Hey, U.N.: It’s Time to Keep Up With the Kardashians (on Twitter)

Try as they might, international organizations just can’t compete with Kim Kardashian. While Twitter is becoming an increasingly important tool for groups like the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund to get their message out, according to a new “Twiplomacy” study by communications firm Burson-Marsteller released on Wednesday, they have ...

By , a reporter based in New York.
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Try as they might, international organizations just can't compete with Kim Kardashian. While Twitter is becoming an increasingly important tool for groups like the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund to get their message out, according to a new "Twiplomacy" study by communications firm Burson-Marsteller released on Wednesday, they have nowhere near the number of followers of international superstars. With 18, 772, 302 followers, Kardashian's Twitter audience is greater than the combined following of the one hundred organizations examined in the study. It's no suprise, but it's depressing nonetheless: famines, science, and obscure conflicts just can't compete with a famous derrière.

The good news is, the organizations are hyping up their Twitter presence. With global diplomacy increasingly relying on online means, international organizations are expanding their efforts in a necessary game of catch-up -- their following pales not only in comparison to Kardashian, but also to Barack Obama, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and Pope Francis). In the past six years, all major international organizations have set up Twitter accounts, have added staff to their digitial teams, and some have even started tweeting in several languages. "Organizations that put more resources into their digital communications are the ones who will be most effective over the coming years," said Matthias Lüfkens, the author of the report.

Burston Marsteller took 223 Twitter accounts from 101 international organizations, including 51 personal accounts of their leaders, and put together a data set that cross-referenced follower, retweets, and @replies statistics for all of the accounts. They ranked the organizations and leaders, sometimes coming up with perhaps unexpected conclusions. The study found that UNICEF, the children's rights organization, CERN, the nuclear research agency, and the World Wildlife Fund are the most effective -- by the report's measure, the most re-tweeted -- organizations on Twitter. With photo tweets of adorable pandas and links to livecams, the WWF seems to have unintentionally figured out what drives traffic online (see: BuzzFeed). They've also expertly used hashtags to promote their campaigns (#elephants, #KillTheTrade). CERN engages with its followers through an #askCERN hashtag, and UNICEF tweets in five languages. UNICEF is the most followed institution with over 2 million followers. The top-ranking international organization leader is Arab League head Nabil Elaraby, who tweets in Arabic. IMF chief Christine Lagarde and NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen rank second and third, respectively. 

Try as they might, international organizations just can’t compete with Kim Kardashian. While Twitter is becoming an increasingly important tool for groups like the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund to get their message out, according to a new “Twiplomacy” study by communications firm Burson-Marsteller released on Wednesday, they have nowhere near the number of followers of international superstars. With 18, 772, 302 followers, Kardashian’s Twitter audience is greater than the combined following of the one hundred organizations examined in the study. It’s no suprise, but it’s depressing nonetheless: famines, science, and obscure conflicts just can’t compete with a famous derrière.

The good news is, the organizations are hyping up their Twitter presence. With global diplomacy increasingly relying on online means, international organizations are expanding their efforts in a necessary game of catch-up — their following pales not only in comparison to Kardashian, but also to Barack Obama, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and Pope Francis). In the past six years, all major international organizations have set up Twitter accounts, have added staff to their digitial teams, and some have even started tweeting in several languages. “Organizations that put more resources into their digital communications are the ones who will be most effective over the coming years,” said Matthias Lüfkens, the author of the report.

Burston Marsteller took 223 Twitter accounts from 101 international organizations, including 51 personal accounts of their leaders, and put together a data set that cross-referenced follower, retweets, and @replies statistics for all of the accounts. They ranked the organizations and leaders, sometimes coming up with perhaps unexpected conclusions. The study found that UNICEF, the children’s rights organization, CERN, the nuclear research agency, and the World Wildlife Fund are the most effective — by the report’s measure, the most re-tweeted — organizations on Twitter. With photo tweets of adorable pandas and links to livecams, the WWF seems to have unintentionally figured out what drives traffic online (see: BuzzFeed). They’ve also expertly used hashtags to promote their campaigns (#elephants, #KillTheTrade). CERN engages with its followers through an #askCERN hashtag, and UNICEF tweets in five languages. UNICEF is the most followed institution with over 2 million followers. The top-ranking international organization leader is Arab League head Nabil Elaraby, who tweets in Arabic. IMF chief Christine Lagarde and NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen rank second and third, respectively. 

 

Twiplomacy, the previous iteration of which ranked world leaders on Twitter (with Barack Obama topping the charts) outlined not only the dry follower statistics, but also the organization’s broader Twitter tactics. The report suggests that some of the more effective strategies included direct message campaigns, which were launched by the World Economic Forum and the Global Fund, personal accounts for the organization heads, maintaining Twitter lists and innovative hashtags (such as UNDP’s day of the week hashtags — #equalitymonday, #empowertuesday, etc.).

With Twitter becoming increasingly important on the international stage — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made Twitter a primary tool of diplomacy — many groups are turning to the social platform as they primary means of communication, a strategy called “Twitter first.” The World Health Organization, for example, informs its followers of disease outbreaks on Twitter.

Election campaigns for organization leadership positions are held on Twitter. Twiplomacy claims that the platform played an important role in the election of the new director general of the World Trade Organization, with four of the nine candidates waging intense Twitter campaigns. In another example of Twitter’s important to these organizations, when Mukhisa Kituyi took the helm at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, his first step was to launch his personal @UNCTAD account. And when the Nobel Prize committee couldn’t reach the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 2013 Peace Prize winner, via telephone to inform them of the award, they turned to Twitter to get the word out.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research also announced some big news on Twitter. It may be surprising that they are the most re-tweeted organization with posts that are perhaps less-than-interesting to the layperson, such as this one…

…but the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the “god particle” probably made up for it.

Here are some highlights from the report:

2,142,143 – number of users who follow the United Nations.

100 times – average number of retweets for each tweet for Christine Lagard, head of the IMF.

346,000 – number of users who follow Nabil Elaraby, head of the Arab League.

150,000 – approximate number of users who follow Christine Lagarde and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General.

More than 1 million – number of users who follow the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, the UN Refugee Agency, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

18,325,589 – total number of users who follow international organizations on Twitter.

770,547 – combined number of all of the international organizations’ tweets.

6, 197, 506: Geneva based-organizations’ followers.

5, 598, 909: New York-based organizations’ followers. 

48,839 – number of tweets sent by the Organization of Ibero-American States, the most prolific but far from most effective organization on Twitter. The organization sent more than twice as many tweets than the United Nations.

But, then again, maybe it’s not surprising. How can the Organization of Ibero-American States even begin to compete with this woman’s glow?

Hanna Kozlowska is a reporter based in New York. Twitter: @hannakozlowska

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