MPs fail to get onboard with social media

LONDON - Few MPs use social media or have their own blogs, according to a new report, that says they use internet too much to inform and not enough to talk to constituents.

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The report by the Hansard Society, sponsored by Microsoft, reveals that MPs are using the internet primarily to inform their constituents rather than engage with them. 

Called 'MPs Online: Connecting with Constituents', the report says the most widely used digital media by MPs are those that are mainly passive in nature, such as websites.

Interactive forms that could be used by MPs to develop a two-way conversation with their constituents, such as blogs and social networking, are used much less commonly.

Even when social media is used by MPs it is more often in a passive mode with parliamentarians talking but not exploiting their full interactive potential.

Key findings from the research are that 92% of MPs use email and 83% of MPs have a personal website. However, this figure drops to 23% when it comes to the number of MPs using social networking and only 11% of MPs have a blog.

Factors such as age and marginality of constituency do not appear to be a barrier, but time, resources, the abusive reputation of the blogosphere and the need to prioritise constituents' needs all make blogging unpopular with MPs.

The research demonstrates that while there is almost universal use of email and adoption of websites, MPs' use of social networking tools is more variable with factors other than party-led strategy proving more influential.

For instance London MPs are highest users of social networking tools (43%) while MPs from Wales and the Midlands are lowest users (20%). Younger MPs or those born after 1960, are highest users (38%) and newer members to the House of Commons, or those MPs elected in or after 2005 are highest users (40%) while MPs elected in or before 1986 are lowest users (5%).

Andy Williamson, director of the eDemocracy programme at the Hansard Society and author of the report, said: "MPs are transmitting and not receiving. They use the internet as a tool for campaigning and for organising their supporters, rather than opening up two-way communication with constituents.

"The use of the internet for direct political engagement still remains a largely untapped area and, on the whole, one that is not well understood by MPs.

"One indication that this is changing comes in the rise of social networking tools, the use of which is up substantially in the past three years (from 3% in 2005 to 23% today) -- suggesting the potential for greater engagement in the future.'"

Martin Warner, co-founder of the UK based networking site, said: "A growing body of research is revealing that people across all demographics are spending an increasing number of hours on a daily basis on the internet and social media is becoming a bigger part of their online activity. It’s critical for MPs and policy makers to understand the powerful role of such media in helping them to engage with their voters and their needs."

The research comes after yesterday's report that the government is planning to hire a digital guru whose job will be to help MPs connect with voters online using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Both the main parties are looking at their digital strategies and the Labour Party recently launched a campaign to encourage MPs to log onto Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch with its constituents.

'MPs Online: Connecting With Constituents' can be downloaded as a PDF from the Hansard Society website and the Microsoft website.