New Report Shows Capitol Hill Uses Social Media to Gauge Opinion and Communicate with Constituents
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Most Members of Congress have thoroughly integrated social media into their communications operations, and are using new media tools to gauge public opinion, communicate with constituents, and reach new people, according to a survey of congressional staff. While pockets of resistance remain -- especially among older staffers and offices which identify themselves as "late adopters" of technology -- a majority of staff report that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube now rival traditional communications tools used by Congress.
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#SocialCongress: Perceptions and Use of Social Media on Capitol Hill was released today by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to improve office operations on Capitol Hill and build better understanding and communications between Members of Congress and constituents. The research was based on a survey of 260 congressional staff conducted between October and December 2010.
"The integration of social media into congressional operations has resulted from individual Members, congressional leaders and forward-thinking institutional offices driving the process and facilitating innovation. While difficult to precisely quantify, it is hard not to conclude that both legislators and citizens have benefited from a robust new offering of communications vehicles and platforms," the report states.
Among the key findings:
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the senior managers and social media managers surveyed think Facebook is a somewhat or very important tool for understanding constituents' views and opinions, 42% say Twitter is somewhat or very important, and 34% say YouTube is somewhat or very important tool for understanding constituents' views and opinions.
- Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the senior managers and social media managers we surveyed think Facebook is somewhat or very important for communicating their Members' views. YouTube is viewed by nearly three-quarters of staffers surveyed (72%) as somewhat or very important for communicating their Members' views. More than half (51%) of the staffers surveyed say Twitter is a somewhat or very important vehicle for their Member's communications.
- A strong majority of staffers (72%) believe that social media allows their Members to reach people they had previously not communicated with. A majority of the staffers (55%) feel social media offers their offices more benefits than risks.
- Two-thirds (66%) of the staffers 30 years old and younger feel social media is worth the time their offices spend on it, compared to only about one-third (32%) of their colleagues 51 and older who feel the same.
- More than one-third of the staffers surveyed feel their offices spend too little time on online town hall meetings, posting videos, their official website, and their official blog. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say their offices do not spend enough time on online communications.
"Social media tools have been adopted more rapidly than previous technologies," said Bradford Fitch, President and CEO of CMF. "These technologies are starting to change how Congress communicates with their constituents and is allowing Members to reach citizens who otherwise might not engage in the democratic dialogue," he said.
The report is part of CMF's initiative, the Partnership for a More Perfect Union. The Partnership seeks to enrich the relationship between citizens and Congress through education, building trust, and providing innovative yet pragmatic tools to facilitate purposeful two-way communication. Through the Partnership, CMF also analyzes and grades congressional websites, and will issue the Gold Mouse Awards for the best websites in November 2011.