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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Social Networking and Constituent Communications: Members’ Use of Twitter and Facebook During a Two-Month Period in the 112th Congress

Matthew Eric Glassman
Analyst on the Congress

Jacob R. Straus
Analyst on the Congress

Colleen J. Shogan
Deputy Director and Senior Specialist

Communication between Members of Congress and their constituents has changed with the development of new online social networking services. Many Members now use e-mail, official websites, blogs, YouTube channels, Twitter, and Facebook pages to communicate with their constituents—technologies that were either non-existent or not widely available 20 years ago.

Social networking services have arguably served to enhance the ability of Members of Congress to fulfill their representational duties by providing greater opportunities for communication between the Member and individual constituents. In addition, electronic communication technology has reduced the marginal cost of constituent communications; unlike postal letters, Members can reach large numbers of constituents for a fixed cost.

This report examines Member adoption and use of two social networking services: Twitter and Facebook. The report analyzes data on Member use of Twitter and Facebook collected by an academic institution in collaboration with the Congressional Research Service during a twomonth period between August and October 2011 and the adoption of both platforms as of January 2012. This report analyzes the following questions related to Member use of Twitter and Facebook:

  • What proportion of Members use Twitter and Facebook? 
  • How often are Members using Twitter and Facebook? 
  • How widely are Member Tweets and posts being followed? 
  • What are Members Tweeting and posting about? 

This report provides a snapshot of a dynamic process. As with any new technology, the number of Members using Twitter and Facebook, and the patterns of use, may change rapidly in short periods of time. As a result, the conclusions drawn from these data cannot be easily generalized or used to predict future behavior.

The data show that, at the time of the study, 451 (of 541) Representatives (including Delegates and the Resident Commissioner) and Senators were registered with Twitter (83.4%) and 487 (of 541) Representatives and Senators were registered with Facebook (90%). During the study period—August to October 2011—a total of 30,765 “Tweets” were sent and 16,261 Facebook posts were made. The data show that

  • overall, registered Members sent an average of 1.24 Tweets and 0.63 Facebook posts per day; 
  • Senate Republicans sent the most Tweets per day (1.53 on average), followed by Senate Democrats (1.49), House Republicans (1.23), and House Democrats (1.09); 
  • for Facebook, Senate Republicans posted the most (0.84 on average), followed by House Republicans (0.71), Senate Democrats (0.53), and House Democrats (0.48); and 
  • the data also suggest that the top 20% of Twitter and Facebook users account for over 50% of the Tweets and posts during this study.

Use of Twitter and Facebook was analyzed by coding Tweets and posts into seven categories: position taking, district or state, official congressional action, policy statement, media, personal, and other. The data suggest position taking is the most frequent type of Tweet (41%) and Facebook post (39%). This is followed by district or state (26% of Tweets and 32% of Facebook posts); official action (17% of Tweets and 21% of Facebook posts); and policy statements (16% of Tweets and 16% of Facebook posts).

Date of Report: March 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R43018
Price: $29.95

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