A meteoric rise in Twitter use and social media channels is shaping and influencing policy worldwide, according to the 2011 Capital Staffers Index, a new study by Edelman, which found that policymakers have shown a dramatic increase in their use of social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and mobile technology in the last year.

This underscores the importance of social media and the Internet in educating policymakers and galvanizing them to support a policy issue. Though at the same time, traditional public affairs components, such as grassroots outreach and fact-based messaging, remain critical to advocacy success.

“Social media is now outpacing original projections by senior staff of members of Congress and Parliament as an effective tool for reaching constituents on important policy issues,” says Jere Sullivan, Edelman’s chairman, Global Public Affairs. “In addition, it is increasingly becoming a platform to activate members on policy issues, with one-third saying they have changed a position based on something they read online.”

Based on interviews with 542 senior staffers (legislative directors and above) in 11 countries, this year’s Index showcases the top trends in global public affairs and communications. Key findings include:
• Twitter use has soared among policymakers: About 53 percent of members of Parliament and Congress are now actively using Twitter to communicate with their constituents – a 15 percent rise from last year’s 38 percent. And 41 percent have also seen a growth in constituents’ use of Twitter to reach their lawmakers – almost a 600 percent change from 7 percent in 2009.
• The Internet continues to help shape and influence policy: Sixty percent of staffers have gone online to learn about an important policy issue for the first time. And 33 percent have admitted to changing their opinion based on what they have read online – a nearly 200 percent change from 2009.
• Evidence-based and localized messaging is key to advocacy success: Twenty-one percent of respondents say poor messages are the primary reason that public affairs campaigns fail, while 23 percent indicate that fact-based, clearly articulated messaging – especially messaging that is supported by independent or NGO research – is key to winning over staffers.
• Personal, traditional outreach is just as important as ever: More than 80 percent of staffers revealed that letters from voters and community leaders, as well as individual constituent visits, are most effective in raising an issue’s prominence in their agenda. Moreover, 95 percent report that the impact of an issue on the national economy they operate in and the effect on their constituents are most important in turning issues into policy priorities.
• Grassroots support is crucial in shaping policy: When asked to provide reasons why public affairs campaigns fail, 13 percent of respondents noted that limited grassroots support was an important campaign “fail factor,” thus underscoring the need for strategic grassroots advocacy for campaign success. The primary “fail factor” cited by staffers was “poor messaging,” as mentioned above.