Bilateral aid chiefs: Who’s tweeting?

An earthquake in the Caribbean. Political protests in the Middle East. Famine response in Africa. Expect Twitter to burst up if such events happen.

The pace of feeds on Twitter comes courtesy of the lightning-quick fingers of its users, a community of about 200 million. Five years after its launch, Twitter, along with Facebook, has become one of the most popular social media tools for political figures, celebrities, as well as development and relief groups.

But maybe not so much among top bilateral aid officials. As of Sept. 6, only five of these officials have accounts on Twitter — and you can probably guess who’s the most popular.

The number of Rajiv Shah’s followers on Twitter may not rival that of his boss — @rajshah’s more than 6,400 followers is not even 1 percent of @BarackObama’s nearly 10 million followers. But the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator is still much ahead of Norwegian Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim (@ErikSolheimSV), Irish Aid chief Jan O’Sullivan (@JanOSullivanTD), German development minister Dirk Niebel (@dirk_niebel) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Director General Martin Dahinden (@Martin_Dahinden).

Shah’s popularity on Twitter compared with his peers is explained easily just by looking at his account.

First, the USAID chief tweets the most, averaging a tweet per day since joining the social networking channel on Dec. 30, 2010. Solheim averages one tweet per six days since signing up on Twitter on June 19, 2009.

Second, Shah’s tweets are in English (O’Sullivan and Dahinden’s are as well though). According to one study, English is the No.1 language used on Twitter. Probably because Solheim and Niebel are also politicians, they prefer their tweets to be in their native tongue.

Or, it’s simply because Shah heads the world’s largest bilateral donor, which attracts the most interest among international development professionals. Even within the Devex community, articles and breaking stories on USAID garner the most attention.

USAID likewise has the largest social media following compared with other bilateral donors, based on our research. Stay tuned, as in the coming days we will list the top donors, humanitarian organizations, and other aid groups on Facebook and Twitter.

Check out last week’s DevTrivia on athlete U.N. goodwill ambassadors and play the DevTrivia game on Facebook.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.