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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

Followers: 173

Tweets: 1,224

Bulgarian Presidency

Followers: 372

Tweets: 225

Russian Presidency

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

Followers: 274

Tweets: 6

Hungarian Office of Government

Followers: 413

Tweets: 956

*Statistics from Blogger PresidentialActivism (2012)

Compared To:

Barack Obama; President of the USA

Followers: 58.3 million

Tweets: 13.4 thousand

Narendra Modi; Indian Prime Minister

Followers: 11.8 million

Tweets: 7,576

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.

Eastern and Central Europeans entering 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

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2 thoughts on “The Twitter rave, it seems, isn’t universal.

  1. It is clear from this article that Twitter’s fundamental purpose has grown exponentially. Back when it first launched, it was used by celebrities and teenagers across the states. In my high school, those who had Twitters did not use it in order to spread news, but rather, to make public witty comments. It was almost like a competition to see who could have the funniest Twitter personality. Since then, I believe that people across the world have realized the true power behind social networking and posting their thoughts and opinions in a short, sweet manner for all of the world to see.
    Twitter may be the fastest medium through which news can be spread. Sure, many details cannot be included in posts. However, the classic tweet serves the purpose of updating and alerting readers in a quick fashion.
    After reading this blog, I decided to take a look at President Obama’s twitter feed. I noticed that some tweets included personal touches, such as, “President Obama runs into a group of schoolchildren while walking near the White House. WARNING: cuteness ensues.” Other tweets were in third person. From this, I understood that Obama definitely has a social media specialist tweeting for him. Sure, some tweets may come from the President himself, but, there is a greater chance that the majority come through a third party. This tweet often encouraged followers to look into positions on policy and world affairs.
    I wanted to compare what I found on Obama’s page with the content on Ukraine’s presidential page. The tweets here seemed to be more similar to updates on elections, governmental action, and changes in policy. Instead of prompting followers to think and form opinion on matters, the tweets had a clear, informative tone.
    Because twitter’s primary role has changed so much, I am curious to see if the site will serve other purposes in the future. Does Twitter have the potential to replace traditional news/media? Will another social media site rise up and replace it? When and will Twitter ever die?
    Because of it’s constant and steady growth, I believe that Twitter will continue to spread to novel parts of our world. With all of the turmoil in Ukraine, I am very confident that this platform will continue to be used in Eastern Europe.

  2. This was actually quite interesting to read because I follow both Obama and Modi on Twitter and the strong presence they have made me assume that most countries also have strong political presence on Twitter. However, after reading your blog post, it makes a lot of sense that Twitter had never really been used as a political tool in East Europe.
    When considering the Arab Spring and how it was really pushed by social media, it becomes clear that this might be the reason we don’t hear too much about protests or uprisings in this part of the world. We definitely hear all about the latest American news (Ferguson, Baltimore, etc.) even without watching the news because of the role social media has played in spreading the information and bringing people together in protest. As you mentioned, the Russian political account does not have a huge following compared to the amount of people in the country, but it is definitely a considerable number to stage protests and spread the news about those as well, which would explain why we do hear much more about Russia than we do about Bulgaria or Hungary for example.
    Something that struck me while reading this was how Twitter actually is more popular in Russian than any other East European country. I would have assumed that a social media site where you put out daily details of your life would not have taken hold in this region because people seem to be much more closed off and private about their lives, something I would assume is a lingering effect of communist rule. But Russians, although part of the former Soviet Union, have surprisingly taken to sharing information online more than their western counterparts. Perhaps, with the spread of technology and the availability of smartphones, it is just a matter of time before the Twitter trend spreads to the rest of East Europe.
    However this also brings up the thought that maybe politicians are purposely staying away from Twitter as well. It is clearly a big role-player in many uprisings, and the interactive platform allows users to really delve into topics and spread information in the blink of eye. East European politicians might be thinking on a different track; forget communicating with the people, they don’t want to deal with protests that could be stimulated by it.
    Clearly Twitter has changed from being a fun social media site for teens to a real social and political game changer. It will be quite interesting to see if it evolves even more in the years to come.

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