Congress Adopts Social Media

Think social media is only for presidential candidates? A new study suggests congressional staff is using more and more social media.

Think social media is only for presidential candidates? A new study suggests congressional staff is using more and more social media.

A report released by The Congressional Management Foundation reveals findings about the use of social media in the U.S. Congress. The survey took place between October 12th and December 13, 2010 and had a total of 260 respondents. The Congressional Management Foundation is a non-profit organization that “focuses on improving congressional operations and enhancing citizen engagement through research, publications, training, and management services.”

The key findings reveal that social media is not only being used by Congress; there is also a stronger belief in the potential of  social media as a communication medium.  In fact, social media is, apparently, being adopted more quickly than fax machines or email. Bradford Fith, CEO and president of the Foundation notes: “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”

55% of congressional staff reported feeling that social media benefits outweigh the risks. Unsurprisingly, 66% of those under 30 felt social media was worthy of time and effort; whereas only 32% of staff 51 years and older saw the same value. Further, according to the report, “Staffers 30 and younger are less likely than their older colleagues to disagree that social media offers more benefits than risks. Only 7% of staff 30 and younger disagreed, compared to nearly one-quarter (23%) of their colleagues 51 and older who did”

However, not all social media platforms are viewed as equal. According to the report, 64% of senior managers and social media managers think Facebook is an important tool for understanding constituent views while 42% believe Twitter is important. 34% of those surveyed reported that YouTube is somewhat or very important for understanding public opinion and views. Clearly, Congress sees social media as an important place to track and gauge public opinion.

While there is some discrepancy between social media platforms, one thing Congressional staff appears to agree on is that they believe the Internet has improved dialogue between Congress and citizens. 88% of early adopter offices, and 54 % of late adopters felt that social media allowed them to reach citizens that were previously inaccessible to them.

It would be unlike Republicans and Democrats to be completely on the same page. More than a third of democratic staffers feel that that their offices spend too little on social media and Internet strategies. According to the Key Findings: “Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say their offices do not spend enough time on online communications.”

The report confirms that government organizations are not only using more and more social media; they also believe in the power and potential of social media. It would be interesting to know whether the public feels that Congress’ engagement with social media is positively or negatively impacting them. Congress certainly seems to suggest that social media is providing avenues to reach out; however, is the public feeling the effect of this outreach? The real potential of social media lies not in a one way communication from top down, but in a two way dialogue between citizen and government.