DC Social Media Survey Touches a Nerve
Micah L. Sifry | October 16, 2009 - 9:21am
Yesterday's post about a new study by Marc Ross, Christine Steineman and Chris Lisi ranking more than a
hundred Washington organizations based on how many social media tools they are using is spawning an
interesting conversation. Critics like Matt Browner-Hamlin, the SEIU's deputy director of new media, and
Michael Cornfield, a political scientist and longtime analyst of online politics, have chimed in to dismiss the
study's import, arguing that simply counting the presence of social media tools being deployed by an
organization means little, or nothing. It's how you use those tools to engage the public that matters, they
Adding flesh to that argument, Ken Deutsch of Morningside Analytics did a quick look to see if groups that
ranked high in the study were indeed having a greater impact with one high-value audience, bloggers. Here's
a bit of what he found, using a 4000 blog dataset that Morningside developed to look at the health and
Compared to the other organizations that were included in the social media tools study, the Sierra Club (the
organization that used the most social media tools - ten ), was also the organization that was most cited as a
source from the blogs most focused on energy policy.
Looking at the same organizations, SEIU (second in the social media tools study using nine social media tools),
was the organization that was most cited as a source within the blogs focused on health policy.
However, after the Sierra Club and SEIU the correlations between tools used and links trail off. Two of the
four organizations that used eight social media tools and three of the four of the organizations that used
seven were not within the top sources used by bloggers discussing energy or health policy.
The American Medical Association, which used only one social media tool, was cited as a source by bloggers
engaged in health policy more then any other group in that study with the exception of SEIU and the Human
Deutch notes that several DC policy shops that were not included in the study, like the Center for American
Progress and the Heritage Foundation are cited much more often by bloggers than any of the groups in the
Ross/Stineman/Lisi study. This isn't surprising, given that these big think tanks have actually invested a lot of
energy in engaging online, and they have a huge stake in influencing (and being seen as influencing) the
health and energy debates. By contrast, several of other groups in the Ross/Stineman/Lisi study aren't really
trying to be players on those topics.
There's no question that, as a community, tech-pol practitioners need to do more research on how usage of
social media produces tangible value for political and advocacy organizations. I'm not disagreeing with the
points Browner-Hamlin and Cornfield make; mere presence proves little.
But I still think the Ross/Stineman/Lisi study shows something else that is also important to think about:
Many name-brand trade associations still have pretty traditional media operations, and they're taking a
pretty cautious, "you-first" approach to embracing new media tools. If you're the American Medical
Association in the middle of the country's biggest health care debate in a long time, obviously you are going
to be in the middle of the fight whether or not you're on Twitter (which they are, and which suggests that
Ross et. al. may have erred in scoring the AMA as low as they did). For me, what the study illustrates is how
far--for all the buzz about Web 2.0--social media evangelists have to go in proving the value of being open