Friday, 25 September 2009

Update on twitter and Parliament

This piece of research has just been published by the Universities of Plymouth & Bournemouth


They might be trailing the Conservative Party in the opinion polls but when it comes to using Twitter, the Liberal Democrats and Labour are kings of the House of Commons.

Further detail

Research has revealed that nearly 67% of all tweeting MPs belong to Labour ahead of 18% for the Liberal Democrats, with the Tories relegated into third place with just 12%. When you factor in the proportion of MPs that each party boasts, it is clear that the Lib Dems are leading the way when it comes to embracing the popular social media site. And yet overall, just 51 of our 645 MPs are classed as regular Twitter users – among them Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families; Ben Bradshaw, Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, former Tory party leadership contestant Peter Lilley and John Prescott. The figures have been released following a joint research project by the University of Plymouth and Bournemouth University into how politicians are engaging with their constituents using Social Networking Sites and modern media. Together, the institutions have identified three main indicators of the parliamentary tweeter:

Gender – women MPs are more likely to tweet. While they compose just 19.4% of the Commons they make up 29.4% of tweeters.
Party – Labour has 54.2% of all MPs, and provides 66.7% of tweeting MPs. The Liberal Democrats have only 9.8% of all MPs, but provide 17.6% of all tweeting MPs. The Conservatives have 29.8% of all MPs, but provide only 11.8% of tweeting MPs.
Portfolio – 43.1% of tweeting MPs are either Government Ministers or Official Opposition spokespersons.

MPs tend to use Twitter as a means of promoting their activities in their constituency or when they are in Westminster, and again, the research has identified several trends:

On average 27% of MPs tweet as part of an impression management strategy. MPs promote their activities, such as giving speeches, speaking in parliament, holding positions or launching a policy document to help build a positive impression of them both as a professional and as an individual.

21% of MPs’ tweets are used as promotion of self whereby the MP seeks to present a ‘hinterland’ which shows them as human beings. This tends to include details of their personal life, personal interests, such as sport and music and the use of humour.

14% of MPs’ tweets support their constituency service role where they explain what they are doing in the constituency, highlight local issues and mention local constituents.
Only 11% of MPs’ tweets are partisan in nature. So this means that MPs are far more likely to raise their own profile rather than that of their party!

Dr Darren Lilleker, of Bournemouth University, said: “So far the number of tweeting MPs is fairly small, but Twitter may be a more effective means of enhancing an MPs representative role than weblogs or social networking sites. Because Twitter is quick to update, MPs can use it to regularly explain what they are doing on behalf of constituents. “In a time of public scepticism towards politicians, Twitter may be more effective than other non face-to-face communication channels, but only if MPs’ tweets are seen as worth receiving. “With MPs finding audiences hard to reach, Twitter may well be used more widely in order to speak directly to the public. However, Twitter cannot be simply a tool for broadcasting. MPs need to talk to others in the ‘Twittersphere’ and respond to questions if they are to gain a loyal, trusting audience” One very new trend is that of MPs using Twitter to provide the public with a ‘ring-side seat’ at major occasions. For example, when the new Speaker was elected on 22 June, a number of MPs sent updates from the Chamber during the speeches and voting – with Sandra Gidley, Lib Dem MP for Romsey, Hampshire, tweeting over 100 times. The number of tweets made during June – the month selected for the purpose of the research – ranged from just one to 827 (Labour’s Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy), while the number of followers ranged from 63 to the 4,441 reading the updates of Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East. And the research has also revealed that tweeting is not necessarily a one-way street. The number of other tweeters that MPs follow ranges from zero to over 1,000, with a median of 133. Twenty two MPs follow less than 50 others tweeters, while 23 reciprocated by following at least 100, and in some cases entering into ‘public conversations’ with followers.

Dr Nigel Jackson, of the University of Plymouth, added: “There are clear differences in usage between those who barely use Twitter and the enthusiasts for whom this has quickly become a regular communication channel. Within what has now become for these pioneers a parliamentary community, Twitter has become a ‘virtual social club’ where they tease one another, gossip and occasionally score political points. “There is evidence that it is not just among sitting MPs that Twitter is becoming popular, with an increasing number of Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) also adopting the technology. This development may add significantly to citizen involvement at the next general election campaign, where voters quickly and easily question the candidates. Twitter may help break down barriers between elected and elector.”