By Drew Bulman, James Loughlin, Chris Jensen, Nathan Whittmann, Lindsey Schneckloth
Over the last year, the explosion of Twitter as a communication medium— thanks in large part to the Iran elections—has crept into all walks of life, from celebrities and bloggers to local and national politicians. This report will focus specifically on eight members of the British Conservative (Tory) Party, taking note of their tweeting habits in regards to both content and consistency.
We will see that the use of this communication medium varies significantly between MPs, highlighting the differences of MP’s opinions as to whether Twitter is an effective tool for affecting one’s constituency (MP Eric Pickles, for example, has tweeted some 60 times since signing up, while his colleague Grant Shapps has recently exceeded 600 tweets). In addition to conducting a content analysis of what these MPs’ tweets are generally saying, this report also contains data that categorizes how the constituency is responding to the aforementioned politicians by conducting a constituency-tweet content analysis backed up by quantitative data—the results of which vary greatly (For example, Eric Pickles, who has only posted 60 tweets, has many more Twitter followers than many of his colleagues who tweet much more often).
Fig. 1 - Minister Twitter use statistics for our two data samples
To anyone who watches cable news, it’s clear that Twitter has become an increasingly popular social medium , at least for the time being, and this is reflected in the steady and significant increase in followers all eight of our selected politicians have seen over the last several months. In light of such a burgeoning medium, this report touches on a very broad set of variables, from the already mentioned follower and tweet count, to constituency interaction and tweet content analysis. It is our hope that, through the rest of this report, the data speaks largely for itself.
Fig. 2 - Twitter habits of the Conservative Ministers
MP Twitter use analysis
An extra note: of the eight members of Parliament that are followed in the Conservative party, two of those MPs, Nadine Dorries and Grant Shapps, conceal their individual tweets, therefore using archivist we were not able to get any of the following information from them. However, the other six MPs worked out just fine. This sections deals with eight categories of tweets and which MPs are tweeting under these categories.
The category "local" deals with local events and concerns. The Conservative members tweeted about local events fourteen times among the six we can track, with Graham Stuart messaging the most about local events with six tweets. Usually it is a statement about what he did during the day in terms of meeting constituents or diplomats, whereas David Mundell tweets about just walking out and about. Eric Pickles talks about the same things as Graham Stuart in who he will be meeting and if the meeting was profitable. Douglas Carswell did not have any local tweets, neither did David Jones, and David Evennett had only one local tweet, “Visiting the University of Warwick.”
"Join me" messages refer to the Member of Parliament asking his followers to join him or her at a speech or event. Messages asking the public to join the members of parliament somewhere for a speech or discussion were one of the fewest, with only five messages amongst the six members of Parliament we can track. David Mundell talks about two speeches, one he is merely attending and one where he is the speech giver. Graham Stuart also messages about a speech he is giving in Harrogate, and Eric Pickles tweets about giving a speech to the University of London’s Conservative Society. Douglas Carswell, David Evennett and David Jones never message about joining them.
"Policy" messages deal statements about a point of view. There were five messages dealing with policy, with Douglas Carswell sending the most messages with four. In his tweets he often references a webpage but comments on it before. David Evennett does the same thing in one message but in the other declares his vote on a bill. This is by far the least tweeted about coding. What is interesting is that both Members of Parliament that were messaging about policy were not messaging about local events or joining them.
"Refer-me" messages reference the author somehow, either their webpage or other work. There were forty-six refer-me messages, by far the most of any category. These were mostly from two Members of Parliament, Douglas Carswell and David Jones; they frequently used twitter to refer to their respective blogs and web-pages. David Jones even mentions in a message that he joined twitter in order to get links to his blog out on the web. Graham Stuart often mentions his website but doesn’t provide a specific link; David Evennett also gives links to his blogs, as does Eric Pickles in his one refer-me message.
"Refer-other" messages refer to someone else’s words or work. In terms of refer-other messages, there were a total of eleven messages. Both David Mundell and Graham Stuart had no such messages. The vast majority of these messages were referring to someone else’s webpage or blog, but there were some exceptions; for instance, Eric Pickles referenced both his fellow parliament members as well as his readers in two of his tweets, but these were the lone exceptions. Pickles was by far doing the most referring to others in his tweets, a total of seven times.
"Criticism" messages deal with criticizing either the government or other parties. There were a total of thirteen tweets criticizing the government or other members of parliament. Douglas Carswell is particularly cynical in his criticisms of the government; his most frequent criticism is the seeming worthlessness of parliament. The criticism messages are frequently sarcastic as well, such as those of Carswell and also David Jones, who references people more than policies. Graham Stuart criticizes the environmental policies of the government in four of his messages, far more than any other MP.
"Party messages" deal with party-related views or actions. As far as members of parliament mentioning their party news and information, in this case the conservative party, there are only seven messages, and five of those are by Eric Pickles. All Pickles’ messages are congratulations to conservatives that apparently had been recently elected. David Jones wrote the other two messages, and he talks about the party goings-on and more specifically his roles for the party in a given day. The other four members of parliament never talk about party goings-on.
"Interaction" messages refer to an individual or interaction with a constituent. After refer-me messages, interaction messages are the most frequent, with twenty-three overall. Almost all messages refer to a follower of the MP: Graham Stuart corresponds to one JohnnyDaukes, apparently to set up an interview with a Michael Gove; David Jones’ messages to his followers are more just short messages thanking them or wishing them well; and Eric Pickles seems to be rebuking a message that suggested that Britain would be in a depression if they followed Tory advice.
Fig. 3 - Percent of Minister-related tweets actually authored by the Minister; Fluctuation
MP constituent Twitter use analysis
Overall selection of citizen tweets was done at random through selecting every third tweet until one hundred tweets were selected. If there were less than one hundred the process was run with whatever sample was provided.
Citizen’s communication to members of the British parliament through twitter can’t simply be summed up with one generalization. While many citizens post politically motivated questions, comments, and insults that doesn’t necessarily mean everything posted is politically related. Often citizens will link MPs to things they find interesting, or thank them for something they have done. Citizens also use it as a direct form to gain access to the MP. For example “@grahamstuart thanks Graham. Could you put us in touch via email? I'm meeting with Cummings and Diana Johnson DCSF on 5th in HoP.” Is a tweet posted by a citizen seeking a closer level of communication with presumably their local MP. Overall twitter seems to communicate on a more personable level than one would expect.
The tone of tweets range from pleasant, to things your mother generally wouldn’t like to hear coming from your mouth. Each tweet under an MP is in most cases specific to them unless some type of generalization is made. MP Nadine Dorries for example seems to take the brunt of much twitter abuse. They majority of her citizen’s tweets involve them insulting her in one way or another, which may be linked to the fact she seems to blocked many of them. For example a common MP Dorries citizen tweet might look something like this. “@nadinedorriesmp she saved 3000 ravers from pneumonia on Sunday, god bless DCs rose.” Her citizen’s often posted in a sarcastic tone that doesn’t carry well over twitter, but this habit seems to continue regardless. However this isn’t to say all tweets towards MP carry a negative tone. MP Graham Stuart often receives praise through twitter, with a clear majority of his citizens tweeting positive things about him. This is most likely related to the fact that MP Stuart seems to reply in a timely manner to citizen’s tweets, using twitter to set up interviews and communicate directly to his constituents.
Conversation through twitter involving citizens and the MPs seems consistent. Depending on the MP conversations may range from quick replies or none at all. Generally the amount of followers is directly related to the quickness of the reply. The more active the MP on twitter, the more followers and generally a quicker reply was made to a citizen’s comment. Citizens have even gone as far as to ask MPs for interviews over twitter, and some MPs (in this case MP Stuart) are kind enough to not only reply in a timely manner ( in this case the same day) but to give the interview. Other MPs in our research were less timely in their replies. Overall conversations are taking place, and the majority of them are not only done in a timely manner, but for a reason.
Fig. 4 - Constituent Twitter interaction with MPs
MP Twitter user of note
In looking into the tweet habits of the eight MP’s in the Conservative party, it became clear that Graham Stuart is by far the most personable and well liked by his followers. Unlike the other MP’s on twitter who generally only tweeted with links to their blogs discussing their opinions, Graham Stuart often wrote updates on his Twitter commenting on his day and its various happenings. While his tweets often discussed his politics, similar to the other MP’s, Graham’s tweets seemed very personable and often incorporated some aspect of hope for a meeting, debate, or upcoming vote. After the meeting, debate, etc… he very often tweeted as to the result of the meeting and often spoke highly of the people he had met with.
“First evidence session of Great Schools Commission today. It's looking at what difference a great school environment makes. Small is my view”
“In second child poverty bill cttee of the day. Had constituents in at lunchtime and a good discussion ensued.”
When looking at his interactions with his followers or constituents, it was evident that he took the time to address their questions or concerns in a timely fashion. In situations where he met with some of his followers, the followers would tweet at Graham saying how nice it was to meet him and Graham always tweeted back saying that it was nice to meet them, really showing his enthusiasm for his followers. Also when followers asked for a favor, Graham would tweet back and let them know that he would do what he could and often he was able to help the person out. Graham Stuart even has his own appreciation group on Facebook.
“@grahamstuart There is a new group on Facebook: The Graham Stuart MP Appreciation Group. http://tiny.cc/V1png #WeLoveHomeEd Please RT!”
“@johnnydaukes Good to meet you too. Have a look at Balls' evidence to the Select Cttee this am.”
Overall Graham Stuart is well liked and very personable with all of his followers, making him in our opinion the most personable MP in the Conservative Party on Twitter.