Helen Clark & How to Use Social Media Like a Boss

In this week’s Augment Intelligence newsletter (subscribe here), I’m going to show you how a master of social media uses Facebook and Twitter. I’m not talking about one of those dubious social media “gurus” that auto-follows 50,000 people on Twitter (and thus has 48,000 followers). I’m referring to someone living and working in the real world: Helen Clark. She was Prime Minister of New Zealand for nine years and is now campaigning to be Secretary-General of the United Nations. And she’s killing it on Twitter.

In her current role as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Clark has been active on Facebook and Twitter since 2010. She got the United Nations job in April 2009, after being defeated by John Key in the November 2008 New Zealand general election. At some point in her first year in the UN role, Clark decided to go all out on social media.


On Twitter, HelenClark sends an average of 25 tweets per day, according to the analytics service Twitonomy. 73% of those are retweets and the top three accounts she RTs are all UN ones: @UNDP, @UNDP4Youth and @UndpSyria. The next most retweeted is UN staffer Ludo Bok, followed by a journalist named Geoffrey P. Johnston. He covers international relations, human rights and other topics of interest to Clark. Note that many of these retweets are accompanied by a comment from Clark, a feature that Twitter added to its product in April 2015. She’s also a heavy user of hashtags, with #development, #sdgs, #mali and #women being her most used.

8% of Clark’s tweets are replies, so she is engaging with her followers – albeit less regularly than she retweets. 27% of her tweets are originals and those are usually updates on her activities. For example a tweet from earlier this week links people to a recent speech she delivered: “My speech @ #FFDForum @UN this morning; advocating for better access to #development finance 4 developing countries”.

It’s clear from these statistics that Helen Clark mainly uses Twitter to promote her own organisation (the United Nations). But as a follower of Clark’s Twitter account, I can attest that she posts interesting non-UN content as well. One I particularly liked over the weekend – and RTed myself – was a RT of a New York Times article about the classicist Mary Beard railing against Internet trolling.

Of course with a powerful and very busy person like Helen Clark, you have to ask whether it is actually her doing the tweets. I think it is, although it wouldn’t surprise me if she has background help from her staff – for example, briefings to highlight tweetable content. But overall, her account seems authentic. The closest she’s come to verifying that was this comment during her pitch to become Secretary-General of the UN:

“I did see a tweet from a member of the public who said, ‘my greatest fear is that Helen Clark will stop doing her own tweets.’ But I am very interested in continuing to hear from people in the widest possible circles.”

Incidentally, Clark has also created a separate Twitter account for her campaign to be Secretary-General. That too is tweeting frequently – 24 tweets per day on average so far – and has a high RT ratio (76%).

Trip to Laos

Clark isn’t quite so active on Facebook – she can go a couple of weeks without posting – but when she does post it’s at least a paragraph and always informative. Often her posts on Facebook are accompanied by photos and she regularly responds to comments.

Given her role at the UN, Clark travels a lot and so many of her Facebook posts are updates of what she does on these trips. They remind me a bit of my own daily update posts on Facebook when I travel, except Clark’s trips are far more important! Here’s an excerpt from one last November:

“I’m just finishing a three day visit to Laos, which began with meetings in the capital, Vientiane, and a high level roundtable on the country’s development plans which UNDP was co-chariring [sic]. Then I relocated to Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town in the north which is famous for its heritage and culture. […]”

The post was accompanied by two photos from Laos, one of a woman working in a village and the other of some local mushrooms (which Clark noted were “cultivated in the UNDP livelihoods project! Delicious!”). Now, certainly this post is self-serving, in the grand tradition of Facebook narcissism (look at the great work I’m doing!). But the difference is… well, it is actually important work she is doing.

It’s also worth noting that the post from Laos is the type of content we wouldn’t get to see if it wasn’t for social media. The media might report on bits of it, but Clark is letting us get a close-up look at her work and the places she travels to. She’s also getting often useful feedback in the comments, about the places she visits and the issues she deals with in her job.


I promised to show you how a current master of social media uses the tools available. But you may be asking: how does that help me use social media? After all, very few of us have interesting jobs like Helen Clark, or a built-in audience due to being well known. That’s true, but my purpose was to show that social media can be more than just tweeting about Trump or posting a selfie on Facebook. Social media doesn’t have to be a shallow, ego-driven thing. You can use it to augment your career, like Helen Clark is doing, or explore issues and topics you’re passionate about.

Don’t forget the networking side of social media. Because of the relevant content she posts, Clark gets to listen to and respond to people on issues that impact her work. Ok clearly there’s a big PR benefit to Helen Clark too, as there is for any politician on social media. But it’s something all of us can learn to do better (remember when it was called social networking? I think many of us have forgotten that second word, which is a shame).

If I may sum it up in 140 characters: social media can be empowering, if you choose to use it that way. Just follow Helen Clark and see.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of the Augment Intelligence newsletter. To get it delivered direct to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.