Twitter, the six-years-young social media engine, is generating more than 200 million 140-character messages per day and making headlines thanks to its millions of users, which include celebrities, world leaders and politicians.
The network is proving to be an effective way for constituents in agriculture and rural communities to stay connected to their representatives in the House and Senate. While both chambers’ agriculture committees have their ownaccounts, @SenateAg and @HouseAgNews, almost 40 individual representatives on the House Agriculture Committee and more than 15 senators on the Senate Agriculture Committee hold their own accounts.
Senator Charles Grassley (R – IA) has the most followers by far of anyone on the agriculture committees, and is one of the few that personally manages and operates his own account. While his staff does help in certain situations, including an incident Monday when hackers briefly broke into his account and began tweeting their own messages, the account management is conducted by the senator himself.
Grassley, one of the first senators to adopt Twitter, has more than 30,000 followers and posts messages at least daily. He is known for his Twitter shorthand and relatively colorful messages.
”I use Twitter to keep in touch with Iowans,” he said in an email statement. “It’s a way to describe what I’m working on as their U.S. senator, to make a point in the public policy debate, and to try to foster greater citizen participation in the process of representative government. I ‘tweet’ from my Blackberry and use abbreviations to get as much information across as possible, given the 140-character limit on Twitter messages.”
For example, in a tweet from Oct. 18, 2011, he said: “EPA Director Jackson finally made the commonSense decision to w/draw fugitive Dust rule recognize only God controls wind not farmers ThxLisa”
Addressing the Keystone XL Pipeline issue, in a more recent post on Jan. 18, he said: “Can’t bliev Obama stopd pipeline. He puts China intrest ahead of US bc Canada is going sell oil either US or China. Does Prez want jobs?”
The TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline is the latest issue that generated the most activity from followers of congressional Twitter accounts, according to many staffers.
Senator Richard Lugar’s (R – IN) communication staff, which manages his Twitter account, said the Keystone pipeline debate generated a considerable amount of responses. Although the staff tries to keep his messages as positive and official as possible, they find that it creates a more personal connection to his constituents.
“Before Twitter, the people who read our statements were basically just the press,” said the Lugar communications staffer. “Now people can see what he’s doing every day.”
Similarly, Lauren Kulik, press secretary to Senator Sherrod Brown (D – OH) said his tweets provide a “behind-the-scene look” at his work in Ohio and in Washington.
“Many include video footage of Sen. Brown speaking directly to Ohioans, or photos of him at events,” she said. “While these Tweets may be uploaded by staff members, they represent the Senator’s own words and actions.”
Representative Steve King (R – IA) has the most Twitter followers of the House Agriculture Committee and, like Grassley, tweets everything himself from his Blackberry, according to his communications staff.
A particularly unique aspect of the social media network is that it allows a direct connection to Representative King and other tweeting Congress members. While many are just figuring out how to best manage responses, they almost always say they choose to join the network because it generates discussion with constituents.
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