Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin are both active on Twitter. However, the manner in which they go about reflects their different leadership styles and respective audiences. President Obama leads world leaders with his followers and Twitter influence, maintaining a Twitter account that is personal and innovative. Meanwhile Vladimir Putin, known for his exploits in the media, has a more official account focused on the affairs of state rather than his own personal thoughts and actions.
The strongest impact
Although many leaders underestimate the power of pictures, a recent study of government accounts by Twitter shows that pictures have more of an impact on Twitter than 140 characters, increasing engagement by 62%. Both Obama and Putin have photos scattered throughout their feed. However, the matter in which they do so, reflects their impact on Twitter.
Vladimir Putin seems to be a world leader made for Twitter. He has been known for having photo ops of him riding horseback shirtless, posing with a tiger cub, finding relics while diving in the Black Sea, and most recently working out and barbecuing with Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev. However, Putin’s official Kremlin account posts a multitude of pictures like Obama, which is an important benchmark for view on Twitter. But it also has more of an “affairs of state” feel as opposed to Obama’s familial aura. Putin’s Kremlin account focuses on his whereabouts and official business, as opposed to details of Putin’s personal ideology or trying to build on his persona. A large reason for this could be that the Russian government has had a some what antagonistic relationship with Twitter and other social media due to censorship and desire for personal information of bloggers and popular users.
An innovative account
Obama’s account is full of different types of tweets, including infographics, videos, and selfies (for instance, the famous one in Alaska in front of the ice glaciers). One of such posts is a picture of him and his wife, Michelle Obama, gazing at the fireworks on the 4th of July. A personal and innovative photo as this gives the followers a feeling that they are with him at the very same moment.
— President Obama (@POTUS) July 5, 2015
On other hand, the only innovating method Putin’s account undertook was the people he decided to follow. It seems like Vladimir Putin has a quiet specific taste for those whom he follows. Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of only twenty people Putin’s Twitter account follows. Who would have thought? Schwarzenegger, who has serious political credentials after serving as the two-term governor of California, is also known as the action hero of The Terminator. He is a celebrated body-builder and five-time winner of Mr. Universe competition. Schwarzenegger personifies much of the qualities that the Russian president admires and cultivates. Perhaps following “The Terminator” is sign of a personal influence that Putin has had on the account, or maybe it is just another calculation by Putin and his media team.
For instance, this iconic picture of Barack Obama and his wife Michelle is one of the most famous pictures in the history of Twitter, and in 2012 it was shared over 500,000 times. The tweet was posted on Barack Obama’s Twitter account run by Organizing for Action staff, now Obama has created a new POTUS account that is closely linked with his Organizing for Action account.
This picture comes in the aftermath of a hard fought re-election campaign, but it shows that the power of Twitter for world leaders is a humanizing factor. In this tweet Obama was simply a man enjoying a moment of bliss with his wife, probably his first such moment in months. It’s this humanizing power that Obama and his media team have made use of on Twitter, and something that Putin has not done.
What is curious about Vladimir Putin, is that as powerful a tool as social media can be, he does not seem to embrace its powers directly. As someone who seeks to expand his personal legend and show power to his people, it seems like Putin, or more accurately, his media team, are not utilizing Twitter to its full abilities. Putin’s account serves as a way to report his whereabouts and activities abroad, often showing a photo of him and other world leaders exchanging a ‘firm handshake’.
Putin’s account, completely run by his media team, does not reflect any of his personal tweets. It is even questionable whether Putin ever Tweets himself, as he is famous for his distrust in the internet world, which he finds insecure.
Reaching everyday people
A 14-year-old freshman at MacArthur High School in Texas, brought a homemade alarm clock to school, showing off his invention to the teachers. A harmless act got him suspended from his Dallas high school and detained by police officers on September 7, after some school teachers accused him of making a fake bomb. A social media uproar supporting Ahmed ensued soon after, as people question whether he would be arrested if he had not been Muslim.
On September 16, President Barack Obama made a heartwarming tweet, with 440 retweets, making it his second most retweeted post.
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
Meanwhile, Obama’s administration invited Ahmed to the White House to participate in Astronomy night next month. The president’s spokesman, John Earnest, thought the boy was “failed” by his school and called the incident as a “teachable moment”.
On the other hand, Putin’s most retweeted post barely got a thousand people. Once again, the post was merely an official statement about Putin’s meeting a world leader. This shows that it is not necessarily about how many times one tweets, but how many people are viewing and the format in which it was communicated.
Pope Francis: Twitter’s most influential world leader
While Putin and Obama lead and provide vision to people on multiple continents, they cannot hold a candle to the power of Pope Francis. When Obama tweets on his non-personal account he averages 1,122 retweets (Putin was not listed in this study), but Francis averages a gargantuan 17,000 retweets per tweet which dwarfs the rest of the competition and shows that the power of the papacy is alive and well in 2015. Part of Francis’ Twitter appeal is that he tweets in both Spanish and English, and since Spanish is now the most tweeted language in the world, being able to tweet in both Spanish and English gives him a large advantage against all leaders we have analyzed.
Another advantage for Pope Francis is his ability to be above the fray of “politics as usual” and to communicate to a wider audience than an elected official can. So even though Pope Francis has fewer followers than Obama and others, it is his ability to reach out to people of all walk of life that makes him the most influential world leader on Twitter for the foreseeable future.