According to a recent study by the Congressional Management Foundation, nearly three out of every four staffers surveyed say social media allows Members to reach people they had not previously communicated with, and over half (55%) believe that the benefits of social media outweigh the risks, both indicative of a sweeping trend on the Hill. As such, “[m]ost 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.”
Of these social media platforms, Members and staffers look to Facebook as the preferred method of connecting with constituents online. With 74% of those surveyed saying Facebook is somewhat or very important for communicating Members’ views, the social network has a slight edge over YouTube (72%), which has been popular as video becomes an increasingly prevalent forum for disseminating messages. Just over half of respondents (51%) say Twitter is somewhat or very important for the same purpose.
While offices seem to value all three networks for getting their own messages out, the impact of social media on the Members’ ability to gauge the needs of those they represent is lessened. When asked about the importance of the online tools to helping Members understand constituents’ opinions, 64% say Facebook is somewhat or very important to this task, 42% say the same about Twitter, and only 34% feel YouTube is an important tool to collect constituent beliefs.
District visits, individual communications, and other more tangible forms of communication are still preferred, the report says, but “it is clear that congressional offices are taking Members’ Facebook friends seriously.”
Bradford Fitch, CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, told USA Today that social media tools are more prevalent and have been more readily adopted by members of this Congress than email or fax communications.
“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 democratic dialogue,” he told USA Today.
There is, however, still a generational divide over the topic of social media in Congress: two-thirds of staffers under 30 say engaging on social media is worth the offices’ time, compared with only one third of those 51 and older.