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SEPTEMBER 25, 2013

How do International Organisations Tweet
in 2013?


When the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) discovered the Higgs boson, also known as the “God particle,” it announced this major science discovery via Twitter. When the Nobel Prize committee was unable to place a phone call to the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winner the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (@OPCW), it used Twitter instead. When the World Health Organisation (@WHO) wants to send important messages in times of epidemic outbreaks, it uses Twitter alerts to push the tweet directly to a follower’s mobile phone.>

The social networking site has become a formidable broadcasting tool and an indispensable communication channel for international organisations to amplify their messages to a global audience. No international organisation can ignore the power of digital communications and especially Twitter.

Over the past six years, all leading international organisations have set up at least one institutional Twitter account, and half of the 101 organisations analysed in this study have created a personal account for the head

of the organisation. A number of organisations, especially UN organisations, have beefed up their digital teams

and now tweet in the six official UN languages, namely

English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and sometimes in Chinese.

In the latest installment of the award-winning Twiplomacy study, global public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller looks at how international organisations use Twitter to promote their stories and how they engage with their followers. In November 2013, Burson-Marsteller analysed the 223 Twitter accounts of 101 international organisations and non-profit organisations.

The most effective International Organisations
in terms of number of retweets

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (@CERN) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (@UNICEF) have among the most effective Twitter communication: their tweets are retweeted on average more than 100 times. The United Nations Organisation (@UN) is a distant third followed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (@WWF), @Greenpeace and the World Health Organisation (@WHO), whose tweets are retweeted on average more than 63 times. The median average of retweets per tweet among all international institutions covered is only four.

The Most Followed International Organisations

Not surprisingly @UNICEF is the most followed international organisation with 2,142,143 followers. Four other organisations have more than a million followers, namely the @UN, the World Economic Forum (@Davos),

the UN Refugee agency (@Refugees) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (@WWF). @Davos and

@Refugees had a bit of a head start as they were among 241 accounts on Twitter’s original suggested

user list and automatically received several thousand new followers each day in 2009. All international organisations combined have a total of 18,325,589 followers, while the median average of followers per account is only 6,410.>

The Most Listed International Organisations


However, the number of followers is not the only indicator of an organisation’s popularity. Another important measure of influence is the number of times an account appears on Twitter lists. In this regard, the @UN is the most listed international organisation appearing on 25,643 lists. It is closely followed by @CERN, @UNICEF, @Greenpeace and @WHO, which each appear on more than 10,000 lists.>

Personal Accounts of Heads
of International Organisations

Since 2011 and 2012, the interest for Twitter engagement has also reached the executives of each organisation. Fifty-one heads of international organisations have personal Twitter accounts that are either managed personally or with their teams.


Mukhisa Kituyi’s first act after taking office as new Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on 2 September 2013 was to set up his personal branded Twitter account @UNCTADKituyi.>

Twitter has played a crucial role in the election of the new head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Four of the nine candidates had a Twitter account for their election campaigns. The Brazilian foreign ministry had set two Twitter accounts in English (@AzevedoWTO) and in Spanish/Portuguese (@AzevedoOMC) for its successful candidate, diplomat Roberto Azevêdo. The campaigns accounts have been deleted and the new director general of the WTO now tweets personally as @WTODGAZEVEDO. In her bid to become managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde opened a Twitter account in May 2011 and sat down for a “Lagarde chat” answering questions from her followers.


Today, Christine Lagarde has become the second most followed head of any international organisation, with more than 150,000 followers, recently passing NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Christine @Lagarde, who rarely tweets herself, is also the most effective as her tweets are retweeted on average 48 times. She is followed by Luis Alberto Moreno (@MorenoBID), President of the Inter-American Development Bank; @JimLeape, Director General of WWF International; @ValerieAmos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (UNOCHA); and Greenpeace’s @KumiNaidoo.>

Some heads of international organisations have added their organisation’s name to their Twitter handle such as @HelenClarkUNDP@MorenoBID@BabatundeUNFPA et al. Ten organisations have set up ‘personal institutional’ Twitter accounts for their leaders such as @ITUSecGen@WMO_President@ISOSecGen et al.>


A personal institutional account might seem less personal at first glance, but it has the advantage of growing its audience overtime as the head of the organisation will not take the followers with him as he leaves office. However there is no way to archive tweets sent by the previous office holder. When John Ashe took over as president of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2013, he simply deleted all the tweets sent by his predecessor Vuk Jeremić on the @UN_PGA account he had created in October 2012.>

The Most Prolific International Organisations

All organisations combined have sent 770,547 tweets. The Organization of Ibero-American States (Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos, OEI) is the most prolific with 48,839 tweets – more than double the number of tweets sent by the United Nations Development Programme (@UNDP) with ‘only’ 23,552 and the @UN with 23,391 tweets. The @EspacioOEI account sends on average 42 tweets each day, two times as many as the @UNFoundation, @UNISGeneva, the @UN and @UNDP. UNDP’s Administrator @HelenClarkUNDP is the most frequent tweeter of any international organisation with more than 12 tweets each day. All international organisations combined tweet an average of four times a day.>

Most conversational heads of
International Organisations


Richard Sezibera, the Secretary General of the East African Community is the most conversational head of an international organisation. More than 65 percent of his tweets are @replies to other users. He is followed by the President of the African Development Bank @DonaldKaberuka, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme @HelenClarkUNDP, the Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme Richard Dictus @RDictusUNV and the newly appointed Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka @PhumzileUNwomen.

International Organisations are less conversational with the notable exception of @Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, which has been answering questions about flight delays since the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland disrupted air travel across Europe in 2010.>

What’s in a Hashtags?

Most organisations use at least one hashtag in every tweet to promote their causes and their topics of discussion. The @UNDP makes the most innovative use of hashtags with a different hashtag for each day of the week namely: #equalitymonday, #empowertuesday, #greenwednesday, #endhivthursday, #endpovertyfriday, #democracysaturday and #resiliencesunday.

Who are they Following?

All international organisations combined, follow 248,201 other Twitter users. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (@FAOnews) is following more than 64,711 other Twitter users since it was initially automatically following every one of its followers. The World Food Programme (@WFP), which was recently following 31,477 other users, has seriously reduced the number of people it is now following 422 other Twitter users. On average, each organisation is following 1,113 other Twitter users.>

The Early Adopters

Greenpeace was the first international organisation to sign up to Twitter on 4 April 2007, followed by the World Economic Forum two weeks later. Fourteen organisations signed up in 2008, including @WWF, @UN@Refugees@WHO and the @Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The Director General of the International Organisation for Migration (@IOM_news) was the last to sign up in September 2013 as @DGIOM. So far only 30% of the 223 accounts analysed have been verified by Twitter.>

Twitter Walls


A handful of organisations have used Twitter walls to display tweets at their meetings. The World Economic Forum has been projecting tweets on Twitter walls since 2008. In 2013 it set up a giant social media wall in the heart of the Davos Congress Centre. Since hashtag-based Twitter walls can be prone to spam, it is advisable to base them on Twitter lists as the World Economic Forum does.>

Maintaining Twitter Lists

Twitter lists can be quite useful to facilitate Twitter reading and are very useful to list secondary accounts and other official staff accounts. Surprisingly few organisations maintain Twitter lists, be it for their own staff or their regional offices or language accounts. Only a third of the analysed accounts have created public Twitter lists. @Eurocontrol has created the most Twitter lists, exactly 20 including a list of all airlines, airports and aviation journalists on Twitter. The @UN account boasts 19 Twitter lists including one with 439 UN related accounts and specific lists for each official UN language. The @UNDP account has 14 lists and boasts 111 regional and thematic Twitter accounts on its worldwide list. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (@IFADnews) is following the most other lists, 20 in total, and only 70 accounts follow other lists.>

And finally, Twitter lists are also practical to run Twitter direct message campaigns, which the World Economic Forum and the Global Fund have done to reach out directly to their most influential followers. Direct messages on Twitter have proven to be extremely effective to contact influential followers and to amplify a specific tweet which is rarely seen by all followers of an organisation.

Branded URLs

A special mention for the OECD, UNHCR, UNICEF and the World Economic Forum which all use their own branded link shorteners ( to shorten and brand every single link in their tweets.>

Twitter Design

Two-thirds of all accounts have a branded Twitter background, but only 52 percent have a branded Twitter header, the main visual element that shows on mobile phones and tablets.

Twitter Video

Quite a few international organisations use Google+ hangouts to answer questions from their community, and a handful have trialled Vine, Twitter’s new video application. One of the best examples of the six second video format is the #HappyBirthdayUN greeting from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

About the Twiplomacy Study

“Twiplomacy” is an award-winning study of the use of Twitter by world leaders, governments and international organisations, conducted by leading global public relations and communications firm


Burson-Marsteller. Burson-Marsteller identified 223 Twitter accounts of 101 international organisations around the world. The study analyses each organisation’s Twitter profiles and their recent tweet history. Data used was taken in November 2013 using Twitonomy. More than 50 variables were considered, including: tweets, following, followers, listed, the date the organisation joined Twitter, ratio followers/following, ratio listed/100 followers, tweets/day, retweets, % of retweets, user @mentions, average number of @mentions/tweet, @replies, % of @replies, links, average number of links/tweet, hashtags, average number of hashtags/tweet, tweets retweeted, proportion of tweets retweeted by others, total number of tweets retweeted,

average number of tweets retweeted, users most retweeted, users most replied to, users most mentioned, hashtags most used, platforms most tweeted from. Burson-Marsteller also used Twitonomy to pull the recent tweet history for each account to find the first and the most popular tweet. (When the account had more than 3,200 tweets it was sometimes impossible to find its first tweet). Burson-Marsteller also looked at each account to see if it had a header and/or a background, if the account is dormant, active or protected. We also checked in which language the account tweets and checked for the presence of Twitter lists.

The full Twiplomacy study about international organisations can be downloaded here: How do International Organisations Tweet (PDF, 186 pages). The full Twitonomy data set can be downloaded here: Twiplomacy International Organisations on Twitter (1 November 2013) (414kb, XSLX).

All organisations covered in this study are also in a public Twitter list on the @Twiplomacy account.>

Burson-Marsteller used Wordle and Tagxedo to create tag clouds of each feeds most frequently used terms.


A big thank you to all of Burson-Marsteller’s offices and particularly Vibor Cipan, Sarah Cole, Paul Cordasco, Toni Cowan-Brown, Matthieu Fyot, Sam Jackson, Tereza Kobelkova, Abha Malpani, Claudio Montesano, Paul O’Brien, Mladen Panić, Lauren Papp, Cynthia Sarafianou, Lukas Siebert, Stine Soerensen, Kelsey Suemnicht, Massimiliano Terzini, Thomas van Oortmerssen and Katarina Wallin Bureau.


Matthias Lüfkens


Geneva, 20 November 2013


Before joining Burson-Marsteller in February 2012, Matthias Lüfkens was leading the digital outreach of the World Economic Forum @WEF @Davos. He has also advised a number of international organisations including the Global Fund, the ICRC, the ITU, the OECD and UNCTAD and has been sharing tips for non-profits within the Geneva social media managers group on Facebook.>

This content is not being updated and may contain out of date information

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