Congress would rather friend than follow you, a new study says.
Congressional social media managers find Facebook to be the most effective tool to both understand constituents’ views and to communicate the views of their members, according to a Congressional Management Foundation study of congressional social media usage to be released on Tuesday.
In the survey of senior office managers and social media managers, 64 percent said Facebook is a somewhat or very important tool for understanding the views and opinions of constituents. That compares to 42 percent for Twitter and 34 percent for YouTube.
Facebook is also viewed as the best tool for communicating the views of members. Of those surveyed, 74 percent rated it somewhat or very important for communicating the views of members, compared to 72 percent for YouTube and 51 percent for Twitter.
“What Facebook offers members of Congress is an instant public-opinion tool,” Bradford Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, told National Journal. “Now you have this unscientific tool to gather public opinion instantly.”
Conducted from October to December 2010, the study acknowledged that more recent research suggests that Twitter is gaining in popularity on Capitol Hill.
The study also found that the way a staffer perceives social media largely depends on how old they are.
Two-thirds of staffers 30 years and younger said that social media is worth the time their offices spend on it. Among staffers 51 and older, fewer than one-third shared that sentiment. The age gap was similar when staffers were asked if they feel they can control their message on social media.
“Those are big gaps between the under-30 crowd and the over-50 crowd,” Fitch said.
The study also revealed a significant gap in perception of social media between offices that self-describe themselves as early adopters of social media and offices that do not.
Sixty-five percent of the so-called early-adopter offices feel that social media offers more benefits than risks. Just 34 percent of late-adopter offices agreed with that. Seventy-nine percent of early-adopters feel their offices have the necessary expertise to manage social media, compared to 38 percent of late-adopters.
Of those early-adopter offices (34 percent of the sample), 88 percent of respondents felt social media is reaching people they were not able to reach before.
“The Internet is clearly providing benefits to citizens who want to learn about public policy,” Fitch said.
The study had 260 respondents: 72 percent from the House and 28 percent from the Senate. The majority of respondents from both chambers were Democrats (60 percent in the House and 59 percent in the Senate), reflecting the majorities Democrats had in both chambers at the time.
This article appears in the July 26, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.