Conversations on Twitter are now a crucial part of the public square. This week, Edelman’s D.C. office released a study on the Twitter habits of U.S. Members of Congress. Capitol Tweets: Yeas and Nays of the Congressional Twitterverse selected five metrics for Twitter success – Engagement, Mentions, Amplification, Follower Growth, and TweetLevel Influence – and looked at the behaviors that influenced those metrics across key demographics.
This week’s Friday Five includes five insights revealed by the Capitol Tweets study.
- Tweeting Across the Aisle
- Media: Mainstream to Tweetstream
- West is Best
- It’s Not Always Politics as Usual
- Twitter is in Session
Beyond sharing news with their constituents, members of Congress use Twitter to communicate with and “tweet across the aisle” to their colleagues. Around 49 percent of the handles in our data set reached across the virtual “aisle” to mention a member of the opposing political party. Of those handles, 7.5 percent were active in their bipartisan engagement, sending nine or more tweets across the aisle. Overall, 51 percent of tweets across the aisle were collaborative, rather than neutral or negative in tone.
The media are a key audience for Congressional tweets. Edelman’s 2011 Capital Staffers Index found that 52 percent of the accounts followed by Parliament and Congress belong to members of the media. The Capitol Tweets analysis found that the top five media-oriented handles mentioned by Congressional Democrats, in order, were @YouTube, @MSNBC, @cspan, @AP, and @WashingtonPost. Republicans favored @WSJ, @FoxNews, @YouTube, @FoxBusiness, and @cspan.
Members of Congress from the western United States were more likely to be mentioned on Twitter than any other region. Members from this region also saw the highest raw follower growth of any region, and were most likely to be mentioned by “highly-followed” users with 10,000 or more Twitter followers. While there are many variables at play, the West featured influential tweeters such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). In addition to these high-profile individuals, members from the western region were more likely to follow specific Twitter best practices. Members from western states were particularly effective in their use of retweets and hashtags, – more so than any other region.
While the majority of Congressional tweets – between half and two-thirds – dealt with legislation, official events, or political issues of the day, a significant portion of Congressional tweets touched upon other subjects. Members devoted roughly one in six tweets to human interest stories, such as remembering 9/11, saluting the troops, and acknowledging birthdays and holidays.
Members of Congress are not afraid to tweet while in session. In the Senate, this behavior split neatly along party lines: Senate Democrats sent slightly more tweets while the Senate was in session, while Senate Republicans were more likely to tweet while adjourned. This disparity did not carry over to the House, where representatives from both parties posted the bulk of their tweets while adjourned. Thanks to the fact that smartphones and tablets are now allowed on the floor of the House of Representatives, Twitter could potentially give constituents real-time access to their elected officials in the heat of political debate.
The data for Capitol Tweets was provided by Simply Measured, a leading social media analytics tool. These five points are just a snapshot of the insights from our study. Please see the full Capitol Tweets analysis for additional findings about Congressional Twitter behavior and how U.S. Members of Congress communicate in 140 characters or less.