Next month we will publish our annual Social Media Rankings among the members of the Rhode Island General Assembly. In our inaugural rankings, we used generous criteria that allowed even those legislators who made minimal efforts to earn an acceptable score. This year, we tightened the requirements to better match what constituents expect when trying to engage with their lawmakers on social media. Last year, we took a 6 month snapshot from a Spring 2019 to Autumn 2019. This year, we used the opposite range, spanning from Autumn 2020 to Spring 2021.
Previously, the mere existence of a Facebook profile was enough to earn full credit for the Facebook profile metric. New this year, legislators receive 2x as many profile points if they included both their email address and phone number in their profile page information. For Twitter, like Facebook, simply having a profile was enough to earn full credit last year – even if that profile was entirely personal. This year, a Twitter profile must be intended to serve constituents and not be purely personal in nature (at least 40% of all posts made in the review period must be related to the legislator’s job in some way). Lawmakers with a separate Twitter profile for their official position will have this profile counted for rankings purposes.
For the Postings metric, to receive full credit lawmakers previously needed 12 unique (not shares/retweets) posts in a 1 year period, with at least 3 posts in the last 6 months. This year, a lawmaker must have made at least 10 posts in the previous 6 months to receive any points in this metric. If qualified, points are awarded in three tiers based on the recency of their most recent post.
Lastly, lawmakers must make a reasonable effort to solicit and respond to questions in the comments of their posts. Last year, members needed to have responded to at least 90% of post comments that warranted a response in the prior 6 months, with a minimum of 3 responses. This year, a minimum of 5 responses must have occurred in the prior 6 months, and points are awarded in two tiers: at least a 50% response rate and at least an 80% response rate. Also this year, we did not count “lawmaker trolls” as a constituent requiring a response. “Lawmaker trolls” are any persons who have responded to at least 30 of the lawmaker’s posts in the past 6 months with comments that are generally off-topic and/or disingenuous.
For legislator websites, we made significant changes to better award those who make finding and communicating with them easier. New this year, a lawmaker’s website must show up in the top 10 results on Google when the member’s name or title and name is entered (eg. Senator Joe Shmoe or Joe Shmoe). If constituents cannot find your website via search, it is largely irrelevant. Lawmakers who fall outside of this mark will still have their website listed but will earn 0 points for this metric. Points are awarded for: 1) Having full contact info (email address and phone number) on their home page, having contact information above the fold (at the top of the homepage), and for displaying links to their social media profiles on their homepage. While we would have liked to add mobile design accessibility this year, the time investment needed to do this kept it off the list this year. This will almost certainly be a factor for 2022.
Our final Social Media Rankings metric is Town Hall meetings. In 2020, Town Hall meetings were almost exclusively held online. However, due to the uncertainty of the pandemic and the GA’s unprecedented absence through most of the year, these online forums became a big part of many lawmaker’s jobs in keeping a line of communication open with constituents. Nonetheless, this was one metric in which we loosened the criteria due to the lack of a real GA session, which significantly reduced constituent interest on bills being debated, etc. Points were awarded based on the number of town hall-style meetings held during 2020, with the top tier being more than 5. Previously a lawmaker needed to hold at least 9 meetings during the year to achieve the highest score.
This year’s Social Media Rankings raise the bar on what constituents expect from their local legislators. We were encouraged by increased use of social media by several lawmakers, and we welcome you to check out the full rankings when we publish in April.