What do U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have in common? In real life, maybe not a whole lot, we would guess. But the one thing they share is that both leaders have an Instagram account. From Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, it seems almost every world leader has a presence on the social network. Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom was the latest to set up an account on February 10. However, according to a study by public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, one-third of world leaders with Instagram accounts do not use the service.
The findings come from the Burson-Marsteller’s 2016 Twiplomacy study, which looks at how world leaders and governments leverage social media to engage with citizens. With Instagram, it analyzed 305 accounts belonging to world leaders – which includes not just heads of state, but also government and foreign ministers – of 136 out of 193 member states of the United Nations. The firm discovered that a third of those account have either been inactive for more than a year or never used. (Full list of accounts researched can be found here.)
Inactive or not, the accounts have gained 23 million followers in the past four years, since governments started experimenting with Instagram, the study says. The active accounts have posted more than 76,000 photos that show the leaders and governments in action.
“This study illustrates that governments are ready to communicate across all the key social media platforms,” said Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of Burson-Marsteller for Europe, Middle East & Africa, and the firm’s Global Chief Strategy Officer. “Each platform has its individual unique selling proposition, but it’s clear from our study that Instagram can open up new channels as well as reinforce information conveyed through other networks in a more visual and appealing way. Creativity and the use of image is critical for communicating with impact today, and clearly world leaders know this.”
In terms of numbers, Obama’s account, which started in 2012, has six million followers, is the most popular. That’s nearly three times the number of Russian Prime Minister (and amateur photographer) Dmitry Medvedev, who counts 2.04 million followers, followed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the White House account.
As for the most effective in user engagement, Obama again takes the lead, with more than 56,000 comments and likes for every post. Modi isn’t too far behind, with 42,000, followed by Medvedev. But when you consider which accounts are most active in the number of posts per day, Brunei’s Information Department, Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry, and Kuwait’s Foreign Minister rank in the top-three.
Interestingly, but not surprising, only 15 of the 305 accounts studied are actually managed by the leaders themselves. Despite the Obama account’s popularity, it’s actually run by the president’s team. Of the top-ten most popular accounts, Medvedev is the only one who manages his account. Burson-Marsteller says Singapore Prime Minister Lee’s account is the most entertaining. The study found that the White House account, which features photos from chief photographer Pete Souza, is the one everyone should follow.
Had a quick chat with President Obama during a break at the #USASEAN2016 Summit. The Summit was at Sunnylands, a Presidential retreat at Palm Springs, in California. I thanked President Obama for hosting us and for putting in personal time and effort to engage ASEAN. Looking forward to going home. Long flight ahead! – LHL #USASEAN2016 (MCI Photo by Kenji Soon)
The increase in world leaders joining Instagram in the past four years reflects the social network’s exponential growth over a similar time period. Between January 2013 and September 2015, the number of monthly active Instagram accounts more than quadrupled from 90 million to a record 400 million. Many of the Instagram accounts show the lighter side of government; if only it translated over to the real world.