TWITTER has not only taken over the lives of ordinary people, but our political leaders too. The first survey of Twitter usage by heads of government has revealed that a 140-character tweet vies with the phone hotline for top-level diplomacy conversations, and that Barack Obama has topped the league of leaders with 17 million followers.
The US president was the first major politician to fully harness social media, in his 2007 campaign. His Twitter account @BarackObama sent the most popular tweet of any world leader on 9 May. The message, retweeted about 62,000 times so far, said: “Same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
@BarackObama is by far the most popular of the 264 accounts of world leaders and government ministers surveyed by US-based PR firm Burson-Marsteller looking at the rise of “Twiplomacy”.
The account is ranked fifth in the Twitterverse for followers, just behind @britneyspears, according to the study.
Among world leaders on Twitter, David Cameron came in fifth with more than two million followers. Alex Salmond was not included as the report focused on UN member countries, but would have fallen well outside the top 25, with just 23,750 followers.
However, while Mr Obama was top in terms of number of followers, only 1 per cent of tweets from his account are replies, putting him well down the rankings in terms of engaging with his followers.
This compares with Rwandan president @PaulKagame, who has just under 71,000 followers but whose tweets are more than 90 per cent replies.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez – @chavezcandanga – is the second most popular leader on Twitter, and 38 per cent of his tweets are replies. Ninety-nine world leaders and governments have never sent a reply, according to the study.
Mr Obama also ranks near the bottom in terms of connections with other leaders, despite following more than 675,000 accounts. The study said he is mutually following only two leaders: Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg and Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Like many government accounts, the vast majority of Mr Obama’s messages were sent by his team. Only eight of the almost 5,000 tweets sent from the @BarackObama account were personally signed off with his initials “-BO,” including a Valentine’s Day message to his wife.
The study also found that politicians frequently discover Twitter during election campaigns but once elected the accounts fall silent.
Jeremy Galbraith, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: “This study illustrates how Twitter is closing the communication gap between us and our world leaders. On the one hand, it allows heads of state and government to broadcast their daily activities and government news to an ever-growing audience. On the other hand, it allows citizens direct access to their leaders.
“Consequently, it is now, more than ever, critical for these leaders to get it right on the social network.”