President Hassan Rouhani’s Twitter account saw the most impressive growth in followers last year among accounts of other world leaders, according to the 2014 Twiplomacy Study by Burso-Martsteller. @HassanRouhani’s number of followers has multiplied by 19 since the last study was published in July 2013. The latest report surveyed 643 Twitter accounts of heads of state and government, foreign ministers and their institutions in 161 countries.
In 2013, the U.S. State Department connected with 22 foreign offices in addition to @HassanRouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s account, @JZarif
. Neither Rouhani nor Zarif, however, had enough followers to make the list of the top 50 most followed world leaders. U.S. President Barack Obama topped the list with 43.7 million followers. Pope Francis came in second place with 14.1 million followers.
@HassanRouhani had 223,478 followers and @JZarif had 164,504 followers as of June 26. Zarif’s account has been much less active than Rouhani’s. But unlike the president, Foreign Minister Zarif pens his on tweets.
Iran kicked off its Twitter diplomacy in September 2013, when both Rouhani and Zarif tweeted happy new year greetings to the world’s Jews. “As the sun is about to set here in #Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah,” tweeted Rouhani. Iran is home to some 25,000 Jews—the second largest population in the Middle East outside of Israel. “Happy Rosh Hashanah,” wrote Zarif. In ensuing Twitter conversations about the messages, both the president and foreign minister seemed to distance themselves from former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.
Zarif’s Rosh Hashanah message was only his second tweet on his account, opened on September 2. The tweet sparked a revealing exchange with Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. She tweeted that the new year would be “even sweeter” if Zarif would “end Iran’s Holocaust denial.” Zarif, known for a dry sense of humor, tweeted back, “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.” Zarif later confirmed to The Iran Primer that he knew that he was communicating with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s daughter. President Rouhani’s account retweeted Zarif’s reply to Pelosi.
The Twiplomacy report also noted a rise in the use of pictures by diplomats and foreign ministries. “Many world leaders have understood the power of pictures in their Twitter feeds which increases engagement by 62% according to a recent study of government accounts by Twitter
,” according to Burso-Martsteller. The study highlighted Swedish Foreign Minister @CarldBildt’s joint press conference with @JZarif in Tehran in February 2014. Bildt “surprised his Iranian counterpart @JZarif when he took a picture of the audience,” but he did not share it on the social network.