Social media and parliamentary library & research services – a strange absence

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’.

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.

Parliamentary library & research services on Twitter

Twitter is used by some services as a way to connect with clients (directly or indirectly), with citizens and with expert communities. It is not used at all by other services, partly due to fear of political accidents or controversies, partly due to culture or language, and partly due to lack of awareness. There are misconceptions as to the value of social media and the time required to exploit it.

This is a list of Twitter accounts I am aware of in the sector – I hope to add to it over time. The link will show a stream of the most recent tweets from the accounts on the list. To see who is on the list, click on ‘members’.

List of Twitter accounts of people and organisations in and around parliamentary library & research services