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Republicans in Congress More Effective on Twitter, Study Finds

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, March 22 2012

Image: Shutterstock

Congressional Republicans use Twitter more effectively than Congressional Democrats, according to a political analysis of Twitter conducted by the public relations firm Edelman and Simply Measured, a social media analytics firm. The study analyzed 456 congressional Twitter handles from September to December 2011.

Republicans in Congress received almost twice as many replies as Democrats on average, according to the study. The study also broke down congressional use of Twitter geographically. Members from the West had the fastest follower growth and were mentioned most frequently; members from the Midwest received the most replies on Twitter in response to their posts; and members from the Northeast saw significantly more retweets than any other region. Senators had more replies than Representatives. The study notes that is likely due to the fact that Senators have more constituents.

Senate Republicans had the most mentions, an average of 5,400 per handle, compared to 4,419 mentions per handle for Senate Democrats. House Republicans saw an average of 3,720 mentions per handle, compared to 1,584 for House Democrats.

In general, Senators experienced a higher number of retweets on average than Members of the House. While on the surface there wasn't much of a difference between Democrats and Republicans on that measure, that point "changed dramatically" when the study looked at "highly followed" individuals with 10,000 or more followers.

Republicans earned an average of 14 retweets from “highly-followed” individuals, while Democrats averaged just four. The difference here is one of quality, not quantity: while both parties were equally likely to be retweeted, Republicans were much more likely to have their messages spread by Twitter users with a large, established audience.

Using the TweetLevel tool created by Edelman, the study also analyzed individual Members of Congress. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) had the most influence and highest engagement, followed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) under the first measurement and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) under the second measurement. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a notable opponent of the Stop Online Piracy Act, was third in terms of influence. McCain was first for popularity and trust.

The study also looked closer at what Republicans were doing differently on Twitter than Democrats.

Republicans, the study found, tweeted 52 percent more, and in particular had 60 percent more links to multimedia like photos and videos, and also on average tweeted 75 hashtags, compared to the Democrats who tweeted 54 hashtags. In addition, Republicans made reference to specific pieces of legislation 3.5 more times than Democrats.

While Senators posted more tweets on average, with more hashtags, links and multimedia content, their tweets in general were more of the broadcast variety, while Representatives posted more retweets and replies.

Members of Congress from the West saw more retweets and posted more hashtags, links, multimedia and tweets about legislation than any other region -- and had more follower growth. In contrast, Members from the South had the slowest follower growth, and the least mentions and retweets. While they posted more replies than the other regions, they tweeted the least about specific legislation. Members of Congress from the Northeast saw the most retweets, but posted the fewest replies and fewest retweets compared to the other regions.

In terms of timing, the study found that the "most mentioned" Members tweeted earlier in the day, beginning earlier in the morning and peaking between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The "most mentioned" also tweeted more towards the end of the week on Thursday, and also posted more tweets over the weekend. Senators, and in particular Senate Democrats, were also more likely to tweet while in session, but all Members of Congress, however, were not very likely to tweet within 30 minutes of a vote.

In analyzing the content of Congressional tweets, the study found that 1 in 8 tweets were politically combative, "defined as casting the opposition in a negative light and polarizing the conversation along party lines." About 1 in 6 tweets were related to human interest stories, such as remembering 9/11, saluting the troops and acknowledging birthdays or holidays.

The study found that nearly 50 percent of Members tweeted "across the aisle" to the political opposition, exchanges that represented about two percent of the total tweets analyzed.

Of those "across the aisle" tweets, 51 percent of them had a "collaborative" point of view, as opposed to critical or informative. House Republicans were slightly more likely to be critical when reaching out across the aisle, with that sentiment expressed in 34 percent of those tweets, while House Democrats were more likely to be positive or neutrally informative with 42 percent collaborative, 28 percent critical and 21 percent informative "across the aisle tweets". But in the Senate, Republicans were more likely to be collaborative, at 73 percent, compared to 64 percent for Democrats. The study found that members aged between 40 and 49 engaged with the opposition most often, as did those Members with the least the tenure.

In an analysis of Presidential keywords, the study found that around eight percent of tweets included references to “Obama,” “WhiteHouse,” “President” and “POTUS” or @BarackObama or @WhiteHouse. Republicans, in particular Senate Republicans, were more likely use those keywords.

President Obama’s end-of-July #compromise campaign provides an interesting case study of Congressional interactions with the White House on Twitter. During this campaign, @BarackObama tweeted the names of all Republican Senators and Representatives, and encouraged followers to contact them and urge support for “a bipartisan solution to the deficit crisis. ”

Initially, this seemed to backfire on the president. He was accused of “Twitter spam” and the @BarackObama account lost roughly 36, 000 followers in the immediate aftermath of the campaign.

Obama recovered about 70 percent of those followers, however, and went on to become the third individual – trailing only musicians Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber – and the first politician to reach 10 million Twitter followers, doing so on Sept. 12, 2011.

The study notes that Edelman's global 2011 Capital Staffers Index indicated that 50 percent of accounts followed by members of Parliament and and Congress belonged to members of the media. While the top five media-oriented handles mentioned by Congressional Democrats, in order, were @YouTube, @msnbc, @cspan, @AP and @washingtonpost, the top five of Republicans were @WSJ, @FoxNews, @YouTube, @FoxBusiness and @cspan. Of course, members of the media are paying close attention to Congressional tweets, particularly as a source of more authentic or timely political tweets.

Edelman cites Oliver Knows, a White House Reporter for Yahoo News and former political correspondent for Agence France-Presse:"If it’s a choice between a statement at 4 or a tweet at 2, I want the tweet.”

Based on the study, Edelman recommends the following best practices for Members of Congress on Twitter: tweet regularly, tweet links to relevant and compelling content, use hashtags, retweet others, tweet early in the day, later in the week and on weekends, and tweet in session. While the study did not find a correlation between Twitter replies and the study's success metrics, it does encourage members to use symbols before replies to make them visible to all followers.