Two new reports into online politics

First up, there’s a report from the Hansard Society which has surveyed MPs and their use of the internet (A study into how MPs use digital media to communicate with their constituents):
Use Of Internet By MPs According To Hansard Society Research

It is clear from the survey that the internet has permeated the culture and day-to-day life of our MPs and that many value the benefits of internet use and greater connectivity. It is interesting to note some of the findings, not so much the saturation of email (as this might have been expected) but certainly the rapid adoption of social networking as a communications tool and the rather less than might be expected use of blogs – and concomitant reflection of respondents that they are seen as too onerous and of limited value. Whilst adoption patterns suggest differences between the three major parties, it is too simplistic to suggest that one party is more internet-savvy than another – there are excellent examples of internet usage amongst all parties and equally numerous examples of late or non-adoption. Survey data in fact suggest that adoption relates more to the MP’s majority, length of incumbency and, to some degree, the nature of the constituency (and constituents) than to the party that they belong to. MPs who hold a significant majority are far less likely to use the internet; as are those who have been MPs for a long time.

MPs are divided on whether they are adequately resourced to use the internet, however, they are overwhelmingly clear that they and their staff need more training. Many MPs feel that they are already using the internet enough and it is interesting to note that how they use the internet is divided by gender: Men are more likely to blog and women are more likely to network…

There is also a perceived reputational problem for the blogosphere in general. It is seen as unaccountable, even abusive…

The findings reinforce that the internet is largely being used as a tool to publish, not as a tool to engage. Whilst there is a significant rise in social networking this seems to be either as a tool to manage campaigning, for awareness building or as a further channel for publishing. Blogging is seen as a relatively poor value tool, in part because of the time commitment but also because of the negative connotations of the blogosphere in general. MPs face procedural challenges when adopting the internet and have to develop strategies for dealing equitably with electronic and postal correspondence; there is clear awareness that a digital underclass exists and that they must not be disadvantaged further. The internet also presents challenges in terms of workload and identifying the location of correspondents, all adding pressure to MPs’ offices. It is also clear that, where an MP chooses to, they can adopt different, more direct and immediate practices relating to email and that when they do this is well-received by their constituents.

Looking at the details of the comments made about blogging, I’m still of the view that the MPs who devalue blogging have got it wrong – but this does highlight that blogging is often harder to get right – and easier to get significantly wrong – other communication options available to MPs.

That is particularly the case for MPs who learnt many of their communications skills in a pre-internet age. Tools such as email and websites are often easier for people with a habit of, and comfort with, letters and news releases than are blogging or Twitter.


Meanwhile, the second report is the second edition of a report I first covered last year:

Lib Dem website comes close second in policy search tests
Tamar, the natural search conversion agency, has today released the results of its first Political Search Index, which tracks how easy it is for voters to find official policy information from the mainstream political parties online.

The results show the Labour Party trailing badly behind the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and the Scottish National Party.

Here are the headlines from Tamar’s second report:

Tamar research has tracked the reputation management of leading political figures over the past two months to determine how successful they are at positioning themselves positively online. Tamar monitored Google rankings, as well as volume of search, on leadership names.

Its findings indicate that unofficial and highly negative websites bearing the names of the Conservative and Labour leaders (www.davidcameron.com; www.gordonbrown.com) consistently rank high on the first page of Google for people seeking information on them.

The two party leaders have also not moved to protect their “personal brands” by opening a Twitter account in their names, which could be costly in terms of reputation or positive engagement with voters, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alastair Darling has found. An account has been opened on Twitter in his name that ranks highly on the first page of Google search.

While the Conservative Party has the @Conservatives Twitter account and Gordon Brown’s official office is represented with @DowningStreet, neither rank highly in Google searches for the personalities themselves.

The Liberal Democrats and the Greens have moved more quickly on Twitter, with Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader holding an account and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas joining in November, although neither is highly visible on Google searches…

The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party leadership, in contrast, appear to have full control over their “personal brands”. Official sites for Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas rank consistently at the top of the Google searches. The Greens’ leader also has a Facebook page that ranks in the top ten on the search returns.


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