The rise of social media has undeniably changed the way we communicate, conduct business, and go about our daily lives. Social media services such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and YouTube offer rapid, easy, and efficient ways to communicate with large numbers of people. Recognizing this, Congressmen and Senators (or tech-savvy staff members on their behalf) are using social media to maintain frequent and direct communication with constituents.
Compared to the time and expense of traditional methods of communications – writing letters, mass mailings, town hall meetings, phone calls – social media provides Members of Congress with many advantages in communicating with their states or districts. Social media, of course, does not replace these traditional methods of constituent communications but social media – particularly, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and YouTube – is now essential for public officials. Email too has become routine. Before 1995, most Members of Congress rarely, if ever, communicated with constituents via email. In 2011, Members of the House received 243 million emails and Senators received 83 million emails.
A fascinating, data-rich report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) explains the latest trends in the use of Twitter and Facebook by Senators and Congressmen (collectively described here as Members of Congress).
Facebook and Twitter Use among Members of Congress
In 2009, less than half (39 percent) of Members of Congress had Twitter accounts. As of 2012, a large majority of Senators and Congressmen had official accounts registered with both Twitter and Facebook:
Of Members of the House of Representatives:
- 75 percent had both Twitter and Facebook accounts.
- 14 percent had only a Facebook account.
- 4 percent had only a Twitter account.
- 7 percent had neither.
- 67 percent had both Twitter and Facebook accounts.
- 11 percent had only a Facebook account.
- 11 percent had only a Twitter account.
- 11 percent had neither.
Facebook and Twitter Use by Political Party and Chamber of Congress
Generally speaking, Republicans have been more active in social media than Democrats. By 2012, 56 percent of Members of Congress with Twitter accounts were Republicans, while 44 percent of Members with Twitter accounts were Democrats. Overall, Republicans had higher adoption rates for both platforms in both chambers of Congress.
- House Republicans were the most likely group to use social media, with most (87 percent) having a Twitter account and almost all (95 percent) having a Facebook account.
- House Democrats had an 80 percent adoption rate for Twitter and a 90 percent adoption rate for Facebook.
- Of Senate Republican offices, 83 percent used Twitter and 81 percent used Facebook.
- Of Senate Democrat offices, 78 percent used Twitter and 77 percent used Facebook.
Frequency of Twitter and Facebook Use on Capitol Hill
During the study, Members of Congress posted, collectively, an average of 504 Tweets per day and 266 Facebook posts per day. Senators were the most active users of both social media platforms.
- Senators were somewhat more active in both Twitter and Facebook, posting an average 1.5 Tweets per day and .7 Facebook posts per day.
- Members of the House posted an average 1.2 Tweets per day and .6 Facebook posts per day.
By Political Party:
- Republicans used both Twitter and Facebook more often that Democrats did. Republicans posted an average 1.3 Tweets per day and .7 Facebook posts per day.
- Democrats posted an average 1.2 Tweets per day and .5 Facebook posts per day.
By Party and Chamber:
- Senate Republicans were the most frequent users of Facebook with .8 posts per day.
- House Democrats were the least frequent users of Facebook with .5 posts per day.
- Senate Republicans were the most frequent users of Twitter with 1.5 Tweets per day.
- House Democrats were the least frequent users of Twitter, with 1.1 Tweets per day.
What are Congressmen and Senators Saying on Social Media?
CRS analyzed Congressional Tweets and Facebook posts, and divided them up into seven general categories. Each Tweet or post could be counted in more than one category. The categories are listed below in order of prevalence:
- Position Taking: These involve taking a stand on a policy or issue, including specific bills.
- District or State: These include mentions of trips or events in a Members home state or district.
- Official Congressional Action: These posts include mentioning an official duty of the Members job, including taking a vote or attending a House or Senate Committee hearing.
- Policy Statement: These posts reference public policy but do not take a political stance on the matter.
- Media: These include mentions of upcoming media appearance and often link to a media source.
- Personal: These posts are specific to the Member’s personal life and are unrelated to work, such as mentioning a favorite sports team.
- Other Topics: These are items that do not fit in the other categories.
To read the full CRS report – Social Networking and Constituent Communications: Members’ Use of Twitter and Facebook – click here (PDF). For these insights on social networking by Senators and Congressmen, CRS draws on a wealth of data collected by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.