Monday, September 21, 2009

News Flash: Politicians Like to Self-Promote

A recent article in the Washington Post titled "Tweeting Their Own Horns" reports on a recent study from the University of Maryland on Congressional use of the micro-blogging service Twitter.

I know this will shock you: it turns out that politicians generally use Twitter to promote themselves. The researchers reviewed tweets through February, 2009 as well as postings in June, 2009 and August, 2009 to make comparisons about when Congress is in session versus out. According to the lead researcher:

"Twitter by its nature is a very self-absorbed service," said Jennifer Golbeck, lead researcher and assistant professor in the university's College of Information Studies. "Politicians are very self-important people."

Now, I think it's appropriate to cut our elected leaders a little slack. I'll bet that if you checked out most of the Twitter feeds out there, you'd find that the majority of users are focused on "self-promotion" versus "world peace."

While you can point to a few uses of Twitter as an interactive tool for promoting dialogue between parties, for the most part it is still being used by EVERYONE, not just politicians, as a mechanism for promoting a business, a cause or one's own daily routine. I'll confess that I use it ( to promote my particular cause (umm, and the services I provide around that cause) of making everyone on the planet better advocates. See how cleverly I snuck that in?

I guess my main point is that while the study does make for interesting reading, I hope people won't be using it as ammunition to feel even more cynical about our elected officials than we already do. As with all new technologies, it will take time to move Twitter from a promotional tool to an interactive tool. It's probably a good idea to think of Twitter as an evolution, not a revolution.

And if you're looking for ways to be part of the evolution, check out the TweetCongress site, which is working to connect citizens with their legislators in whole, new 140 character or less ways.


Jennifer Golbeck said...

That is definitely the most catchy quote I gave during my interviews, but you'll find that the actual study is completely neutral about how Twitter is being used. We simply read and categorized about 6,000 tweets with an eye toward which were being used to improve transparency or communication (as advocated by Tweet Congress). It turns out those are rare, but present. There is nothing wrong with most of the content Congresspeople are putting on Twitter now, but there are ways to make it a more powerful tool to help the legislators and the citizens.

Stephanie Vance said...

I am 100% in agreement, and found both the article and the report really useful. Thanks for the great work (and for reading my blog! :))