Most of the political style posts on this blog revolve around things such as participatory democracy and how to increase citizen engagement with the political process. Now and then however, there are one or two posts on political uses of more mainstream social media, with Twitter generally being the network of choice.
Suffice to say, most political forays onto Twitter leave rather a lot to be desired. For instance, in the last US presidential elections it emerged that Mitt Romney gained rather a lot of followers in a very short space of time. It’s hard to prove that he’d bought them, but it didn’t look very good.
An Australian study from last year found that politicians are increasingly using the site to bypass mainstream media channels (although still overwhelmingly using social media as a broadcast medium!). The study raised a cautionary note, stating that the harm caused by a misplaced tweets were often significantly greater than the gains made by many more judiciously constructed ones.
Despite the fascinating findings from that study, I’m sure the researchers would be only too willing to admit that their scope pales next to that of the annual Twiplomacy study, of which the latest incarnation was published recently. The study looked not just at how political leaders are using the site, but also diplomats and other civil servants.
For instance, the study found that over 50% of the world’s foreign ministers are active on the site, with Twitter now an essential diplomatic tool. The report showed that some 83% of all UN member countries have some kind of presence on the site, with 68% of heads of state in those countries present and accounted for.
Barack Obama retains top spot in the most followed league table, with nearly 44 million followers. Interestingly, the report highlights how this has become almost a digital arms race, especially in the developing world, with the likes of Iran, Ukraine and Russia all seeing rapid growth in follower numbers (it doesn’t touch on how legit this growth is, but with growth averaging 137%, it’s probably fair to say not very!)
Sadly, the report also highlighted how politicians continue to be rather anti-social, traditionally using the platform purely to broadcast their own message rather than listen or engage with people. The picture is more promising the further down the food chain you go. Foreign offices/ministers for instance quite frequently follow and engage with their peers from other countries. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius for instance is mutually connected to 91 of his peers around the world.
Interestingly, it appears that African leaders are setting the best example in terms of using Twitter to engage with followers rather than talk at them. For instance, 95% of Ugandan prime minister Amama Mbabazi’s tweets are @ replies to followers queries. Similarly conversational are Rwandan prime minister Paul Kagame and Ecuadorian PM Rafael Correa.
Given that Sweden broke new ground with their @sweden multi-user tourism account, it’s perhaps not surprising that they lead the way in diplomatic efforts too. Their Stockholm Initiative for Digital Diplomacy sets the trend for modern use of social media for diplomatic ends, with a network forming out of the event to share tips and best practice.
Another interesting finding from the report was the tiny number of leading figures who actually tweet for themselves. The notable exceptions highlighted by the report include UK foreign minister William Hague and Estonian president Toomas Henrik Ilves.There’s a whole lot more in the report that may be of interest, including the kind of client people use to post on Twitter, how many photos are shared and whether accounts have utilized the new design features for Twitter profiles. If you work in the political realm and want to learn more about Twitter, then it makes a good start point. Check out the report here.