Digital communications has made significant gains as a channel for citizens to reach members of parliaments and the U.S. Congress, as well as for politicians to communicate with their constituents, according to the 2010 Capital Staffers Index released by Edelman.
The second annual trans-Atlantic study, conducted by StrategyOne, interviewed 271 senior staffers (legislative director and above) in Washington, D.C., Berlin, Brussels, Paris and London and found a marked increase from last year in the effectiveness of digital communications in several of areas, including a 41-point increase for constituents using Members’ blogs/websites to reach them (31 percent in 2009 to 72 percent in 2010) and a 15-point rise for constituents using Members’ social networks (22 percent vs. 37 percent) and 8-point jump (7 percent vs. 15 percent) for engaging through microblogs like Twitter.
Staffers report their Members’ use of Facebook has increased four-fold (62 percent vs. 15 percent) compared to just three years ago. Use of text messaging has almost doubled (55 percent vs. 35 percent) in that same time frame; use of blogging has increased by nearly three times (46 percent vs. 16 percent); and use of Twitter has grown by five times (38 percent vs. 7 percent).
“With the large increase in members of parliaments and Congress and their constituents embracing social media, we have seen a return of public affairs to its roots, where policymakers and constituents are engaged in a meaningful dialogue. However, now the conversations are taking place face-to-face and online,” says Jere Sullivan, chairman, global public affairs, Edelman. “While traditional public affairs outreach such as one-on-one meetings and TV appearances are still critical, ignoring social media means ceding ground to the opposition.”
The study also shows a daily digital access trend, with staffers’ online activity focused on information-gathering from traditional online news sites prior to 10 a.m., then crossing over to social media after 10 a.m. – with significant “social spikes” occurring at lunch time (from 50 percent at 10 a.m. to 61 percent at noon) and after 6 p.m. (up to 110 percent).
“The relationship between elected officials and their constituents is shifting from traditionally private, behind closed-doors and transaction-based to a public and social exchange,” says Mike Krempasky, executive vice president, digital public affairs, Edelman Washington, D.C. “This creates both opportunity and pressure, as far more people can see that interaction.”
Despite the explosion in the impact of digital communications, traditional channels for reaching Members continues to be seen as highly effective: written letters (88 percent), in-person visits (88 percent) and telephone calls (83 percent). Similarly, Members find the most effective means for reaching constituents to be one-on-one meetings (90 percent), TV appearances (93 percent), speaking events (90 percent), newspaper articles (86 percent) and radio appearances (85 percent).
Traditional news media also continues to be influential for Members in following and understanding issues of importance. Two-thirds (66 percent) of Members focus on national publications, 23 percent rely on local outlets and 10 percent turn to international outlets for insights and influence.
The Capital Staffers Index also reveals that when mobilizing support from grassroots and advocacy groups, the most impactful tools are letters from voters (65 percent), letters from community leaders (58 percent), e-mails (56 percent) and “Constituent Day” visits to Members’ offices (55 percent). In addition, Members and their staff are seeking succinct and fact-based messaging from public affairs professionals through vehicles such as research from NGOs (51 percent) and industry groups (34 percent), as well as whitepapers by university academics (42 percent). They also want issues of importance explained in one-page briefing overviews (45 percent).
Not surprisingly, staffers prefer to hear from their own citizens when meeting with company representatives (90 percent). But, when being briefed by foreign-based companies on their contributions, the most important issues for staffers are the number of jobs being created directly and indirectly (33 percent) and the benefit being provided to communities in their country (29 percent).