has still managed to gain a high influence score of 92, based on total re-tweets and favorites. But unlike President Obama, Cameron's followers are overwhelmingly domestic, with British users comprising 71.8% of the prime minister's followers. And while the British leader has encountered a fair amount of backlash on the site on a range of controversial political issues, his top tweet is largely unrelated to his country's politics, a photo with the popular British boy band One Direction.

Pope Francis (@pontifex) rounds out the list as the leader with the most international Twitter influence, with 2,833,848 followers. When his multi-language accounts are considered in combination, the pope's Klout score is not far behind Obama's and Cameron's, at 89. Unsurpringly, his tweets are focused on social issues. But the pope's most influential tweet to date was a simple thank you and request for prayer after being selected pope.

France's President Fancois Hollande (@fhollande) and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) follow close behind in Twitter influence with Klout scores of 87. But while the French leader's Twitter following of 556,149 is overwhelmingly domestic, Israel's prime minister tweets to a primarily international following, with a shockingly high 59.9% of his 161,598 Twitter followers based in the United States. Netanyahu's tweets are almost always political in nature, most commonly focused on issues of terrorism and nuclear security.

Rounding out the list of top Twitter influencers is Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner (@cfkargentina), who enjoys a whopping 2 million followers and counting, and tweets to an overwhelmingly domestic audience with an overall Klout score of 82. Writing in Spanish, her most popular tweet to date has been personal in nature, announcing on the site that her son was expecting a child.

Overall, the diverse approaches to the popular social networking site indicate that global politicians have not yet reached a consensus on the future of "Twiplomacy." As the most influential politicians on Twitter generally come from Western states tweeting in the English language, some Asian leaders (such as Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono) have shown remarkable growth in their Twitter accounts in recent months. While the analytics suggest that Twitter users seem to care most about the personal glimpses the site can offer into the lives of the world's leaders rather than on issues of policy, the site's potential to serve as a more consistent political platform in the coming years will be worth monitoring.


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Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

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