MIAMI — Have you been struggling over how to boost your Twitter followers?
Note to self: Become the leader of one of the most populous countries on the planet. It worked for @NarendraModi — that’s India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who within weeks of his May election shot up to No. 4 on a list of world leaders with the most Twitter followers.
Now he has nearly 5 million, pushing @WhiteHouse into the fifth spot, according to Burson-Marsteller’s annual study of Twiplomacy — the use of Twitter for diplomacy.
But @BarackObama is still safe as the world’s most followed leader with 43.7 million followers, easily eclipsing runner-up @Pontifex (Pope Francis), who has more than 14 million, and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (@SBYudhoyono), who has collected more than 5 million and is the third most followed leader.
It seems Twitter, the online social networking service that limits messages known as tweets to 140 characters, has become indispensable for world leaders and top diplomats.
More than 83 percent of the 193 United Nations member countries appear on Twitter, according to the study, and more than two-thirds of all heads of state network on Twitter. But Twitter is a moving target with followers being added and dropped constantly — so all we can say is the numbers in the study were accurate as of Wednesday when it was released.
Combined, world leaders have sent out more than 1.9 million tweets — an average of four tweets per day, according to Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations and communications firm. For the study, data was collected from the accounts of 643 heads of state and government, foreign ministers and their institutions.
“This year we have seen a 28 percent rise in Twitter accounts among government users, a dramatic increase in efforts to reach people around the world,” Donald A. Baer, Burson-Marsteller worldwide chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.
Foreign ministers, according to the study, “have established a virtual diplomatic network by following each other on the social media platform.”
The highest-ranking Latin American presidents by followers are Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez with 2.89 million, just squeezing by Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos with 2.88 million. They’re in 10th and 11th places, respectively. Early this week, Santos was leading Fernandez but interest in Argentina’s developing debt repayment controversy may have boosted her Twitter numbers.
In the Americas, only leaders from Suriname, Barbados, Nicaragua and St. Vincent and the Grenadines don’t have a Twitter presence, the study said.
Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro all have more than 2 million followers.
But a Latin American president who is no longer alive would beat them all. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez @chavezcandanga, who died more than a year ago, still has a Twitter account with 4.13 million followers, just 60,000 fewer than last year.
He wrote his last post — “I still cling to Christ and I am confident in my doctors and nurses. Always toward victory! We shall live and we shall conquer — on Feb. 18, 2013, and it was retweeted 48,000 times.
Although his successor, Maduro, has fewer than half of Chavez’s followers, his government makes up for it by being prolific. The Venezuelan presidency account — distinct from Maduro’s — has sent nearly 50,000 tweets, averaging almost 40 per day. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry is the runner-up with more than 42,000 tweets.
But sheer numbers of tweets don’t necessarily equate with influence. The Twiplomacy study measures influence by how many times a world leader’s words are retweeted or passed on to others.
In this department, Pope Francis is the hands-down winner. He has accounts in nine languages, and the average number of retweets for each of his posts on his Spanish-language account is more than 10,000 and he averages 6,462 retweets for each post on his English-language account.
Maduro, with an average of 2,000 retweets per item, also gets a lot of bang out of his tweets. Despite Obama’s huge following, his tweets average only 1,442 retweets. However, his 2012 tweet of a photo showing him embracing the first lady has become one of the most popular ever, retweeted 806,066 times.
But lots of followers and lots of retweets don’t necessarily add up to lots of conversation. African leaders, it seems, are most likely to reply to other Twitter users and answer questions.
Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi garners the title of most conversational world leader. Some 95 percent of his tweets are replies to other Twitter users.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa round out the top three for conversation. Correa has devoted many of his recent tweets to cheering for Ecuador in the World Cup — ¡Fuerza Ecuadooorrr!!! (Strength, Ecuador!) — but his Twitter exchanges with opponents can often be quite heated. As are the tweets from Kagame, who engaged in a nasty Twitter spat with British journalist Ian Birrell in 2011.
While Twitter has become an increasingly popular tool for world leaders to send messages to their constituents and to each other, using it isn’t without risks — especially when tweeting in a language that isn’t one’s first. When Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders decided to join the social media bandwagon, his first tweet in English read: “i’m coming on twitter.”
Leaders tweet in 53 languages but English is the Twitter lingua franca. World leaders had 234 English-language accounts and posted 530,554 times. But Spanish is the most tweeted language. Even though leaders had only 70 Spanish-language accounts, those accounts sent out 603,735 tweets.
The study also found that diplomats are, well, diplomatic. Since the last Twiplomacy study, foreign ministries and their institutions have stepped up efforts to create mutual Twitter connections. The Europeans appear to excel in this department.
But the U.S. State Department only ranks 28th with 28 mutual connections — meaning Twitter users following each other. Even though Obama is popular among his peers with 222 world leaders following him, he only follows two leaders: Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg. But Twitter has its limits. When Obama wanted to congratulate Solberg on her election last year, he picked up the phone.