Senior staff in the U.S. Congress and European Parliaments regularly access digital outlets and social media to research, influence and set policy, according to the Capital Staffer Index, conducted by StrategyOne and involving interviews of nearly 400 senior congressional and parliamentarian staff in Washington, D.C., Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin.


The survey reveals that social networks like Facebook are becoming an increasingly important resource for staffers. Nearly every staffer (96 percent) uses online resources for public policy research, more than half (54 percent) reported learning of policy issues for the first time online and one in five (19 percent) actually changed policy positions based on information and opinions they found online.


Sixty percent said they access the social medium for personal reasons, but in addition, nearly one-third use it for communicating with professional colleagues (28 percent), one in five (21 percent) to reach out to constituents, and one in ten (9 percent) to research policy issues. In addition, blogs are an important resource for staffers with two in five (39 percent) using blogs and social media sites in the past 30 days to monitor news about issues and the same percentage (39 percent) to monitor constituent opinion about an issue.


"When it comes to policy development and public affairs, we're seeing a digital about-face as staffers and elected officials move from face time to Facebook and other social media to research and communicate on critical issues," said Jere Sullivan, vice chairman of global public affairs for StrategyOne parent Edelman. "Traditional communications and advocacy channels remain important and effective in all countries, but the growing influence of online cannot be overlooked and needs to be included in the mix of tools for communicating about and forming consensus on important policy issues." 


The survey clearly identified the growing importance of digital tools for both communicating with constituents and for constituents reaching their members. They noted websites have become ubiquitous in terms of their usage and effectiveness in reaching constituents (82 percent feel they are effective) while other outlets have also demonstrated their positive impact: online videos (52 percent), blogging (46 percent) and micro blogging such as Twitter (22 percent).


In terms of the effectiveness in reaching their members of Parliament and Congress through digital means, e-mail scored the highest at 87 percent effective with Member's blog rated at 31 percent, Member's social network at 22 percent and microblogs, such as Twitter, at 7 percent.


The study found that staffers are turning to social networks, blogs and  microblogs more regularly for personal usage (Facebook 60 percent, YouTube 52 percent, personal blogs 12 percent, Twitter 11 percent) than they are for professional reasons. However, their usage patterns reflect receptivity to these tools and an opportunity to increase usage for analysis, communicating with constituents and reaching colleagues on policy issues.


"Currently, staffers are showing a willingness to embrace these digital resources on a professional level which will allow them to build on their effectiveness in communicating on policy issues," says Mike Krempasky, executive vice president, digital public affairs. "We were also encouraged by the fact that our survey sample was of senior, tenured staffers who dispelled the myth that digital is only used by younger entry level staff."


The Index revealed staff regularly utilize online information sources for policy analysis and tend to turn to regional traditional online media outlets first to start their days. However, a number of other dedicated regional online sources emerged as an option with Google being the only outlet accessed across all five markets as an analysis resource and the first site visited each day. 


Comparing the five markets, the study showed U.S. Congressional, EU and German Parliamentary staff ranked highest in terms of their perceived effectiveness and utilization of digital communications tools. The U.S. ranked first in both categories, the EU staff second on effectiveness and third on utilization and Germany third on effectiveness and second on utilization.