For my final year dissertation I chose to look at what use MPs’ are making of social media. Focussing on their use of Twitter, I set out to answer two questions: which MPs are tweeting and what are they using it for?
To answer the second question I took a random sample of 40 MPs from those who tweet, and then coded their 200 most recent tweets. There were three areas looked at: the content of the tweets (what issues they were on: international, national, constituency or non-political), the purpose of the tweets (were they promoting themselves or their party, explaining their position or something else) and the type of tweet (were they simply posting their thoughts, saying what they were doing or taking the time to respond and communicate with people).
|0 to 5%||4.2||57.5||30.9||7.4||1400|
|5% to 10%||6.9||53.8||27.8||11.5||1928|
|10% to 20%||2.6||39.1||36||22.3||2077|
|20% to 30%||4.2||55||26.2||14.6||1509|
Tweet content by majority (% of total tweets)
64% of the tweets sampled were on national issues, by far the most common topic. The second most common topic was MPs’ constituencies at 20%, whilst non-political tweets accounted for 14.7% and ones on international issues just 1.3%. Unsurprisingly a recurring topic is the economy, with MPs regularly attacking the opposing parties. Often Twitter simply appeared to act as an echo chamber, with MPs repeating what was being said by their party in the news or in the House of Commons.
Tweet purpose by party (% of total tweets)
When it came to the purpose of the tweets most were explaining their or their party’s position or opinion on the matter, with a similar amount also promoting their or their party’s activities. When it came to tweeting about their constituency it was often to promote what they were doing, such as visiting a local group, attending an event , or saying how well attended their surgery was. A small number of MPs responded to constituents with problems their constituents wanted addressing, but these accounted for only 2.6% of the tweets sampled. It looks like people rarely try to contact their MP through Twitter when they have a problem they want to contact them about.
One possibility considered before carrying out the research was that there would be a high number of non-political tweets designed to make the MPs appear more ‘in-touch’ or ‘human’. A recent example of this was George Osborne’s much derided burger tweet before his spending review speech.
— George Osborne (@George_Osborne) June 25, 2013
However, non-political tweets accounted for only 14.7% of the tweets sampled, meaning over 85% were political. And of those 14.7%, few had the staged feel of Cameron’s or Osborne’s tweets. They were just tweeting about their interests. Perhaps this is because many backbenchers tweet for themselves, rather than having an aide do it for them.
|Party||Conversation||Status||Pass Along||News||Comments/ Opinion||N|
Tweet type by party (% of total tweets)
One final area to look at was the type of tweets posted, the main point of interest here being whether MPs were communicating with the public much. 28.7% of the tweets sampled were communication with other users using Twitter’s ‘@’ function. Some of these were conversations with fellow MPs, journalists and other MPs, but a large number were with members of the public. It has been suggested that the Internet and social media could herald a new relationship between elected representatives and the public, and there was certainly a willingness to interact and respond to people from a good number of MPs. However, this willingness varied from MP to MP and there are still over 200 who do not use Twitter at all. If there is a new relationship forming, it is still in its very early stages.
James Donald recently graduated from the University of Nottingham with a BA in Politics.