Congress & Social Media: Beyond Facebook & Twitter


The client for this Policy Research Project (PRP) is the  Congressional Research Service (CRS). As part of its ongoing efforts to assure the highest possible level of service to the Congress, CRS requires expert assistance in its efforts to (1) identify the types of social media used by Members of Congress and which platforms they most commonly link to from their official websites; (2) to collect data on adoption of non-Facebook or Twitter social media platforms; (3) to study why Members choose to adopt social media and which platform they decide to use; and (4) to analyze a sample of social media usage to discuss potential implications for the use of various types of social media (i.e., text base v. video based v. picture based) on congressional communications.

For the past seven years, CRS has been observing and studying the growing use of social media by Members of Congress. This PRP builds on two prior PRPs conducted by the LBJ School for CRS. During the 2011-2012 academic year, CRS partnered with the LBJ School on a Policy Research Project to study Twitter and Facebook usage by Members of Congress. Subsequently, CRS issues a report in March 2013 and used a dataset collected by the LBJ School with 47,004 total cases,765 Tweets and 16,239 Facebook posts. During the 2013-2014 academic year, CRS again partnered with the LBJ School to study how committees were using Twitter and Facebook. The resulting research analyzed four and half months of Twitter and Facebook data to understand how committees’ usage differs from Member offices. Finally, in October 2015, CRS issued a new InFocus on how Members present their social media accounts on their official webpages. This InFocus is the basis for this PRP on how Member social media adoption and usage is changing. This PRP will further aid CRS's ability to answer congressional inquiries and provide the basis for a new report.

Scope of Work

 Members are beginning to use Instagram, Flickr, and other services to further their contact and communications with constituents and the general public. The adoption of new social media tools presents an interesting question on social media adoption: besides Facebook and Twitter, what social media platforms do Members use?

Additionally, once a Member has signed up for a social media service, how will the office use that service? Following past studies of how Members of Congress and committees use social media, classification of what Members are posting and why could be useful to understanding how Members’  social media use has changed since the use of Facebook and Twitter have become commonplace in Congress.

Furthermore, social media use continues to raise many questions about the application of internal rules (i.e., Franking privilege, technology on the chamber floor) to new forms of communication. Understanding how the rules have evolved as social media adoption has increased helps to understand how Members incorporate technology use in their congressional operations.

The PRP will provide a database and four written products, including a final report as follows:

Research plan - The first deliverable will be a research plan including  a methodology for identifying non-Facebook and Twitter social media outlets used by Members of Congress, collection of data from the outlets, and a survey of relevant literature. The research plan also will include a strategy for potentially interviewing Members of the Texas legislature. These interviews will lead to hypotheses on elite decision-making and the adoption of new social media tools.

Dataset - The second deliverable will be a dataset compiled by the PRP on Members' usage of social media.  The data base format will be developed  through discussions between the PRP team and CRS.

Preliminary data analysis - The third deliverable will be a preliminary analysis of the data on Member's usage of selected social media platforms. This analysis will facilitate a conversation between the PRP team and CRS to discuss the preliminary results and provide a link between a Member's social media usage and past adoption and usage of Facebook and Twitter.

Draft report and slides - The fourth deliverable will be a draft report and slides for the final presentation to CRS. The draft report will incorporate the preliminary data analysis,  and present empirical results.

Final report and presentation - The fifth deliverable is a final report, incorporating the major findings of the study, including major discoveries concerning data analysis and Member social media usage. Professor Greenberg and several students will present the final report to CRS in person in June 2017.