How Should Governments Best Use Twitter?

By on 09/06/2014 | Updated on 12/06/2014
The increasing use of Twitter by world leaders is raising government profiles, as Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, President of Outer Mongolia shows

The social media tool Twitter is used by thousands of governments and national leaders, but who uses it most and who uses it best?

Some interesting statistics have been found in a report called ‘Twiplomacy’ recently published by global PR and communications firm Burson-Marsteller, as Graham Scott reports.

Around half a billion people have Twitter accounts, approximately seven percent of all the people on the planet. As a result Twitter is now becoming a more important tool for governments and agencies to use as a way to reach their citizens.

According to the report, political leaders and their administrations from 153 countries have a presence on Twitter. Globally, government Twitter presence breaks down into these percentages:

Europe – 100%

South America – 100% (except Suriname)

North America – 79%

Asia – 76%

Africa – 71%

Oceania – 38%

Mutual Linking

Twiplomacy shows that in many cases smaller nations have adopted the use of Twitter quickly to give them a larger presence on the world stage.

The Croatian Government, the Foreign Ministries of Iceland, Kosovo, Norway and Sweden all follow more than 80 other leaders. The report suggests this strategy may be based on thinking that following will lead to being followed, as some accounts have ‘automatic following’ enabled.

Many governments also use Twitter as an automated news feed from their website, spreading information quicker than through other channels.

Political Leaders and Twitter

Overall more than 75% of all world leaders have a Twitter account. The most followed world leader is the president of the USA, Barack Obama.

Twitter can be a powerful dialogue tool. Some leaders use it as a conversational medium, with tweets being answered and conversations taking place within 140 characters.

The most conversational world leader is the Ugandan Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, with 96% of his tweets being replies to other Twitter users. Second is another African, Rwanda’s President Kagame. African leaders are generally among the most conversational Twitter users. More than two-thirds of African governments have a presence on Twitter.

Almost all Latin American leaders have a Twitter presence. Most Latin American presidents have personal accounts and use them to publicly talk to other leaders. One of the most prolific is Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner.

Twitter take-up is most pronounced in emerging economies but such use raises questions of governance. For example, if you are working in the government of Uganda, is it desirable that your Prime Minister is tweeting to other leaders or indeed citizens himself without going through the usual channels? Or that, in theory at least, citizens can directly tweet their leaders and ministers?

World Organisations and Twitter

Many world organisations have adopted Twitter to increase their reach and social media profiles. Some, like the World Health Organisation, update news on their Twitter feed before even updating their website. The most followed international organisation is UNICEF, with more than two million followers. Its tweets are retweeted more than 100 times on average, indicating it is reaching a vast global audience and that it is engaging with that audience.

How Twitter can be of Benefit

In the post on Geospatial Technology it was highlighted how ‘big data’ and a knowledge of location can have major benefits. One example was during the tragic cholera epidemic following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Authorities used specialist software to check the location of cholera-related tweets and could pinpoint where outbreaks were starting well before any other official channels could react.

Similarly, Twitter’s speed makes it a valuable tool for other emergencies. When an earthquake hit the Northeast of the USA in 2011, the normal alerts system was triggered. This takes between two and 20 minutes to be issued. Tweets from those at the epicentre near Washington DC actually outpaced the shockwaves and reached citizens in New York several seconds before the tremors started to arrive. An official programme mimicking this would have major advantages as a timely early-warning system.

In other areas of public service, authorities in Vancouver, Canada, found that confusing schedules were leading to bins not being put out on the right day and for rubbish to build up. They set up a website where citizens can sign up to be tweeted the night before collections on their street. The result is less confusion and less rubbish.

Making the Most of Twitter

Twitter can cover everything from administrative efficiency through to enhanced emergency response times. It allows governments to spread its messages globally with no ‘gatekeepers’ such as the media or vested interests. Like all social media tools, it needs to be used with care but it can also be used with imagination.

The use of images can make a huge difference. Only 37% of the Twitter accounts analysed used a custom header, which appears on mobile devices. Taking a clear lead here is Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj. While other presidents might have a picture of themselves smiling and shaking hands, the Mongolian President positively projects his country and culture by having photos of him riding on horseback on the Steppes or taming a camel.

Twitter is likely to be adopted by all layers of government, not just its leaders and top tiers. This is shown in the report’s year-on-year comparisons. Every year the Twipomacy study includes more people and organisations which are eligible. How those organisations and departments deal with this social media tool will be a matter of great debate. Much of that debate will take place on Twitter.

How does your department use Twitter?

Access the report here:


About Graham Scott

Graham is an experienced editor and publisher and an award-winning writer. He has travelled extensively and is interested in world cultures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *