Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Getting with the program

I like social media. A lot. If you add it all together—blogs, podcasts, YouTube, Twitter and even Facebook, I spend most of my Internet time using social media of one sort or another.

Another thing I use the Internet for is research, particularly about politics and government. The amount of information made easily available online by national and local governments has exploded in recent years, so much so that I’m pretty much shocked if I can’t find some government statistic, report, legislative information or similar on the Internet.

My two uses of the Internet— social media and research—have been converging more and more, and now a new Parliamentary Library Research Paper describes the extent to which New Zealand members of Parliament are using social networking sites, and how that relates to their official duties.

The top five sites the paper lists as social networking sites are Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, Twitter and Wordpress (in that order). Blogger and Wordpress are blogging sites, and the paper doesn’t look at those in detail.

92 of the 121 MPs (about 76%) had Facebook accounts (November 2010), making it MPs’ most popular social networking site. Not surprisingly (to me, anyway), Green Party MPs were seemingly first to adopt Facebook. However, 13 MPs have restricted profiles, meaning members of the public—voters—can’t view their pages or details without first being added as a “friend”. That's just dumb.  Also, I don’t think which MPs have the most Facebook “friends” or the most “Likes” says anything about MPs or Parliament.

I thought it was interesting that 86% of female MPs are on Facebook, as compared to 75% of male MPs. 88% of List MPs (who don’t represent an electorate) are on Facebook, as compared to only 72% of Electorate MPs (those who do represent electorates).

Twitter use is very different. Only 43% of MPs have Twitter accounts (November 2010). Apart from that, the differences noted above are similar: 55% of female MPs are on Twitter, compared to 38% of male MPs. 59% of List MPs are on Twitter, compared to 31% of Electorate MPs.

The paper says, “There has been much conversation on Twitter between members of the public and MPs using @replies.” I haven’t seen much of that. I follow several MPs, only one follows me back, and most seldom interact with me or, as near as I can tell, anyone else (except, maybe, people they already knew or their early followers). Some MPs share links to articles or photos, or forward the links others have Tweeted. But most of the MPs I follow simply “broadcast” statements which, though one-way, can nevertheless be interesting.

As with Facebook, I think the number of followers an MP has is pretty irrelevant. The ratio of followed to follow does indicate a certain level of connectedness, however, and the number of Tweets they post shows how often the MP uses the service.

YouTube, the paper says, was New Zealanders’ fifth most-visited site, making it “one of the most useful social networking tools. It allows engagement with many people internationally and nationally, particularly those unable or unwilling to read party information.” Although some say parties are preaching to the converted, there nevertheless is a lot engagement. National leads the pack with the most videos uploaded, followed by the Greens, but Labour’s average views per video leaves them all in the dust. I don’t know what, if anything, that says about those parties.

All up, the report is an interesting snapshot and good first look at how New Zealand MPs are using social media. There’s a lot more research and analysis that can be done on this, especially after the results of the upcoming 2011 election. But for now, check out the full report—there’s a lot of analysis I didn’t even touch on in this post.

Appropriately enough, I found out about this report from a Tweet from the New Zealand Green Party (@NZGreens), one of several NZ political accounts I follow. This post has been slightly revised since it was first published. And, I Tweeted its existence, of course.

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