Eastern and Central European politicians have a weak presence on Twitter compared to their global colleagues but why don’t they seem to care?
Modi’s popularity and success in the past Indian elections for Prime Minister is a result of his effective use of social media; most particularly Twitter. He held a personal/institutional account where there are a mixture of personally written tweets and others which were written on his behalf. He included personal pictures with his mother before travel and official photos of him meeting with other officials. His twitter account was personable and respectable. Similarily, this was seen in Obama’s 2008 campaign for President. He continues to use his twitter account as an effective outlet in reaching his broad audience. An example of this was his ‘What does #40dollars mean to you?’ campaign that aimed to influence the payroll tax debate. This campaign was extremely successful and some of the many people who responded to the has tag were invited to voice their struggles through a video that was posted on Obama’s twitter account. So then, how does this strategy trend for politicians translate into Eastern and Central Europe?
The dramatic difference in the effectivity and power of Twitter in this region is almost comical. Although 11 out of the 12 Presidents/Prime Ministers in the region have a Twitter account, many are in active or are not worth following because of the infrequency of their tweets. To illustrate the comical difference between twitter use in Eastern/Central Europe and the USA/India, here are some numbers:
Viktor Yanukovych; Ukrainian President
Follower: 657,991 [Russian Account]; 70,269 [English Account]
Tweets: 2,275 [Russian Account]; 1,374 [English Account]
^For a country with 26.3 million broadband subscribers
Robert Fico; Slovakian Prime Minister
Hungarian Office of Government
*Statistics from Blogger PresidentialActivism (2012)
Barack Obama; President of the USA
Followers: 58.3 million
Tweets: 13.4 thousand
Narendra Modi; Indian Prime Minister
Followers: 11.8 million
The statistics clearly show that the European government or political figure accounts attract few followers. In the case of the Ukrainian President, he posted seven times more tweets than he had followers. The Slovakian Prime Minister has a Twitter following that is comparable to an average American high school student. There are three interdependent factors that contribute towards this dramatic difference.
Like many countries, Twitter has not become popular in this region because of cultural differences. Twitter does not serve as an effective platform for everyday users due to language and custom barriers. In many of the countries in this region, many characters are necessary in conveying a short message and therefore the linguistic bounds limit Twitter. Moreover, in the Czech Republic, specifically the older generation, it is not common for people to be broadcasting their thoughts or daily activities – especially on a medium where their words can never be erased and be easily monitored.
Thus, because of this cultural difference, Twitter hold much less power in Eastern and Central Europe. Twitter activity is low and the activity it does relieved is rarely publicized or fails to gain any substantial level of attention. To a marketer, PR specialist or campaign manager, it is easy to then understand how Twitter becomes black hole that cannot justify any investment in time effort or money. In regards to Twitter, politicians follow a different social media strategy due to the lack of players in the twitter landscape in addition to its poor outreach ability. A UCL blog accurately outlines the difficulties politicians in this region face when dealing with this technological tool that presents a lot of potential:
“East European politicians have not yet mastered the art of twitter and few have been able to exploit its full potential. For now there are two main obstacles to twitter having same political impact in Eastern Europe that it has in the West (and especially the US.). First, while internet access in Eastern Europe is now close to Western European levels, smart phones with internet access are not as readily available to the ordinary citizen, so that much of Twitter’s immediacy and spontaneity is lost. Second, as the audience of politicians’ tweets in the region is limited, it is sensible for many politicians to focus their resources on more traditional forms of campaigning to communicate with their voters and get their message – in more than 140 characters – across.”
However, with this being said, there are exceptions to this general trend. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Estonian President, has a similar approach to Twitter that is similar to Obama and Modi. He however takes it a step further and sets a transparent, genuine and emotional tone to his tweets. So far, his efforts have been rewarded and he has gained 52,600 followers and maintains them by regularly tweeting (16,100 tweets to date). The difference in Twitter between Eastern and Central Europe compared to the US and India largely stem from cultural differences. With time, as politicians such as Ilves demonstrates how transparency can be achieved online, people in this region may begin to enter the Twitter world.
Some television programs in the Czech Republic have combined the non-barrier and instant communication perks of Twitter and coupled it with with traditional cable and broadcasted interviews where politicians are asked questions from the public on Twitter. This is a unique dynamic of still maintaining a large audience without sacrificing the technology that enables the public to communicate with politicians and hold them accountable for their words and actions.
Feature Photo courtesy of Flickr user DonkeyHotey
Imbedded photo courtesy of Flickr user hank Mitchel