A recent research study by PR firm Burson-Marsteller sheds light, for the very first time, on the Twitter presence of the world’s leaders. The pioneering study looks at “Twiplomacy”, that is, diplomatic relations over Twitter among the world’s heads of state. According to this research, over 60% of world leaders are represented on the microblogging site, 264 in all. A mere 11% of them post their own tweets with any kind of regularity and the rest rely on campaign teams for the management of their Twitter accounts.
Burson-Marsteller found that Barack Obama’s account is the most-followed on Twitter—more than 18 million followers keep tabs on the president. Obama’s tweet about gay marriage is the most re-tweeted on the site, with over 62,000 re-tweets to date, and reads: “same-sex couples should be able to get married.” However, when compared with the Twitter accounts of other world leaders, Obama’s ranks low on response rate—only 1% of his tweets are replies to his followers. Compare this to Rwanda’s Paul Kagame or Uganda’s Mama Mbabazi, who each have tweet reply ratios of 90%. The US President may be missing out on an opportunity to enter a discourse with citizens about the issues that are most important to them and the effects of his policies.
Closer to home, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also maintains a Twitter account, though he rarely does the tweeting himself. His followers number a modest 230,496 and his favourite tweet topics include public holidays like Canada Day, government actions as well as his vision for the nation. His most popular tweet, dated Feb. 1, 2011, reads: “We’re very concerned about CRTC’s decision on usage-based billing and its impact on consumers. I’ve asked for a review of the decision.” Like Obama, Harper prefers not to answer most tweets addressed to him, with a mere 5% of his tweets being replies to followers. Entering a conversation with Canadians is not high on Harper’s list of priorities, but at least he replies more often than the US president.
The Twiplomacy study shows that a very small number of world leaders make use of Twitter to develop connections and interact with other users, with close to half of heads of state not following any of their peers. @BarackObama and @WhiteHouse have established Twiplomatic relations, to coin a phrase, with only three other world leaders: Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev, the UK’s David Cameron and Norway’s Jens Stoltenberg.
As it stands, Twitter remains a largely untapped medium for diplomatic interaction in the online realm, but as the social network continues its rapid growth this trend may very well change. And while the majority of tweets sent by average Joes and Janes may be devoid of actual meaning or political significance, some tweeters do have something important to say to the leaders governing them. And it is only fair that politicians acknowledge the people responsible for their election to office; all it takes is 140 characters.
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