It's not quite what you'd expect from your typical foreign minister.

Hours after hosting United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon at his home in Brisbane, Kevin Rudd turned to less weighty affairs.

"I scored a turntable for my LPs," he told his army of Twitter followers on Father's Day. "Now to have a LP, flares and body shirt party to celebrate the 70s."

A jovial exchange followed on the merits of flares and Neil Diamond - "[He] is to the 1970s what Wolfgang was to the 1770s" - before Rudd wondered if he should wear his gold or silver chain.


The experts say he is one of the few politicians who understands social media and knows how to use it.

And for KRuddMP, who is recovering from a heart operation, it's been a landmark week.

Today, the number of people following the former prime minister on Twitter is likely to top one million. That comes after a Newspoll showing Rudd is more than twice as popular as the woman who ousted him from The Lodge last year.

Not bad for a politician who looked all washed up after the bloodless Canberra coup.

Despite some scepticism about the high Twitter numbers, social media watchers have been impressed by how the legendary micro manager has embraced the micro network.

Academic Nicholas Carah says politicians who mix the professional with personal get the best results.

"Public figures who tweet about issues related to their public role as well as personal stuff are perceived as more credible online," says Carah, a communications lecturer at the University of Queensland.

"The politicians who use it well create a sense of what kind of person they are. They have a conversational approach with their community."


Rudd seems just as comfortable tweeting about the civil war in Libya as urging his followers to vote for him in a celebrity tea challenge.

The vote-gathering certainly worked, as he was crowned winner of a contest to create a new blend of tea for Twinings.

Another adept Australian user of social media is Rudd's political foe, former Coalition leader Malcolm Turnbull.

He regularly responds to questions and comments from his 67,000 followers, including one this week asking why he used Twitter.

"To communicate," replied Turnbull. "That's part of my job and this is a good platform to use. I like the interactivity."

Their leadership successors - Gillard and Tony Abbott - steer clear of dialogue with their followers, numbering 125,000 and 39,000 respectively.

Both use Twitter primarily to broadcast announcements or links to speeches and press releases.

Carah believes the lack of engagement from the current leaders is deliberate and can be partly explained by the social network's young, educated and progressive demographic; an audience far more suited to the online personas of their predecessors.

A spokesman for Rudd says the Foreign Minister gets credit from his followers for being genuine.

"He talks about a broad range of stuff, about issues he's passionate about, he's interesting and he responds to people.

"If you are boring or you are not saying much, people stop following you."

As opposition leader, Rudd courted potential voters using the relatively new mediums of MySpace and Facebook.

Before the 2007 federal election, he went on FM radio and TV chat shows, wrong-footing Prime Minister John Howard, who stuck to more familiar campaign territory.

Gillard and Abbott have shown the same reluctance to engage with voters on social media.

In last year's federal election campaign, the communication was almost exclusively one-way. Even on Facebook, where Gillard has twice as many fans as Rudd and thousands debate announcements on her page, the Prime Minister and her team team avoid dialogue.

Not so Rudd, who also posts chatty videos on Facebook, including one from a truck stop in Burma on his way to meet democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

He is by far Australia's most-followed tweeter and among the top 500 worldwide - only 12.3 million behind the the No 1 user, Lady Gaga.

But questions linger over the authenticity of his follower count.

Weeks after he joined Twitter in late 2008, the then-PM had only a few hundred followers. But 18 months later the number had skyrocketed beyond 900,000.

At the time Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper reported that three-quarters of Rudd's followers were overseas, including 18,000 in Belarus, and thousands of accounts spruiked porn and services offering to artificially lift follower numbers.

Last month, when as few as 8 per cent of high-profile United States Republican Newt Gingrich's 1.3 million fans were found to be real people with active accounts, the presidential hopeful blamed his presence on a list of influential people Twitter recommends users should follow.

Rudd's advisers attribute much of his spectacular rise to being on the same "recommended" users list.

He now benefits from placement on a list of 14 Australians and 39 politicians worldwide who get the official Twitter thumbs up.

That means Rudd is recommended to many new Twitter sign-ups. He is also frequently exposed to friends of existing subscribers.

Rudd's team acknowledge using software to automatically "follow-back" anyone who follows him.

They regard this as an effective tactic to build his audience, and say Rudd's focus is on providing value for those who actively engage with his tweets.

The Foreign Minister now follows more than 333,000 accounts; Australia's second most popular tweeter Shane Warne, follows 50.

Carah says Rudd's influence over and engagement with his audience are far more important than the overall numbers.

And he believes it's all part of a bigger plan.

"A defining feature of Rudd is he is profoundly ambitious," says Carah. "He sees future roles in diplomatic life, maybe high up in the UN.

"His popularity back home is going to be critical for that and I think he is playing a long-term game."

Kevin Rudd:!/KRuddMP