Growing Role of Social Media Among Policymakers

It is perhaps hard to believe that only four years ago, the following sentence would have made no sense to anyone at all.  “I follow you on Twitter.”  Many of us, though not all of us, would have been bewildered by the phrase “I’ll Facebook you”.  But today, obviously, social media have become second nature in the way we communicate as a society.  Social media is no longer a distinct part of the way we communicate – it has become an integral part – it is part of the plumbing.

Two reports were issued this week.  The first is out of Europe and comes from my colleagues at Fleishman-Hillard.  The report is Fleishman-Hillard’s 2nd European Parliament Digital Trends Survey that shows how members of that body are using the internet to communicate and conduct research in their work.   The differences between the first report and the second demonstrate the rapid uptake of social media by European policy makers.  Just a few highlights include:

  • 69% of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) use social networks such as Facebook to communicate with voters;
  • 34% are now on Twitter, compared to 21% in the first report;
  • 44% are using YouTube as a means to reach their constituents
  • Slightly over one-quarter of MEPs are using blogs as a means to express their opinions directly

One of the distinct advantages of social media for politicians is the fact that they get to express their views directly and unfiltered to their constituencies.  Particularly for a party that is in a minority – to whom the media may not necessarily gravitate – social media becomes a means to energize a base and to communicate directly.  (click on the image below to enlarge)

Turning to the U.S., today the Congressional Management Foundation released a report through the Partnership for a More Perfect Union that focused more broadly, but still included social media aspects.  The survey was of members of Congress (MOCs) and their senior staff and sought to glean information about how MOCs communicate and what matters to them.  When it comes to social media, they were asked the question “In your opinion, how important are the following for understanding constituents’ views and opinions?”  Of the 14 choices, traditional means such as events, town hall meetings took top spots, but Facebook landed in 7th place (with 64% saying that Facebook was either Very or Somewhat Important), above Twitter and YouTube which were 11th and 12th, respectively.    Conversely when asked to rank the importance of various vehicles for conveying the opinion of the MOC to constituents, 74% of MOCs ranked Facebook as either Very or Somewhat Important.  Facebook, it would seem, is the medium of choice for MOCs when it comes to social media.

Of course, when it comes to any elected official, nothing beats a personal visit with a personal message that is impactful.  But clearly, social media is creating a larger footprint in the way policymakers communicate as well as a means for them to get information about their constituencies.

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