Key moments in Twitter diplomacy

Andreas Sandre
Digital Diplomacy
Published in
5 min readMar 18, 2016


As we celebrate Twitter’s 10th anniversary, here are a few tweets that have changed — and influenced — the way governments and political leaders engage with the world.

2006 — On March 21, 2006, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sends the first tweet ever (it’s technically the 20th tweet as per the status number on the URL).

2007 — On August 23, 2007, Chris Messina officially invents the hashtag. As mentioned on his Twitter profile, he is known has the inventor of the hashtag.

2008 — The United Nations sends its first tweet… Maybe not the most successful or original. Since then the U.N. has grown to almost 7 million followers and one of the most engaging Twitter profiles among international organizations.

2009 — Not sure if Google’s first tweet fits this timeline, but it is certainly a lot of fun. Guessed what it means?

2009 — On May 1, 2009, the White House becomes the first official Twitter account of a sitting President. It was followed shortly after by the Rwandan President Paul Kagame (May 15, 2009) and the South African Presidency (May 18, 2009).

2009 — On November 12, 2009, then Mexican Ambassador in Washington Arturo Sarukhan becomes the first foreign Ambassador in the US Capital to use Twitter on an official capacity.

2010 — On September 19, 2010, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, a former Prime Minister of New Zealand, becomes the first high-rank UN official to open a profile on Twitter.

2011 — Sohaib Athar, a Pakistan-based IT consultant, inadvertently live-tweets the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.

2011 — On May 25, 2011, then Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt contacts his counterpart Khalid Al Khalifa of Bahrain via Twitter, as he was unable to reach him otherwise using traditional means of communication. The following day, Al Khalifa replies to Bildt via Twitter.

2011 — U.S. President Barack Obama’s first tweet on the @whitehouse profile, from “Laptop One” as some journalists referred to the laptop Obama used during the first White House live Twitter Townhall hosted by Jack Dorsey, was sent on July 6, 2011. It was the first Twitter Townhall by a sitting president (the @potus account was opened only in 2015 — see below).

2011 — Condoleezza Rice is the first former U.S. Secretary of State to join Twitter.

2012 — Susan Rice is the first Ambassador to use Twitter from behind closed doors at the United Nations Security Council. On February 4, 2012, then US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice tweets addressing the position of China and Russia on Syria. Two days later, on February 6, 2012, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reacts to Ambassador Rice’s tweets via the Twitter handle of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

2012 — On July 26, 2012, global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller launches the first Twiplomacy study on the use of Twitter by world leaders (BM later created the @Twiplomacy handle).

2012 — On September 13, 2012, the US Embassy in Cairo starts a back-and-forth Twitter conversation with the official English account of the Muslim Brotherhood.

2012 — On December 12, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI becomes the first Pope to open a Twitter profile (since then, all his tweets have been archived).

Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.
— Benedict XVI (@Pontifex) December 12, 2012

2013 — On March 13, 2013, the first tweet of Pope Francis’s @pontifex handle was sent a few minutes after the announcement in Saint Peter Square and the Latin phrase translates to “we have a new pope” (since then, the tweet has been archived). On March 17, the Pope went to Twitter to ask all to pray for him as he starts his new role as head of the Catholic Church.

— Pontifex (@Pontifex) March 13, 2013

2013 — On June 10, 2013, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opens her Twitter handle. She was joined a few months later by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

2013 — On October 1, 2013, Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey engages with Iran Foreign Minister Hassan Rouhani on net freedom in Iran.

2014 — In February 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry re-opens his Twitter account (he had one as a U.S. Senator) and becomes the first sitting Secretary of State to be on the platform.

2014 — On March 28, 2014, the U.S. Department of State launches the #unitedforukraine hashtag campaign in conjunction with President Obama’s trip to Europe. The hashtag was hijacked by Russia, which in April 2014 offered its interpretation through the Russian Foreign Ministry Twitter account in English (@MFA_Russia).

2014 — On May 7, 2014, US First Lady Michelle Obama joins the #bringbackourgirls campaign with a photo that goes viral in minutes.

2014 — Narendra Modi is third most followed world leader on Twitter, according to the 2015 Twiplomacy Study by Burson Masteller. Here what he tweeted when he became India’s Prime Minister.

2014 — Another viral image was the map of Ukraine posted on Twitter by the Mission of Canada to NATO (@CanadaNATO) on August 27, 2014.

2014 — Former UK Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher publishes his Naked Diplomat manifesto.

2015 — On May 18, 2015, US President Barack Obama opens the first official account of the President of the United States. His first tweet was sent from the White House’s profile in 2011 (see above). And when the President’s new profile launched, it caught immediately the attention of former President Bill Clinton.

2015 — In July 2015, #IranTalks is the most viral foreign policy hashtag on social media. European Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, a former Italian Foreign Minister, celebrates the agreement on Twitter, as do other leaders involved in the negotiations.

2015 — In November 2015, the world is shaken by the terrorist attacks in Paris. World leaders take to Twitter and other social media platforms to condemn the attacks.

2016 — Even before touching down in Cuba for his historic visit, President Obama goes viral with a photo of Air Force One landing in Havana.



Andreas Sandre
Digital Diplomacy

Comms + policy. Author of #digitaldiplomacy (2015), Twitter for Diplomats (2013). My views only.