Social media are of great potential value to parliamentary library and research services and many services use them. But there is a strange absence – there does not seem to be much mutual interest or support between the services.
Relations on Twitter between services
To take the Twitter accounts of a range of services worldwide, they largely do not follow each other. As the table below shows, in a sample of eight services worldwide, all active on Twitter, there were 56 potential ‘following’ relations but only 15 of these relations actually exist as of August 2021 (27% of potential).
This quick research did not examine how rich the 15 Twitter relationships are. Anecdotally, from several years of intermittently intense scrutiny of the parliamentary library & research Twitter accounts, there is very little – even no – active mutual support, even when services follow each other. Services do not retweet or like from other services, in general, even if they retweet/like from other sources.
Practical experience on Twitter
The data very much confirms practical experience with Information@Work in this blog and on Twitter. Sustained periods of tweeting/retweeting information about parliamentary library & research services (e.g. new research papers published and tweeted by a service) produced almost zero response from the Twitter accounts of services. There may be several reasons for this but the evidence above supports the conclusion that there is, for some reason, a lack of mutual interest and support. The use of Twitter by IFLAPARL (including a previous Twitter account) also delivered a disappointing response, so far.
One possible explanation for this pattern is that Twitter is being used more for broadcast than for listening or interaction. In other words, services are perhaps using Twitter more to promote their own material and are less interested in following, picking up and/or retweeting information from external sources. In some cases, it is possible that ‘following’ and/or retweeting external sources is limited, or even prohibited, by a policy set at a higher level. It is also possible that the accounts are used with a strictly local market in mind, and that any non-local services are followed only passively on Twitter. Information – e.g. a new research report by an external service – might be used but without retweeting/liking on Twitter. The absence of mutual support between institutional accounts is, incidentally, not compensated by activity from accounts held by individual officials – they are also largely silent on the work of their peers in other services.
Potential benefits of mutual support
The ‘strange absence’ is of mutual support and interest. It is strange because there are some clear benefits to mutual support and interest.
- Following a service provides intelligence on their activities and products – there may be useful information, indications of emerging topics also relevant in the home jurisdiction, news of service innovations;
- Following provides a small boost to the profile of the service being followed, and possibly vice versa. It raises the collective profile of the sector – the benefit may be intangible but it can help all services achieve their professional objectives. Services could work together to create and support a common profile for the sector;
- Retweeting or liking items of interest from other services is potentially a service to clients, who might be interested in other perspectives. It also is an act of solidarity and a statement that we belong to a common professional network.
- Retweeting or liking items of interest from IFLAPARL and other independent sources in and around the sector is a way of building a professional network and a professional dialogue. That has practical benefits and, again, benefits for the profile of the sector.
Services that act like islands are themselves losing out, and it is (arguably) costing the entire sector. There is surely another perspective – it would be interesting to see it presented.
The services in the table are from four different continents but all are working at least partly in the English language, and use Twitter in English, so there is no language barrier. They are from parliaments with some affinities in terms of policy/law – quite strong in some cases. There are two ‘regional’ parliaments in the sample and one specialist research service within a parliament. These three last cases are generally less well connected than what might be termed ‘first-level’ parliamentary services, but it is a national-level service that is the least-connected in the sample.
The data is from a visual check on Twitter using the list ‘Parliament lib/research’ and the function ‘Followers you know’.