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How many councillors tweet?

By June 25, 20123 Comments

Update: As you’ll see here we’ve had to revise the numbers for Birmingham City Council. The maps and numbers should now reflect higher figures for the city council.)

At the LGA conference on Wednesday (1pm) we’ll be holding a short session about Twitter, entitled ‘Anyone can use Twitter. The question is why should you?‘ It’s just a half-hour thing, but when we were discussing it the other day it ocurred to me that we don’t have a handle on what proportion of councillors in the UK use Twitter.

When I started looking into this it became an interesting, if tricky question: There are (roughly) 20,000 councillors in England and Wales, in 410 local authorities. Blimey. In Scotland, there are 1,222 in 32 local authorities. And in Northern Ireland there are 582 councillors in 26 district councils. England, in particular, has a confusing system with several tiers of local government – as we all know. So coming up with a figure just for councillors was hard – let alone working out which ones are on Twitter (although the rather wonderful work done by Tweety Hall, which has compiled a big list of tweeting councillors on its website and on Twitter, should be congratulated). Update: and we were told, also, about the LGIU’s list of tweeting councillors, which you can find here.

What we did

Rather than try to survey every council in the country I asked my colleague Andy Baker if he’d help me take a look at the West Midlands – as the LGA conference this year is in Birmingham. We gathered the names of the councillors in the region’s 14 unitary and county councils, before then searching for councillors. We did this by looking first for Twitter lists of councillors and, where we couldn’t find them, sleuthing out members on the social network, working from the council’s own Twitter identity. I should point out, of course, that we might have missed a few, but we reckon this is a good indication of the numbers. (And we’ve saved most to a list on Twitter, here).

What we found

Well, firstly, this was a very quick thing – and as a result we can’t be sure of absolute accuracy…

But what we found was that about 14 16.6 per cent of county and unitary councillors in the West Midlands have Twitter accounts.  As the visualisations below show, Worcestershire has the greatest proportion of councillors with Twitter with 21 of its 57 councillors holding a Twitter account, more than a third. It has also ensured that profiles for its councillors include their Twitter credentials – which is obviously very helpful for us and, more importantly, for the public. Some other authorities have far smaller proportions of councillors with Twitter accounts. It may be that Worcestershire has looked to introduce councillors to using social media, while others see this as something councillors can discover for themselves. It’s certainly the case that some accounts are better used that others – so the data does not give a true reflection on its own of just how much social media activity there is.

Table of councillors tweeting in West Midlands

I reckon that 14 16.6 per cent is a good-ish number and maybe a little bit surprising to some. It shows that councils and councillors in the West Midlands – and perhaps elsewhere – are beginning to take the social network more and more seriously. That said, there is still a big gulf between the councillors who have Twitter and those that are using it. We found that a number of the accounts haven’t been used very often, while other councillors have begun to use the network much more actively. This may (may) be only the beginning. It’d be interesting to see how councillor numbers correlate with the kinds of populations that they serve, for example. But you’d obviously need a much bigger sample size to make anything from that.

Here’s a ManyEyes visualisation to show which councils have the greatest proportion of tweeting councillors…

And here’s a heat map – using the brilliant Open Heat Map – to give you some indication of the geography involved…

All this poses some interesting questions: Are councils in urban, affluent areas more likely to have councillors that are turning to Twitter? How are councillors using Twitter? How many of their constituents follow them? It, of course, answers none of them! But I hope it’s an interesting start to a further conversation…

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Neil Elkes says:

    I know Birmingham City Council in detail and you have missed a few from your chart – about 20 by my reckoning – including @politicalhackuk the name for Councillor John O’Shea who is one of the more prolific contributers and the Labour group’s twitter champion.
    I appreciate that gathering the information is difficult with no central database or register. Also some councillors merely use it to monitor others twitter feeds and rarely, if at all, post anything.
    But in reality I think you are looking at about a third of councillors in Birmingham on twitter, possibly more. This is all the more remarkable when you consider a Birmingham City Councillor effectively lost his seat on the back of a tweet. I mention it here

  • Thanks Neil, for pointing out that we’ve missed some. As I explained in the post we either used lists if we could find them or searched for councillors. This helped save time and I did warn that it might not be wholly reliable.. In the case of Birmingham we found a list. It would appear it’s not exhaustive and, evidently, one of the advantages of a process like this is that people can tell us where there’s a problem and we can resolve it, which I will try to do later today…

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