GENEVA — Instagram is fast becoming the go-to social media for leaders, international organizations and governments.
Every leader in the G-7 and all but two in the G-20 have personal Instagram profiles, according to the latest Twiplomacy study on social media and diplomacy. Eighty-one percent of the United Nations’ 193 member nations are active on it.
The photo-sharing network is the fastest-growing with leaders, organizations and governments and is the third most popular social media for global diplomacy after Twitter and Facebook, the study found.
“Diplomacy is becoming more visible and more visual through social media and especially Instagram,” said the study’s author, Matthias Lüfkens, managing director for global PR firm Burson Cohn & Wolfe in Geneva.
“What was once hidden behind closed doors is now becoming public for everyone to see,” he said. “History is now being immortalized on the mobile photo and video sharing platform.”
Exhibit A is a photo of the marked tensions between U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders, notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, at the Group of Seven summit in Charlevoix, Canada in June.
Even before the actual gathering, the circumstances were reflected in the notoriety that the G-7 gained in the news media as the “G6+1,” owing to Trump’s isolationist policies.
In the photo, Merkel, flanked by Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, leaned over a table while speaking to Trump, who had his arms folded and, as the center of attention, was the only person seated. Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton also stood around Trump.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert posted the photo on Twitter, crediting it to an official German government photographer, Jesco Denzel. The photo was originally posted on Merkel’s Instagram account. Then it went viral, more popular than the official summit leaders’ photo.
‘A secondary channel’
Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping were the only Group of 20 leaders that did not have personal accounts on Instagram as of the start of October. Heads of state and government from 120 countries had a personal Instagram presence, representing almost two-thirds of all U.N. member nations, according to Twiplomacy.
The photos are something of “a secondary channel for digital diplomacy,” in what Lüfkens dubbed the world of “Instaplomacy” with leaders meeting, greeting and tagging each other. That is also making it easier for others around the world to keep tabs on the world leaders.
Because of its wide appeal, the photo-sharing platform has the potential to level the playing field across generations, according to Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera. During a live Facebook interview with Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who was 38, Piñera, then 68, said that world leaders, many of them older like himself, were “just like millenials” in their enthusiasm for Instagram.
For the study, 426 accounts were analyzed. Combined, they had 98 million followers, published 98,372 posts in the 12 months through the end of last September and had 860 million comments and likes.
Sometimes the photos, even diplomatic missives, fcan carry a deeper, subversive message. Last fall, Belgium’s foreign ministry shared a picture of its top diplomat, Didier Reynders, speaking with Trump after the U.S. president had harshly criticized multilateralism in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
“As a founding member of the United Nations,” the ministry said in the photo caption, “Belgium has always been a staunch defender of multilateralism.”