Twitter diplomacy takes center stage

Twitter may not be able to easily monetize Twitter diplomacy, but it's emblematic of how much influence 140 characters and broadcasting across the Internet can have.

Dan Farber
3 min read

As Twitter heads toward its high value IPO, the attention is on its revenue and growth numbers. However, a big part of the story is the pervasiveness and influence of the messaging service. Compared with Facebook, with over a billion users, Twitter is a midsize town, with about a quarter of the audience. But the town is buzzing and spinning the news at high speed and frequency as events around the world unfold, such as the historic phone call between the President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, marking the first time U.S. and Iranian leaders have directly communicated since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Rouhani, or the social media aides who tweet for him, are not strangers to Twitter diplomacy. Earlier this month, the Rouhani Twitter account wished Jews around the world a happy Jewish New Year. The account has sent more than 1,800 tweets and now has more than 71,000 followers, and the president's team knows all about hashtags, word shortcuts and retweeting in English and Persian. Rouhani's account retweeted the State Department's tweet -- initialed by Secretary of State John Kerry -- about the Friday call between the presidents.

The Rouhani account also singled out Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, retweeting his tweet about reading Rouhani's tweets following his meeting with Obama on Friday. Maybe Rouhani is trying to get some IPO shares.

Twitter screenshot

In addition, the Rouhani team is adept at deleting tweets. Prior to Obama talking about his conversation with the Iranian president, Rouhani's team tweeted: "In a phone conversation b/w #Iranian & #US Presidents just now: @HassanRouhani: "Have a Nice Day!" @BarackObama: "Thank you. Khodahafez." Perhaps it was considered a little too casual.

While the Iranian president is attracting many new followers since his chat with the US president, he only follows four people, fellow government executives including Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, who has issued more than 4,500 tweets.

Of course, Iran's leaders pale in Twitter power compared with Obama, who has sent more than 10,000 tweets, has more than 37 million followers, and is somehow following more than 657,000 tweeters. He clearly is missing almost all of the tweets from those he follows, but the NSA can tell him if there is anything of merit.

Facebook hasn't been left out of communicating the results of the historic meeting, but Twitter's condensed code, like a modern version of smoke signals, is what the two sides are using to send messages, probes, and propaganda.

However, for the people of Iran, accessing or participating in that conversation is not easy. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have been blocked since the anti-government protests in 2009. Rouhani has talked about easing the restrictions but so far they have not been officially lifted.

According to Pew Center Research, only about 18 percent of American adults who are online use Twitter, but its influence spans much further, with hashtags and @ signs appearing on TV, radio, billboards, Congress and even T-shirts.

The final episode of "Breaking Bad" or video snippets of NFL games in almost real-time will drive Twitter adoption and revenue. But powerful leaders with the fate of the world in their hands breaking the ice and sharing it on public social networks is emblematic of how much impact 140 characters and the Internet can have in shaping the future.