The past twelve months haven’t been easy for social-media managers worldwide. The rebranding of Twitter to X, the changes on the platform – from the loss of the blue badge, to paying for verification and Tweetdeck – have kept community managers on their toes to say the least.
There is a palpable uneasiness with the tone of the platform. While organizations are wary of the antics of its new owner Elon Musk, there hasn’t been any notable X-odus yet. However, it is fair to say that social-media teams are seeking alternatives. With every change on X, new platforms such as Bluesky, Mastodon and Threads have gained traction as organizations try to re-build their community and re-engage their audience on a different platform.
In this study, we analyse the social-media activity of 106 international organizations and the personal accounts of their leaders on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, X and YouTube as well as Bluesky, Mastodon, Snapchat and Threads. The study includes multilateral organizations, leading non-profit and non-governmental organizations, and their chief executives.
The Most Followed International Organizations
The 10 most followed organizations are in a league of their own. Almost all have more than 10 million followers across all platforms combined.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is by far the most followed organization, with 73 million followers and subscribers on all platforms combined. UNICEF is in second position with 57 million followers, followed by the main United Nations account which clocks up an audience of 40 million followers and subscribers. The World Economic Forum and the UN Refugee Agency complete the Top 5 list with 26 and 13 million followers respectively.
Given the potential size of the audience, Facebook is one the most important social networks for international organizations. The 102 institutional pages have a combined following of 150 million followers and the median average of followers per page stands at 330,000.
X remains the second most important network. The 106 institutional accounts have a combined following of 124 million, with a median average of 212,319 followers per account. LinkedIn is not far behind: 97 organizations have an official LinkedIn page and all pages combined have a total of 55.8 million followers and a median average of 194,415 followers per page. The combined total number of followers on Instagram is higher at 71.7 million, but the median average per account is only 75,789. All institutional and personal accounts combined have a combined following of 440 million on all networks.
The 10 Most Followed Leaders of International Organizations
Dr Tedros Adhanom, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), is the most followed leader of any international organization with 4.17 million followers on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and X combined. Christine Lagarde, the President of the European Central Bank is in second position with 3.76 million followers.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director General of the World Trade Organization and António Guterres, the UN Secretary General are in third and fourth position with 2.88 and 2.24 million followers respectively.
The outgoing UN Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake is present on all social-media platforms and makes it into the Top 10 of the most followed leaders.
Data was captured on September 1, 2023, using Audiense.com for X and Crowdtangle.com for Facebook & Instagram with data going back 12 months; and a manual count on Bluesky, LinkedIn, Mastodon, Snapchat, Threads, TikTok and YouTube.
A month after the Twitter rebrand, only nine organizations had updated the social-media boilerplate on their websites, adding the new X logo. Interestingly, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the only one which has put the social networks in alphabetical order. The World Economic Forum is the only organization to add he Threads logo to its social-media boilerplate.
With the exception of the European Central Bank, almost all international organizations have a page on Facebook. All 102 pages combined have an audience of 150,683,211, a figure which has registered a modest growth of 1.73% over the past 12 months.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are topping the Facebook ranking, with more than 38 and 30 million followers respectively. The WHO was consistently boosted during the pandemic as reputable source on COVID-19.
The World Economic Forum (WEF), the United Nations and the UNHCR complete the Top 5 list of the most followed pages.
Interestingly, UNICEF, which often boosts its best performing posts, has clocked up more than 8 million interactions on their 1,329 posts, compared to only 2.4 million interactions on WHO’s 768 posts. Ove the past 12 months UNICEF has an interaction rate of 0.05%, compared to 0.02% for the WHO.
It pays to be consistently active on Facebook several times per day. The WEF posts on average 32 posts per day on Facebook, garnering 1.64 million interactions over the past 12 months.
UNICEF attracts the most likes and shares as well as love, sad and care reactions. The WHO, on the other hand, attracts the most comments, laughs and angry reactions which speaks volumes about their respective audiences and the amount of criticism the WHO is facing. The World Economic Forum leads in terms of total video posts and the number of wow reactions.
Facebook does not necessarily come to mind as the platform of choice for executive communications, but 24 leaders of international organizations have personal pages or profiles on Facebook.
WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom, leads the group with 1.31 million followers well ahead of the WTO’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg, each with more than 414,000 followers.
Dr Tedros followers represent 40% of the 3,287,195 followers of all 24 leaders combined. The median average number of followers of the 24 personal pages and profiles stands at just 12,174.
However, the interaction rate of personal pages often trumps that of the larger institutional pages, which goes to show how important personal engagement of executives on social media is. The UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary General of the Nordic Council Karen Ellemann and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi might only have between 12,000 to 15,000 followers and not be very active, but their interaction rate is well above 3%.
Among the institutional pages, UNESCAP, NATO and WIPO have the best interaction rates of between 0.30% and 0.25%. The median average of followers of the 101 institutional pages is 330,148, which makes Facebook the prime social media-platform given the size of the community.
In terms of post interactions, photo posts tend to perform best followed by videos, link posts and text-only status updates.
“When it comes to children’s rights, there’s only one team” The one-minute video posted by UNICEF ahead of World Children’s Day 2022, which also coincided with the start of the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar, has become one of the most successful Facebook posts from any international organization in the past 12 months. This post performed well because it was cross-posted on other UNICEF national pages –more effective than simply sharing the post.
A fifth of the surveyed Facebook pages have “cross-posted videos” which helps amplify videos natively through other pages. Setting up a cross-posting relationship with another page is a cumbersome process, but is very effective for amplifying videos on Facebook.
Instagram has become one of the prime audiovisual platforms. The platform combines three distinct channels: the main feed where pictures and videos are displayed in the traditional square format, the reels feed where videos are displayed in vertical format, and the stories feed with full vertical pictures or videos. It is important to choose the cover picture wisely when sharing a reel (video) on the main feed.
While the audience of all Facebook pages of international organizations have witnessed only a modest growth of 1.73%, their Instagram audience has increased by 6.72% year-on-year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are crushing it on Instagram, with 12 and 11 million followers respectively. The United Nations, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Greenpeace complete the Top 5 list of the most followed accounts, with 7.8, 4.7 and 4 million followers respectively.
In terms of interactions (comments and likes) UNICEF is once again leading the ranking, with close to 10 million interactions over the past 12 months. The United Nations is in second position, followed closely by the European Space Agency (ESA) with 8.8 and 8.7 million interactions respectively . The World Economic Forum (WEF) and NATO have garnered more than 6.3 million interactions over the past 12 months.
The WEF is killing it with its videos shared on Instagram. The videos, often posted as part of an album for maximum interaction, have generated 108 million views over the past 12 months. To put this in context, this is 1’ times as many views as the second runner-up, the European Space Agency (ESA) with 11.18 million views.
The picture of the UN General Assembly shared by the UN on the opening day of the 77th session has become the Instagram post with the most interactions by any international organization over the past 12 months. The post has amassed 1,23 interactions, including 285,111 likes and 947,648 (often negative) comments.
The album video shared by the WEF in July 2023 has become the most viewed video, with 4.58 million views. The video shows turnstiles transformed into mini turbines in the Paris metro, claiming that the energy produced could power an entire metro line.
Sixty leaders of international organizations have an Instagram account. However, 14 of these are private accounts and 25 are inactive, leaving only 21 active accounts.
UN Secretary General António Guterres is the most followed, with 406,338 followers – this is almost twice as many as the WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom, with 228,335 followers.
NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the ECB’s Christine Lagarde, and the UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake complete the Top 5 list of the most followed leaders accounts.
All leader accounts have a combined following of 1,365,706 followers and have been growing on average by 11% year-on-year which is exceptionally good.
The best way to make an impact on Instagram is to ‘collaborate’ with other large accounts and influencers. The ‘breaking news’ announcement of the end of the COVID-19 global health emergency, shared by Dr Tedros in collaboration with the WHO has become his most popular post.
UNICEF has co-shared posts with Indian actress Priyanka Chopra (89 million followers), British actress Millie Bobby Brown (63 million followers) and Leonardo di Caprio (60 million followers). Since July 2023 Instagram users can add up to three collaborators in one single post, hence we might be seeing more collaborative posts in the future.
“LinkedIn Is Cool Now”, wrote Sarah Frier, San Francisco Tech Team Lead at Bloomberg. The professional social networking platform has clearly benefitted from the slow decline of X.
Ninety-seven of the 106 organizations in this report have official company pages on LinkedIn and are active on the platform. All LinkedIn pages combined have a total of 55.8 million followers and a median average of 194,415 followers per page.
The WHO is the most followed organization with 5.4 million followers, slightly ahead of the United Nations page with 5.2 million followers. The WEF, UNICEF both have more than four million followers and among the Top 5 pages is that of the United Nations Volunteers organisation.
LinkedIn – self-proclaimed “the world’s largest professional network” – is the perfect fit for the leaders of international organizations ; 74 have personal LinkedIn profiles.
Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank (ECB), is by far the most followed leader with 2.6 million followers. Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director, and Dr Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the WHO, are in second and third place with 777,649 and 621,432 followers respectively.
UN Secretary General António Guterres, who joined LinkedIn at the end of March 2023, makes it into 8th place.
Embarrassingly, many executives have not created a custom URL for their LinkedIn profiles and have kept the number combination at the end of their profile URLs.
Twelve executives are part of the Top Voices program, an invitation-only group of experts across the professional world who are being promoted on the platform. It is no surprise therefore that the first nine leaders on the list below have the Top Voices label. The three other top voices are UNEP’s Inger Andersen, HRW’s Tirana Hassan and UNV’s Toily Kurbanov. LinkedIn’s top voices are encouraged to be personally active and post original personal posts and articles. And finally, the Top Voices badge cannot be bought. LinkedIn is currently rolling out a Community Top Voices label for users who share their expertise and point of view in collaborative articles.
Sixteen organizations have created newsletters on LinkedIn with smashing results. The newsletters have a median average subscription of 230,000 and the WHO’s Health for All newsletter counts 1.5 million subscribers.
Whether you like it or not, X (formerly Twitter) remains the dominant social-media platform for most international organizations. X is notably listed as the first or second social network after Facebook on the social-media boilerplates on the websites of three-quarters of the 106 organizations. One month after the rebranding of Twitter to X, the bluebird still graces the websites of most international organizations as if they were secretly it will somehow revive.
None of the international organizations commented on the sudden rebranding, but some used it to their advantage. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) put it squarely: “Twitter’s iconic bird isn’t the only one disappearing.👉 Today, one in eight bird species are at risk of extinction.” The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) asked its followers: “What other single-letter logos do you know?”
The relationship between international organizations and Elon Musk has soured since the sale of Twitter in November 2022. In early November the United Nations Human Rights office shared an eight-part thread from Volker Türk, the UN Human Rights Chief, reminding Elon Musk of the human rights responsibilities of companies to stop disinformation and ensure privacy and transparency and access to the platform’s data. “#FreeSpeech is not a free pass. Help us stop the viral spread of harmful disinformation, such as we saw during the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to vaccines. Don’t amplify content that results in harm to people’s rights” the organization said.
Elon Musk has repeatedly attacked the United Nations and UN agencies on his platform; few have reacted to his antics. In June 2023 he claimed, without further proof, that “The UN is more likely to cause, rather than prevent, disinformation”. When Elon Musk stated in June 2023 that “Countries should make their own decisions and not rely on UN bodies like WHO”, Dr Tedros, the WHO Director-General, shot back a couple of hours later: “Countries aren’t ceding sovereignty to @WHO.”
The United Nations @UN account, with 16 million followers, is the most followed international organization on X. The World Health Organization @WHO is in second place, with more than 12 million followers. Both organizations also top the ranking of the most listed organizations, appearing on 45,699 and 35,381 lists respectively which is a probably the best gauge of influence on the platform. UNICEF, Human Rights Watch and the WEF complete the Top 5 list of the most followed organizations on X.
The 106 institutional accounts have a combined following of 124,428,511; the median average number of followers standing at 212,319 for each account. The WWF has been the most prolific organization on X, with over half a million posts since inception in February 2008. The WEF has posted 179,000 times, often repeating posts up to 10 times to reach new audiences in different time zones.
Almost all leaders of international organization have personal or branded personal accounts on X. Only a handful of leaders are still resisting to engaging personally on social media. Obviously, most leaders have outsourced their social media activity to their social media teams, but some are taking matters into their own hands.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization, is the most followed leader with 2.27 million followers ahead of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus with 2.14 and 1.97 million followers respectively.
The 101 personal accounts have a combined following of 16,322,955 and the median average stands at 20,197 followers for each personal account.
Most leaders have staff taking pictures of their activities and ghost-posters preparing their personal social-media posts. But some also know how to take matters into their own hands. Dr Tedros Adhanom occasionally shares pictures playing with his grandchildren to show a more personal side of the WHO’s Director General.
On April Fools Day 2023, Dr Tedros posted a selfie showing himself wearing a T-shirt with the inscription: “When this virus is over, I still want some of you to stay away from me.” The post went viral, with many of his critics and anti-vaxxers replying that the feeling was mutual. You need to be thick-skinned to take the amount of abuse on the platform.
At the end of April 2023 all previously verified accounts, including international organizations lost their blue tick. The ICRC was quick to promote its 48 regional and country accounts which are no longer marked as official. Organizations such as Eurocontrol, GAVI, ISO, IUCN and the United Nations Foundation also lost the precious verification badge.
A couple of days later, verification was re-instated for most organizations with a grey badge denoting a multi-lateral organization or a gold badge for other international organizations and companies. Organizations sporting grey, or gold badges do not subscribe to the premium service, although the time will undoubtedly come when they too will have to pay for the service or lose their badge.
A handful of organizations – namely the African Development Bank, Amnesty International, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Inter-American Development Bank, and WWF have subscribed to the premium service. This allows them to create and manage a list of affiliates on their profile. The premium subscription comes at a hefty US$12,000 per year, and US$600 annually for each affiliate account.
The Organization of Ibero-American States (@EspacioOEI), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (@OPCW), the Union for the Mediterranean (@UfMSecretariat), the WHO and its Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom have also subscribed to the premium service. This allows them to share longer posts and videos, highlight top posts on their profile, get priority ranking in replies, among among other smaller perks. But these accounts haven’t created any list of affiliates yet.
It remains to be seen whether other organizations will follow their lead and succumb to paying to play on Elon Musk’s platform.
Almost half of the 100 organizations surveyed have set up shop on TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform which had its heyday during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, TikTok helped onboard international organizations through the Elevate programme and their videos would reach millions of views making the platform a must for international organizations.
Fast forward to 2023. Only 29 organizations remain active on TikTok and many struggle to produce sticky, viral videos for the platform. The UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) has registered 230 million views on its 89 videos this year so far thanks to several viral hits in the run-up to World Refugee Day, such as: this video recalling the appalling refugee figures worldwide ; this one with refugees explaining what gives them hope away from home ; and this one on how to help refugees.
However, the median average views of UNHCR’s videos stands at only 4,227. The World Food Programme is the most successful, with their TikTok videos generating on average 35,000 views. The WHO, which has a median average of 99,400 views on all its videos, is only getting 5,100 median average views on the 58 posted in 2023. The same is happening to the IFRC and UN Migration, two organizations which originally championed the use of TikTok.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is still the most followed international organization on TikTok, with 3.2 million followers and 12 million likes. WHO is in second place with 2.9 million followers and the World Economic Forum is the third most followed organization, with 1.7 million followers and a record 18.4 million likes.
The number of followers on TikTok is rather meaningless and doesn’t automatically guarantee video views. The algorithm analyses each video and the engagement, meaning even accounts with few followers can score a viral hit.
The World Economic Forum is also the most active of all international organizations on TikTok, with a total of 1’835 and 297 in 2023 alone. However, the median average view count of each video stands is only 2,700.
Few organizations produce quirky content, tailored to the platform. Most tend to post professionally produced clips which they also share on other platforms. These videos look good but are not viral TikTok material.
YouTube is still an important channel to host videos and all but five of the 106 organizations have a dedicated channel. All channels combined have over a billion subscribers and the median average number of subscribers is 18,400.
The United Nations channel is the most popular, with 2.7 million subscribers and has clocked up a record 372 million views on its 15,000 videos.
The UN live streams public events from the Security Council and has a live broadcast from the annual UN General Assembly in September. The UN also has dedicated channels in all five official UN languages, namely Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish, featured on its page.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has the second most-followed channel, with close to a million subscribers. ESA often shares videos from its astronauts on the international space station. The WHO, the WEF and UNICEF complete the list of the Top five most subscribed channels.
Greenpeace gets the best average views per video, with more than 100,000 average views for each of its 975 videos. Greenpeace is known for its impactful viral video campaigns. Its latest video posted at the end of August 2023 accuses the French oil company Total Energies of greenwashing as the main sponsor of the Rugby World Cup 2023.
The UN’s most watched video, with 85 million views, is the clip of the Korean boy band BTS dancing in the General Assembly Hall. The clip, posted in September 2022, is by far the most watched video of any international organisation.
All but 16 channels have posted Shorts, YouTube’s 60-second vertical videos. Shorts were released worldwide in July 2021 and are a great way to recycle vertical videos produced for Instagram or TikTok. However, many channels are posting square videos, which is sub-optimal given the vertical format.
A third of the 101 channels are verified by YouTube which requires at least 100,000 subscribers. Seven channels have the precious grey badge without having the required threshold.
Only 12 international organizations have a presence on Snapchat and only three of these have created public profiles, namely the UN, the WHO and UNEP, the UN Environment Programme which boasts 249,000 subscribers. It definitely makes sense for organizations to set up a public profile on Snapchat and become active to reach a younger audience.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is the only international organization to set up shop on Bluesky, a new federated social media platform which has so far refused to onboard large organizations.
The platform – a spin-off from Twitter – is funded by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. HRW has set up separate accounts in English, Arabic and Spanish and counts 1.500 followers on the platform which is still in private beta and has 856,508 users. Ping @DigiTips if you need an invite.
UNEP is one of a handful of international organizations to set up an account on Mastodon at the end of 2022, including a personal account for Executive Director Inger Andersen.
Only three organizations, namely Human Rights Watch, the IEC, and UNEP are actively posting on Mastodon, although engagement seems to be close to zero. Despite the abysmal engagement rate, Human Rights Watch has attracted more than 10,000 followers.
Since Mastodon is a federated social network, the organizations have set up on three different instances (servers) which makes finding and following them a challenge.
So far only 42 of the 106 institutions and eight of their leaders have signed up to Threads. Most European-based organizations are not yet registered given Threads is not available in Europe.
Despite the geo-fence, Geneva-based WHO is the most followed organization on Threads with 893,460 followers. The WHO is also the most active with a post a day. It is followed by UNICEF and the United Nations with more than 600,000 followers. The WEF and the European Space Agency complete the list of the Top five most followed accounts.
The WHO and the UN are also the most active, posting daily on the platform. All other organizations in the Top 10 list post at least once a week.
However, half of the organizations have only posted once and are not currently active on Threads. Despite having posted only once, the WEF has amassed 444,921 followers. Since Threads is linked to Instagram, some of their 4.8 million followers on Instagram automatically follow them on this new platform.
It remains to be seen if Threads will become a serious competitor for X once users in the European Union can access the platform.
Fifteen years after having set up their first presence on social media, international organisations are now faced with a daunting choice of platforms to chose from. There are the top five – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, X and YouTube – which need constant attention and community management. The question is whether they have the resources and bandwidth to engage on other niche networks or to invest time into new networks challenging the predominance of X.
While organizations have seen their audience grow year-on-year, one thing has remained constant over the years: the size of social-media teams. It is time for organizations to recognize the essential work of social media managers and understand that digital-media relations are no longer an after thought, but a key business function with the direct involvement of all employees including the chief executive.
The full study including the data tables is available here for €9.99.