Social media – its value to parliamentary research services

The concept of the ‘policy network’

Social media offers some strategic advantages to parliamentary research services, although many services and colleagues are nervous about its use. Others do not see how social media can be relevant to a ‘serious’ research service, or consider it too time-consuming. Based on experience, however, a selective and targeted approach can bring great value. The attached presentation summarises the case for using social media.

The approach described proved successful for both the former Library of the European Parliament (methods still in use by EPRS) and for a separate research service of the European Parliament. It is based on using Twitter and a WordPress blog. Experience with Facebook and LinkedIn, there and elsewhere, has not appeared very successful.

Twitter is notable for its widespread adoption across policy networks – professionals in academia, think-tanks, institutes, NGOs, politics and government, focused on a policy area. There is active exchange of professional/policy information going on in these networks through Twitter, largely isolated from the froth and politicised debate that rages on the same social media platform. A parliamentary research service can be part of that professional exchange and benefit greatly from it.

Professional use of Twitter is widespread in Europe – although not in every country or language – and wherever English is used as the main or professional language. Many policy specialist individuals and institutions worldwide can be found on Twitter. Critically for a parliamentary research service, however, the Members and government policy specialists are absent in some countries and regions. The network, in that case, is incomplete on Twitter. In those places it may be necessary to use Facebook or another platform, and it would be interesting to hear of experience using such strategies.

It is often imagined that a social media strategy is about promotion – broadcast – and therefore something only for public relations staff. In reality, perhaps the most valuable aspect of social media for a parliamentary research service is listening. The policy network on social media reveals new research and new policy debates perhaps faster than anywhere else. Members and others in politics may be engaged – research services can be awake to upcoming demands for policy briefings and sources of information before any formal request comes through. Social media can also provide expert feedback on research service products.

The blog is important as a place where the research service can present its products and communicate with clients directly, with far more flexibility and speed than is usual with corporate web sites, and more depth than is possible on Twitter (or Facebook, or LinkedIn). The blog provides a base – Twitter communications can refer people to the blog to find out more. Running a professional-looking blog does not require specialist IT staff. (It does require someone with technical, visual and communications flair, however).

One of the main benefits of this strategy is that by becoming more visible to the wider policy network, a parliamentary research service will also become more visible, and credible, inside the house.

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