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A brief look at how 4 in Congress use social media

By Kelly F. Zimmerman, Kristen Barbaresi and David Charns
From The Medill News Service / September 29, 2011

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WASHINGTON—Advocacy groups for young people say these four members of Congress are using social media effectively:

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SEN. CLAIRE McCASKILL, D-Mo.

Twitter name: clairecmc

Number of Facebook "likes": 10,000

Number of Twitter followers: 58,000

Funnel cake and the debt ceiling. Two very different topics, yet both are mentioned on McCaskill's Twitter page. Her last tweet during the debt ceiling debate: "Taking a blanket and pillow to the Capitol. (hash)neveragoodsign."

McCaskill's office says the senator is not only responsible for the messages coming from clairecmc, her personal account, but she also responds to dozens of Facebook posts and Tweets each week.

When McCaskill exceeds the 140-character maximum on Twitter, she occasionally turns to Tumblr.

The topic of a recent blog post: Why she is not following you on Twitter. The reason: time. "I could take the easy route and say I'm following thousands of people," it says. "But that would feel dishonest because I really would not have the time to read all of their tweets."

Regardless of whether McCaskill is following you on Twitter, she still lands in the top 10 members of Congress for the highest number of Twitter followers.

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SEN. JOHN BOOZMAN, R-Ark.

Twitter name: JohnBoozman

Number of Facebook "likes": 4,000

Number of Twitter followers: 7,000

Boozman has a new method for responding to constituents: video. The first two episodes of "From the Mailbag" feature the senator addressing questions from Arkansas residents on camera.

While he takes the spotlight in his five-minute YouTube clips, his press staff members are behind the scenes typing Twitter and Facebook posts. Communications staffer Sara Lasure says using multiple platforms is common for Boozman's office. A review of his online efforts shows website blog entries generally are posted several times a week and tweets are usually posted at least once a day.

Which platform does Boozman prefer? His Twitter followers outnumber his Facebook "likes" almost twofold, but Lasure says Facebook adds a personal touch and connects to his home base.

"Facebook is more Arkansas-oriented," Lasure said. "Twitter is kind of the gamut of people who follow us."

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REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.

Twitter name: RepPaulRyan

Number of Facebook "likes": 82,000

Number of Twitter followers: 72,000

Ryan tweets more than about 250 other members of Congress who are on Twitter, posting an average of 2.3 tweets a day. He also leads most colleagues in popularity, placing in the top 10 members of Congress for the most Facebook "likes" and Twitter followers. Yet the man behind the House budget plan for dealing with the deficit and debt follows just one Twitter account, NationalDebt.

Press secretary Kevin Seifert says Ryan's primary hub for getting his message out is his website, which features regular updates from the office and a prominent invitation to "Join Paul on Facebook."

Searching for videos? Find them on his website or YouTube page, where Ryan has more than 200 videos and about 2,500 subscribers.

Ryan does not have a designated social media staffer but manages his own Twitter account with help from his office. Seifert says social media allow the congressman to share information with people who don't have the opportunity to speak to him face to face.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.

Twitter name: NancyPelosi

Number of Facebook "likes": 45,000

Number of Twitter followers: 83,000

The House minority leader says if you aren't on Facebook, you might as well be faxing your press releases. According to one of her aides, not only is Pelosi a huge advocate for social media, but she was the first member of Congress to sign up for YouTube, in 2006.

About once a month, Pelosi's office holds technology sessions, which have featured training for House Democrats in Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. In March, her office hosted a "Speed Geeking" event, where House members had a chance to use a variety of social media tools and learn why they are important for constituent outreach. On the training docket for the fall: Google Plus.

An aide in the Pelosi office says one of her favorite social media activities is looking at who is mentioning her on Twitter because it gives her real-time feedback.

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Editor's Note: This story was reported for The Associated Press by students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.