Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are our Federal politicians 'connected' enough online?

In my copious spare time, I've been pulling together a list of social media channels used by our Federal politicians.

The question I wanted to answer was "Are our Federal politicians using social media effectively to connect with their constituents?", particularly given the level of activity by government agencies, lobby groups and media online.

Surprisingly it wasn't easy to find a comprehensive list of social media accounts operated by Federal politicians. Both the Liberal party and ALP websites were very inaccurate (20-30% incorrect) as well as hard to search - which surprised me considering the electoral value of making it easy for citizens to connect to their local member. It also surprised me that individual MPs were not checking that their information remained accurate in these sites.

Independent services such as MyPolitician, TweetMP and MPTweets were also inaccurate (10-20% incorrect) although they remain fantastic statistical services. Considering these are labours of love I can appreciate the struggle to maintain the currency of information. (However if I were a member of parliament I'd ensure my details were submitted to these and other directories when I first joined each social media network.)

The APH also doesn't provide this information - which isn't really surprising, however they do provide links to websites and email contact forms for members (and fantastic downloadable files which I used for much of the rest of my information). Should social media accounts still be treated differently to email contact information?

Anyway - onto the important bits....

As I've discussed before, my FOI request (which is still in progress) found that about 73% of Australian Government agencies use social media for official purposes. The 2012 Yellow Pages Sensis Social Media report indicated that 62% of Australians use social media - so how did politicians do?

Quite well I am glad to say.

I found that 72.12% of Australian Federal politicians used at least one social media channel, with slightly more of our male politicians (72.67%) than our female (70.77%)  having a social media presence. This is the reverse of the normal statistics for the Australian population, where women are generally more likely to use social media (particularly Facebook) than men.

The Senate did far worse than the House of Representatives, with only 58% of Senators using at least one social media channel, compared to 78% of Reps MPs. I found this quite intriguing given that Senators cover entire states rather than smaller, more easily visitable, electorates. Perhaps it reflects their term length, or a lower level of direct citizen engagement. I can't see a link based on age or gender.

By party, the Greens win on percentages, with 100% of their 10 elected parliamentarians using social media and all of them on Twitter.

The Liberals outpaced the ALP, with 76.60%, or 72 of their 94 elected parliamentarians using some form of social media and 61 on Twitter. The ALP only had 67.65%, or 69 of their 102 elected parliamentarians on social media, with 57 using Twitter.


The Nationals sit on 50%, with six of their 12 elected parliamentarians on social media - and all five on Twitter. Of the eight independents, six use social media (75%), with five of these on Twitter. The two holdouts are Nick Xenophon and Tony Windsor - probably for very different reasons.

Looking at specific social media services, Facebook (133 accounts) and Twitter (132 accounts) dominate with an almost equal number of accounts at about 58% of parliamentarians. This is interesting when you consider that 97% of social media users in Australia are on Facebook, however only 14% use Twitter. In this case I think it can be explained by the theory that Twitter is far more politically influential as it is the haunt of most of Australia's journalists and many influential stakeholders to whom politicians wish to connect.

Female politicians are slightly ahead on Facebook (60% to 58.39% of males) while males lead on Twitter (59.01% to 56.92%). Note that percentages are not absolute, that 60% of females on Facebook represents 39 accounts, whereas the 58.39% of males represents 94 accounts.

Next comes YouTube with 15.49% of parliamentarians having personal accounts (I didn't count party accounts). Here males are well ahead, with 30, or 18.63% of male politicians having accounts compared to only 5, or 7.69% of females.

Flickr follows with 4.42%, or 10, parliamentarians, and bringing up the rear was MySpace - where I could only find 2 politicians still claiming to use the service.

As you'd expect from the Senate vs House of Representatives comparison above, Senators were far less likely to use all of the services. Facebook was used by only 39.47% (30) of Senators compared to 68.67% (103) MPs and Twitter was only used by 50% (38) of Senators, compared to 62.67% (94) MPs.

The type of electorate was a factor as well. Unsurprisingly 85.37% of MPs in Inner Metropolitan seats used a social media channel, compared to 78.72% of those in Outer Metropolitan and 69.05% in Rural seats. Provincial seats, however, bucked the trend, with a 85% usage rate. For an explanation of these terms refer to the bottom of the AEC's party codes page.

Overall I think our Federal politicians have done a decent job of establishing social media channels - although Senators have some way until they catch up with the lower house.

Finally, I am very surprised that Australia's Minister for Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy (Senator Stephen Conroy) appears to not use social media at all, doesn't have a personal website, and even the link to his Parliamentary website is broken.


The way in which our politicians are using social media channels is a post for another occasion, requiring far more analysis over time.

In case you want to see for yourself what our politicians are saying online, I've established a Twitter account to follow all Federal politicians and created listed based on their house and party affiliations. You can view these as follows:
A final caveat - people join and leave social media networks all the time, so these figures are 'point in time'.  Also, although I did spend a lot of time searching for social media services used by politicians, I might have missed some, so the figures are representative, but unlikely to be 100% accurate.

Note that as I did spend more time looking than a regular citizen would, I'm not prepared to take all the blame for not finding a politician's Facebook page when they've hidden it from sight really well (or locked their Twitter account as several politicians appear to have done). Politicians who want to engage online need to make these channels very easy to find - as should their parties.

All the information I've collected, and the statistics generated, are embedded below. If you see anything that is incomplete and want to help populate the spreadsheet, drop me a line via email or my @craigthomler Twitter account. I'll even populate it for you if you add comments with the missing information.

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