My Twitter Senate Experiment: Overview

First off, I believe in the potential of the open government initiative, government 2.0, whatever you wish to call it. My goal is simple, to baseline where we are in terms of basic social engagement at one of the highest levels of our government… The Senate. Here is my approach, for better or for worse:

* This test will be run once while out of session (the January cycle) and once when back in session (the February cycle).
* Using lists I found on Tweepml.org I have pulled together a list of twitter accounts for various US Senators.
* Starting on January 3rd and ending on January 5th, I sent the following message, via Twitter, to each account: “What does the open government directive mean to you and how will it impact how your state does business” . My hope is that this fairly simple question would result in at least a simple answer, no comment will even be okay.
* Wait until end of day, January 15th, and report who responded who responded and what % of the total responded.
* Run again from February 1st to February 12th, reporting who responded who responded and what % of the total responded.

Twitter is a social tool designed for two-way engagement and I have seen some senior level politicians do very well with it (MassGovernor for example) while watching others use it as purely a one-way news push. Time will tell how this experiment goes, I will let you know.

Here is the list of Twitter accounts I have reached out to:



Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Andrew Krzmarzick

I think this is incredibly timely, John. I keep saying (to whoever will listen!) that this year is a critical moment for government 2.0. At these mid-term elections, most members of Congress will be copying the “Obama Election Playbook,” using social media to pummel us with self-promotion. My fear is that they will use it in a “1.0” way with two probable outcomes: (a) it works and they say “Hey, this stuff is great! Let me holler through my megaphone some more!” or (b) it works and they say, “Hey this stuff is great for public relations!” but fail to realize it’s value to get serious work done in government as a collaboration tool (not just communications). In turn, these outcomes could have an impact on perspective and policy related to social media that would not be as beneficial to citizens in the long run.

Your experiment is a great way to take their temperature and see what we can expect as the year wears on…I appreciate your creativity and look forward to the outcome report.

John Moore

I agree Andrew, this year is very important. I am anxious to drive the anti-guru mentality that I have written about across business and government in 2010 because I too feel it is critical. I think, however, that you have hit upon a key point. It is even more important for government than business given the election cycles….



Steve Lunceford

Your results will be interesting John, but if I had to guess, you’ll see a pretty low level of interactivity. Some U of MD researchers studied tweets from Congress and found most are using Twitter simply to push info out. See story at WashPost: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/19/AR2009091902389.html?wprss=rss_politics

Also wanted to make you aware of *much better* resources to find IDs if you decide to expand this experiment. Check out http://govtwit.com (which I manage), http://TweetCongress.org and http://GovLuv.com to try and track down Gov/political Twitter IDs

[note, reposting comment I left on John’s WP blog]

John Moore

Thanks Steve. I will be sharing all data as I go, nothing held back. If you can think of others who I should follow up with I am happy to broaden the experiment this week, just don’t want to add too many people beyond that.

Thank you for sharing the great resources as well, they will be reviewed.


Wayne Moses Burke


This is an interesting idea that you are systematically putting into motion. I’d like to throw some ideas and concerns your way to help improve your results:

1. I think you will get different results from House vs. Senate and Dem vs. Rep. You may want to analyze your results that way, at least in one cut of the analysis.
2. It will be particularly interesting to see if they know (or care) about the OGD. I mean, it doesn’t actually effect them directly, but only through whatever cultural transition it may bring to government more broadly writ.
3. This point is simultaneously self-serving, but you may find it easier to send out your messages through GovLuv.org – we’ve collected as many twitter accounts for senators and reps as we can find – I’m sure you’ll find more than you currently have if you’re interested in expanding your experiment. Admittedly, it is oriented around an individual communicating with his or her reps only, so the full list would be hard to come by, but let me know if you’re interested and I’ll figure something out.
4. Finally, we have sorted twitter accounts into 4 types: official, campaign, staff, and personal. It may be interesting to sort your responses into which type of account you requested the info from also.

Anyway, I hope you find this interesting and helpful. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Twitter and the Hill and thought I’d share.


John Moore

Thanks Wayne, great ideas. For this round of experimentation my desire is to keep it somewhat random, a mix of Democrats and Republicans, staying at the Senator account level. In later experiments I think it would be very, very, interesting, to change the experiment around similar to how you have proposed.

If you have time, we should chat in the next 2 – 3 weeks and discuss, would love to hear more of your thinking on this important topic.