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Manmohan, Obama need Twitter lessons from other world leaders

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Twitter handle @PMOIndia ranks 28 in a listing of the top 50 world leaders by the Geneva-based @Twiplomacy and Burson-Marsteller that analysed 505 Twitter accounts of heads of states and foreign ministers in 153 countries.

At the top slot, US President @BarackObama’s 33,510,157 followers are 53 times Singh’s 631,956 followers (all data as on July 1, 2013). The second most-followed account does not belong to a political, but a religious leader --- Pope Francis with 7.2 million followers on his nine different @Pontifex accounts.

Screengrab of the PMO India twitter handle

Screengrab of the PMO India twitter handle

But it’s not enough to stand tall. While @BarackObama may have the largest number of followers, he is also the “least connected”. If the issue is digital diplomacy on platforms like Twitter, connections between world leaders becomes more important than number of FLU (followers like us). On that front, even though @BarackObama was the first world leader to sign up on @Twitter and is followed by 148 of his peers, including @PMOIndia, he follows just three other leaders --- Russia’s Prime Minister @MedvedevRussiae, Norway’s Prime Minister @JensStoltenberg and Chile’s President @SebastianPinera.

@BarackObama is in good company --- of the 505 accounts in the study, 161 don’t have any mutual connections. Among 68 per cent of world leaders that have mutual connections, the most connected is Swedish foreign minister @CarlBildt, mutually following 44 peers. “New study out today puts me as ‘the best connected world leader’ on Twitter. Sounds exaggerated,” he tweeted.

According to the study, smaller nations “have recognised the power of Twitter relations”, for global visibility, with the Croatian government @VladaRH unilaterally following 195 leaders. On average, world leaders follow eight other peers. @PMOIndia doesn’t figure among the Top 50 best connected leaders.

As a world leader on Twitter, among other things, you want to influence people. On that front, again, a larger number of followers doesn’t mean a greater arc of influence. With an average of 11,116 retweets for every tweet, Pope Francis’s Spanish account @Pontifex_es is the most influential.

He is followed by Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro, who gets an average of 4,767 retweets per tweet. Six world leaders have sent at least one tweet which was retweeted over 10,000 times --- Indonesia’s President @SBYudhoyono, UK Prime Minister @David_Cameron, US Secretary of State @JohnKerry, Japan’s government @kantei, Venezuela’s President @NicolasMaduro and ousted Egyptian President @MuhammadMorsi.

While we might think @Twitter is a personal tool of 140-character expression, very few leaders tweet themselves. Singh’s handle @PMOIndia, for instance, is managed by his communications advisor @PankajPachauri. Singh is in good company. While half of all handles in the study are personal accounts, only a third of them tweet themselves, and “only 14 tweet on a regular basis”.

For me, the most interesting part of being on @Twitter is the conversations I have with people I don’t know, I’ll probably never meet, who disagree with me --- it enriches and expands my thinking, my ideas, my writing.

Leaders, however, don’t seem to think this way. The most conversational leaders are not even part of G20. In terms of conversations - and thereby reaching out to followers - Africa leads the way. Ugandan Prime Minister @AmamaMbabazi is the most conversational world leader, with 96 per cent of his tweets being replies to other Twitter users. Rwanda’s President @PaulKagame follows next, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt comes third with his @fragaCarlBildt “Ask-Carl-Bildt” account, exclusively used for Twitter chats. All of them have lessons for leaders like @BarackObama and @PMOIndia.

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