Selfies Instead of Handshakes: Burson-Marsteller Study Shows How World Leaders Set Themselves Apart on Instagram

This post appears courtesy of Burson-Marsteller and the full study can also be found on their website, here.

vertical-collageWhen it comes to Instagram, Barack Obama and his team know how to build a following. Burson-Marsteller’s new study ranks world leaders’ Instagram pages by following and effectiveness. With more than 6 million followers and an average of 56,000 interactions, President Obama takes the number one slot on the two lists; the prime ministers of Russia and India fill out the top three.

Maybe unsurprisingly, the most liked post of all world leaders is a photo posted by President Obama on November 7, 2012, after his re-election. President Obama is also responsible for the most commented photo of any world leader, with more than 200,000 comments an image with the caption, “Tell us how your life is #BetterWithObamacare.”

So what are President Obama and his team doing so well on Instagram that consistently break records for follows and engagement? Apart from being the first world leader to set up an Instagram account in early 2012– and as impressively, being one of the few early adopters who has kept his account active– his team combines various strategies that have hit a sweet spot with followers.

And other international leaders have taken notice.

While some politicians have used Instagram to post screenshots of official degrees or posed photos of themselves shaking hands with other delegates, the study identifies accounts that stand out for posting unusual, behind-the-scenes pictures.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has looked to her U.S. counterparts as inspiration for Instagram content. Chancellor Merkel posts “fascinating pictures from unusual angles during her official visits.” These “unusual angles” are a now common tactic used by many successful global representatives.

Yet another common and generally successful trend used by the most followed and engaging officials on Instagram is one that does not require an especially creative eye or exotic location; it’s the selfie.

“Most world leaders have embraced the selfie culture of their fans, happily agreeing to be featured in selfies, the digital equivalent of an autograph. A group of admirers will generally cuddle up close to their favorite leader to take a selfie.”

Selfies have been one of the more popular trends on social media, and the study found many of these snapshot styles were found on the most popular and engaging accounts. Unlike most individuals, though, world leaders’ selfies tend to feature a wider variety of individuals– from their followers and fans to their security details and other world leaders.

One of the most “hip” prime ministers is that of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, whose selfies have turned into a series of pictures with the “who’s who” of international leaders. Not only have these selfies amassed a following of their own, but are now being turned into official presents he gives his guests. These group selfies is what the study calls a “wefie” and earned him the study’s title of “most entertaining world leader on Instagram.”

This isn’t to say some world leaders haven’t had success posting actual selfies of just themselves. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev regularly shares selfies with his followers; a mirror-selfie he posted earned more than 200,000 likes, which is just about half of the number of followers he had at the time!

In yet another variation of how selfies trump the traditional posed handshake photos, they also seem to strike a chord with followers. World leaders’ social media teams will usually snap a photo of the leader taking a selfie with his or her fans to show his or her popularity, which ironically turns into a popular post on its own.

And if no social media team is present to enhance the leader’s social media game? No problem. World leaders are now embracing the selfie stick. The Prime Ministers of Malaysia, Spain and Turkey have all been pictured using selfie sticks to capture their audience in their group selfie or “groufies.”

Amateur photographers looking to share a glimpse of their personal lives with fans have also done well on Instagram, the study says. From the Latvian Foreign Minister who exclusively posts wildlife and landscape shots to the Estonian Prime Minister who regularly shares selfies of him with his wife and daughter, Instagram allows world leaders to show their creative side and home life– and those who do so typically reap the rewards of followers and engagement.

For a more in-depth look at how global leaders use Instagram, please visit Burson-Marstellers’ World Leaders on Instagram report.

veronicaVeronica Mingrone is a senior public relations student at the University of Florida and National Vice President of Career Services of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).


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