In our recently published survey on the online habits of Members of the European Parliament, we found that:
- 69% of MEPs use social networks (mainly Facebook) up from 33% in 2009
- 34% are on Twitter, up from 21%
- 29% write a personal blog, compared to 40% in 2009
So we’re witnessing a shift towards the snappy interaction of social networks, and a move away from the more content driven blog.
I’ll look at two things here: i) what might account for this trend; and ii) some ideas on what the trends mean in practice.
Why the shift away from blogging towards social networks and the like?
It’s not hard to see why Facebook and Twitter appear more enticing than blogging:
- They both have ready-made audiences which may likely include MEPs’ constituents. Why bother with blogging, which is more time-consuming and does not have a ready-made audience?
- In that vein, Twitter and Facebook may just seem easier to maintain, given that there isn’t much content to produce. At first glance, writing 140 characters definitely seems a breeze compared to a full-on blog post.
- Election frenzy is over. Back in 2009, MEPs running for re-election were presumably eager to do everything in their power to showcase themselves to their electorate. That incentive is obviously reduced beyond election time.
- The EP’s social media team has been extremely successful on Facebook (their blog is also successful, to be fair). Presumably a shining example to MEPs?
- Facebook is all the rage. 500 million and users and that. Everyone’s talking about Twitter too. So presumably a fair bit of bandwagon hopping has taken place.
What does it all mean?
This is the trickier question. What does all this mean in terms of MEPs’ communication with constituents and others?
On the surface, it seems like good news: MEPs are eagerly adopting tools that connect them to people at the click of a button and provide Europeans a channel to engage in the political process through dialogue with decision makers. Indeed, some MEPs like Marietje Schaake and Sophie in ’t Veld, or Commissioners like Neelie Kroes (no coincidence they’re all Dutch) are engaging in conversation and using Twitter to ask questions and learn, and presumably thus improve their ability to do their job.
However, in another sense, the figures are misleading. Another finding in the report shows that MEPs who blog and tweet think “expressing views directly” is more important than “engaging in dialogue” (by a margin of 60% and 30% in blogs and on Twitter respectively). Clearly, listening, learning and conversing play second fiddle, and you could ask: what’s the point of telling people stuff if you’re doing so in a Facebook feed or in 140 characters? Not much.
As for the drop in blogging, personally speaking I think it’s a shame, although understandable: I know from experience just how hard it is to maintain a blog. However, blogging is a fantastic medium to express views and opinions in more detail, and some MEPs reach large audiences through their blogs, like Dan Hannan and Holger Krahmer. Is the fall in blogging a trend? No, I suspect we’re in a consolidation phase, where the MEPs who appreciate the medium carry on and others who like the idea of blogging give it a go, but where fewer experiment because it’s in vogue.
Another thought is that blogging is a way to kick start conversations on Twitter or Facebook. Which begs the question: if MEPs are not blogging but are instead using Twitter and Facebook, yet many are not engaging in dialogue, what are they using the tools for? Probably to post press releases, or to state that they’ll speak an event and other such information.
In conclusion, although the findings indicate that a number of MEPs are using the channels to engage, we should take them with a slight pinch of salt. Having said that, the trend is for more MEPs to start using the tools “properly” and I have no doubt that the more they see others gaining from engagement, the greater the appropriate adoption rates will become.
Equally, I have no doubt that I’ve missed some observations, so – as ever – please feel free to add, expand, agree or disagree in the comments below. Thanks.