What do PPCs do on Twitter?

Nigel Jackson (University of Plymouth) and Darren Lilleker (University of Bournemouth) have carried out a useful little piece of research into what prospective Parliamentary candidates get up to on Twitter.

Size of Twitter audience

Although size isn’t everything on Twitter, the number of followers a candidate can build up is relevant to the question of whether Twitter can be a useful medium for direct communication with voters (as opposed to indirect communication, i.e. reaching journalists and helpers on Twitter who then in turn reach the public).

This survey found PPCs with followers often numbering in the thousands which leaves open the possibility that some, at least, are reaching significant local audiences directly.

What sort of messages do PPCs send out?

Around 78% of PPCs use Twitter to send out messages discussing local issues and the same proportion also use it to promote their party, with these two groups of messages being the most popular.

Sharing information is also common: 69% promote their own campaigns but also 67% share non-news links, 53% share news stories and 35% provide local information directly in their tweets. That last figure suggest that, whatever the possibilities, many PPCs do not view Twitter as being useful to them for a direct local audience – or perhaps (very wrongly!) think a local audience is not interested in local information.

Personal touches are common with nearly 60% sending tweets about their personal life, just under half expressing personal preferences and 29% sending jokes.

Using Twitter to listen

Directly asking for views is fairly rare though, with less than one in ten asking for views on local or national issues. However, many PPCs are aware that by putting views or links on Twitter they are likely to get feedback, so the number of explicit requests for views understates the degree to which Twitter is used to solicit feedback.

The report also found that:

The number [of people that PPCs] are following varies from 6 to 2,751. To give these figures some meaning we created a follows/following ratio, which compares the number of followers they have as opposed to the number they follow. Thirty six PPCs have a negative rating meaning that they follow more than follow them, so that for them Twitter seems largely about listening to the views of others. Ninety one have a follower/following ratio of 10 or under, suggesting that they use Twitter as a means of promoting their views, but do look at what others have to say. Only 2 have a higher ratio than this implying that for them Twitter is primarily a broadcast channel.

It’s all related

Number of followers, number of people being followed and frequency of tweets are all strongly correlated in the survey results. With the usual caveat about correlation not being the same as causation, it looks as if the more people use Twitter, the more they get out of it – which in turn of course encourages them in turn to use it more.

Here is their full report:

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This entry was posted in Online politics.


  • Gareth Epps 18th Jan '10 - 1:56pm

    Personally, as a PPC I’m not interested in communications forms which don’t allow for the ability for people to feed back. Twitter is the online equivalent of standing on a street corner with a megaphone, or driving around with a loudhailer. And in the same way as we don’t use those forms anymore (rightly), what good is Twitter apart from for people who like the sound of their own voice?

  • Chris Keating 18th Jan '10 - 4:01pm

    One of the things the report highlights is that actually you can use Twitter as a method of having a conversation, instead of just shouting.

    Have a look at, for instance, Chris Nicholson – http://twitter.com/Chris4Streatham – who uses it that way a fair bit. And then compare with his Labour opponent, http://twitter.com/ChukaUmunna , who mainly tweets about socialist think tanks and his own TV appearances.

  • Gareth Epps 18th Jan '10 - 7:16pm

    I have no desire to use the @ character apart from in people’s email addresses.

    I have had people try and contact me to do casework on Twitter via others – when asked how I could contact them, I was told I couldn’t. You can’t have a conversation on Twitter – it’s all about talking/shouting at people not having a conversation with them.

    It’s also a bit rubbish on photos! In my view it’s a bit rubbish in general – I’d prefer a medium that allowed people to contact me, in private if need be.

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