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A Connected Congress: Best Practices for Engaging Constituents on Social Media

Executive Summary

In the past decade, there has been nearly a tenfold jump in the number of adults using social networking sites, with sixty­five percent of adults adopting at least one platform.1 In 2012, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 66 percent of social media users (or 39 percent of all American adults) participated in some civic or political activity on social media.2 It comes as little surprise that Members of Congress have increasingly adopted social media in recent years. Twitter, for instance, reported that while only 44 percent of Senators and 35 percent of House Members were on Twitter at the start of the 112th Congress, by the time the 113th was sworn in, 100 percent of Senators and 90 percent of House Members had joined. Our own review finds that 99 percent of Republican House members are using Twitter, and 98 percent are using Twitter in an official capacity at the start of 2016. Today, established networks like Facebook and Twitter are just the tip of the iceberg with newer social media platforms — Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Meerkat, among others — accounting for an increasing share of social networking activity.

With social media carrying increasingly more weight as a way to reach constituents, Echelon Insights conducted this study on behalf of the Congressional Institute to provide a best practices guide for constituent communications on social media, focusing on Republican House Members in the 114th Congress. In developing this study, we had to consider the unique challenges Congressional offices face when using social media. Like all social media users, Congress must try to adapt to the constant and rapidly evolving social media landscape, but distinctively, these offices must do so with generally limited resources (i.e. time, staff, money) and government ethics limitations. Acknowledging these points, we set out to address specifically how to overcome or adapt to such challenges and generate specific outcomes that are directly tied to the audience and purpose for which Members and their staff intend.

To provide a holistic guide to social media best practices for Members and Committees, we took a multifaceted approach to researching “what works,” which included establishing a baseline of suggested best practices, testing those baseline recommendations, and then (based on the results) discovering which practices generated the highest levels of engagement on social media.

To read the full report, click here.

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