Facebook still top choice for social savvy MEPs, report shows

Social media training in the EP

MEPs can take training sessions on using social media, including how to deal with trolls. [mkhmarketing/Flickr]

Out of the 11 social media platforms where the European Parliament has accounts, its biggest following—no surprise—are on Facebook and Twitter. Then there are Parliament accounts on Youtube, Foursquare, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, Vine, Spotify, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Individual MEPs tend to focus their attention on fewer platforms. The most popular among MEPs are, again, Facebook, which has over 200 million users in Europe, and Twitter.

A report published this morning (18 June) shows that 663 out of all 751 MEPs are on Facebook, while 572 are on Twitter.

Swedish Liberal MEP Fredrick Federley said, “For a politician not to use social media for dialogue and interactions with voters, would be as a writer not using words.”

Out of 100 MEPs surveyed for the report, 96% said Facebook was their top platform for communicating, polling slightly ahead of Twitter.

>>Read: The Role of Social Media in Political Communication

MEPs turn to Facebook to reach their constituents, says Brett Kobie, digital strategist for FleishmanHillard, the consultancy that ran the survey.

“When an MEP goes on Twitter, in part they’re talking to constituents, but more likely they’re talking to a broader group of stakeholders, NGOs and media too,” Kobie said.

“When we look at hard policy conversations, those are going to happen on Twitter. Facebook is more the press release you’d run back at home.”

Parliament runs individual training sessions on those two platform giants.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) has organised its own sessions on Google and Facebook, with more coming on Twitter and LinkedIn, according to spokesperson Katrien van den broeck, who says those have been aimed primarily at Parliament assistants.

Van den broeck says she also keeps MEPs up to date with information on social media campaigns and feeds them tips on how to communicate and deal with trolls.

“Going digital is not only for the young MEPs, even my 60+ year old MEPs understand the power of a selfie,” she said.

>>Read: Why EU digital advocacy is more than social media

MEPs are increasingly trying other social media platforms beyond just Facebook and Twitter.

The FleishmanHillard report lists 209 MEPs—28% of Parliament—as LinkedIn users.

Kobie says he sees growth potential for LinkedIn. Only 34% of MEPs were on Twitter in 2011, while 76% use the platform now.

“LinkedIn is emerging as a different kind of forum for communication among smaller groups of stakeholders, where there’s a certain amount of trust there. You’ve probably met them before, maybe you’ve had coffee, maybe you saw them on Twitter and invited them on LinkedIn,” Kobie said.

The report lists 95% of MEPs polled who said Facebook is “effective” for communication, while 88% said the same about Twitter.

87% of those MEPs called one-on-one meetings effective, a drop from 95% who said the same in 2011.

“Social media cannot replace the value of one-to-one meetings, but it’s a way to open up opportunities to meet new stakeholders and to follow up after these meetings. Social media has changed the way politics is done,” said British MEP Jude Kirton-Darling (S&D).

>>Read: Social media favours Eurosceptics in EU elections

Kobie says the small change in how MEPs view one-on-one meetings could have to do with tightened transparency rules that require officials to disclose meetings with lobbyists.

With that disclosure mandate, Kobie said, “policymakers, although they value personal interaction, are less likely to meet with any given stakeholder on a regular basis.”

“If it’s all happening out in the open on social media, it’s all (the) more transparent.”

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