I recently reported that the Pope had setup up a Twitter account, presumably to keep those in the faith updated on his activities. It seems that world leaders have realized and embraced the power of digital social communication long before his eminence, and a recent report throws up some surprising statistics on which leaders are the most followed.

Before delving into the all-important rankings of popularity it should be noted that even though over 75 per cent of the world’s national leaders have Twitter accounts, it is highly unlikely that they are always the originators of the Tweets from their account. Just as many others have discovered, Twitter provides a very simple yet very effective means of distributing snippets of information on any subject and their minders have been quick to exploit this growing digital service. It would be hard to imagine Barack Obama sitting in a meeting discussing the ‘fiscal cliff’ and tweeting about it on his favoured mobile device, but he does occasionally Tweet directly.

It does, however, highlight just how pervasive digital social networking has become when a total of 123 world leaders out of 164 countries had accounts on Twitter set up in their personal name or through an official government office. The Digital Policy Council’s (DPC) research continues to provide analyses on world leaders and institutions of government employing social media outlets to discover how they govern and connect with their citizenry.

The data DPC has been tracking for the last three years shows an amazing 93 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in adoption of Twitter by Heads of State.  Based on these growth rates, the DPC anticipates penetration on Twitter for world leaders to be nearing 100 per cent in 2013. Remarkable to think that this would render Twitter as a de facto communication tool for all heads of state.

US President Obama again maintained the top spot of all world leaders, with a vast 24 million followers, adding 15 million followers in one year. 2012 was an election year, therefore, the Twitter account continued to be managed by the presidential campaign staff. Obama occasionally post his own tweets, and these are signed with his initials.

The rest of the top ten list features leaders that many may never heard of, emphasising that their popularity is achieved by free choice of a large numbers of followers, and not figures conjured up by analysts or marketing people. The list is:

  1. Barack Obama, President, United States, 24.6 million followers, @BarackObama
  2. Hugo Chavez, President, Venezuela, 3.8 million followers, @chavezcandanga
  3. Abdullah Gul, President, Turkey, 2.6 million followers, @cbabdullahgul
  4. Queen Rania, the Queen Consort of the King of Jordan, 2.5 million followers, @QueenRania
  5. Dmitry Medvedev, President, Russia, 2 million followers, @MedvedevRussia
  6. Dilma Rouseff, President, Brazil, 1.8 million followers, @dilmabr
  7. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President, Argentina, 1.5 million followers, @CFKArgentina
  8. Juan Manuel Santos, President, Columbia, 1.5 million followers, @JuanManSantos
  9. Enrique Peña Nietoin, President, Mexico, 1.4 million followers, @EPN
  10. Sheikh Mohammed, Prime Minister,  United Arab Emirates, 1.3 million followers,@HHShkMohd

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 4  January, 2012