WASHINGTON – It turns out that Congress cares what you say on Twitter.
A new report released this week by the Congressional Management Foundation found that members of Congress are more engaged in social media than in previous years and are far more responsive to constituent concerns that come in via various social media platforms.
One of the more surprising findings was the relatively few number of comments needed for a congressional office to pay attention on an issue: 80 percent of congressional staff responding to the survey said fewer than 30 posts would cause them to “pay attention.”
The CMF’s report noted that garnering an office’s attention is significant because “it represents conduit to the lawmakers and staff: access to policy decisionmakers.” And 30 comments or interactions is relatively few. Thirty people at a town-hall meeting would capture a lawmaker’s attention, but showing up in person is different from accessing social media on a smartphone. The barrier to Congress, it appears, is easier to cross when using social media.
The study was based on two online surveys conducted between July and August 2014, targeting House and Senate communications directors and legislative aides.
There were other intriguing findings from the report.
Members of Congress are more inclined to use social media than they were in the past, and the CMF predicts that trend will continue. As more members and staff come to Congress from other workplaces, they will bring skills and expectations for having a robust social media presence.
Social media is improving relationships between lawmakers and constituents. More than 75 percent of respondents felt that social media enabled more meaningful interactions.
The debate on the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act in 2011 was a clear example of social media tipping the scales in Congress. In a case analysis, the CMF went into detail about the debate over that legislation and how the effective use of social media played a part in the bill being pulled from consideration, complete with members of Congress taking the unusual step of “un-cosponsoring” the bill.
“The authenticity of a tweet or Facebook post, whether by a citizen or lawmaker, has the inescapable power to change minds,” said Bradford Fitch, the CMF’s president and chief executive officer and co-author of the report. “This report shows a glimpse at how that process happens. It opens a window into the perceptions and motivations of how social media influences public policy decisions.”