Report: Republicans might be winning the social-media war

Republicans might have pulled ahead of Democrats in the race to dominate the social-media landscape, according to a Congressional Management Foundation report released Tuesday.

In a survey of 260 congressional staffers between October and December of 2010, Democrats reported their offices spent too little time in online communications when compared with their Republican colleagues.

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A quarter to a third of Republican staffers reported that their offices spent too little time on Facebook, Twitter and online town hall meetings, among others. But Democrats posted much higher numbers of discontent across the board, ranging from 32 to 42 percent.

“In every single category of online activity, Democrats feel … that their office spends too little time on online communications,” Bradford Fitch, president and CEO of CMF, told The Hill.

“Other studies have shown that, in terms of volume, Republicans were certainly more active on Twitter, but it was surprising to us that the Democrats feel that way in every category,” he added.

Fitch compared the findings with research of congressional websites that showed Senate Democrats and House Republicans dominated earlier in the decade, a lead that took years to balance out.

“Our research does show ... that when one party in online communications gets a lead or gets ahead of the other party in a chamber, it’s kind of hard to catch up,” he said.

Fitch cautioned that while the survey results are “very interesting,” CMF has not reached a conclusion on whether Republicans have eclipsed Democrats in social media because that was not the focus of the new study.

The survey, titled “#Social Congress,” was limited to perceptions and use of social media on Capitol Hill, but the CMF plans to explore communications and best practices further.

Congressional staffers were split by age when it comes to social media, according to the survey results.

Staffers age 30 and younger were found to be bigger proponents of social media than colleagues age 51 and older. Two-thirds of younger staffers felt that social media was worth the time their offices spend on it, compared with only one-third of older colleagues.

Nearly two-thirds of younger staffers felt that their offices could control their message on social media, compared with one-third of older staffers. Younger staffers were less likely than older colleagues to disagree that social media offers more benefits than risk.

“It’s the generation [age] 30 and under, especially, that is comfortable using social media in their personal lives, and it’s translating into how they view using social media in their professional lives,” said Fitch.

And while many staffers identified Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as important tools in understanding constituents’ views, those still fell far behind old-school methods — including events in the district, town hall meetings and phone calls, faxes and emails from voters — in importance.

Roughly 77 percent of respondents identified attending events in district/state as very important in understanding constituents’ views, compared with just 8 percent for Facebook and 4 percent each for Twitter and YouTube.