[UPDATE 7/12/10: I updated the link to the paper from Justin’s site to the umd site where the paper was officially published. jrj]
I thought I would give the readers of FGI the first scoop on some early research that is coming out of the University of Maryland on how members of Congress are using Twitter.
Abstract: Twitter is a microblogging service boasting over 7 million members and growing at a tremendous rate. With the buzz surrounding the service have come claims of its ability to transform the way people interact and share information, and calls for public figures to start using the site. In this study, we examine the way Twitter is being used by legislators, particularly by members of the United States Congress. We read and coded over 4,500 posts from all members of Congress using the site. Our analysis shows that Congresspeople are primarily using Twitter to post information, particularly links to news articles about them and their blog posts, and to report on their simple activities. These tend not to provide new insights into government or the legislative process or to improve transparency; rather, they are vehicles for self-promotion. However, Twitter is also facilitating direct communication between Congresspeople and citizens, though this is a less popular activity. In this paper, we report on our results, analysis, and provide suggestions for how Twitter can be used by Congresspeople in ways that benefit the citizens, not just the PR machines of the legislators themselves.
From the results of this study we found that Twitter is being used effectively in some spaces and not as effectively in others. In particular, Twitter has created opportunities for increased communication between citizens and Congresspeople, but the majority of posts contained information or location and activities which were being used for outreach and self promotion rather than to provide information that is helpful to citizens.
* Note this paper has been submitted for an upcoming conference but has NOT been accepted, peer-reviewed, or published. Please DO NOT CITE this article but if you are interested feel free to contact me.