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Less is more for James Moore and Denis Coderre, who have mastered the art of delivering a political message in 140 characters or less.

A new study has identified them - the Heritage Minister and the Quebec Liberal MP - as the most effective users of Twitter on Parliament Hill. They tweet about everything from the devastation of the Haitian earthquake to the Winter Olympics and hockey and polls. And they have built significant networks using Twitter, which other politicians may just want to emulate.

The study, House of Tweets by Mark Blevis, a digital public affairs strategist at the consulting firm Fleishman-Hillard, looks at the use of Twitter, the real-time social publishing network, by federal MPs.

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It comes on the heels of the Finance Department's announcement that it too is adapting to the new digital world. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget will be tweeted, bit by bit, next week. (Mr. Flaherty has a Twitter account that has never been used, according to the study.)

Mr. Blevis, meanwhile, examined political tweets for a month, leading up to Feb. 19, 2010. Using a free online analysis tool, called a "Twitalyzer," he looked at the clout, influence and generosity of twittering MPs.

First, he discovered that only 20 per cent of MPs are actively tweeting and 37 per cent of the 308 MPs have accounts. "So we have a lot of opportunity for uptake," Mr. Blevis says.

But that figure is not so striking when put in context. Canadian politicians are not lagging so far behind their U.S. counterparts - of the 435 members of Congress only 132 or 30 per cent are using Twitter.

Liberal MPs are the most active tweeters on the Hill - 37 Liberals use Twitter, compared to 19 Conservatives, 22 NDP MPs and four Bloc MPs.

As well, there are 17 MPs, including Speaker Peter Milliken, NDP MPs Charlie Angus and Joe Comartin and Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, who have Twitter accounts they haven't used.

And like many things in the world, status attracts Twitter followers, Mr. Blevis found.

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For example, the political leaders, Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton have significant followers: 46,441 follow Prime Minister Harper; Mr. Ignatieff is followed by 37,619 people, fewer than NDP Leader Layton who has 38,086 followers.

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau possesses political celebrity status and boasts a big following for a backbench MP - 24,650 followers compared to 25,829 for Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe.

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Meanwhile, the top three followed politicians do little to engage their followers. On the Twitalyzer engagement and generosity scale they all score zero.

"This suggests that they generally use Twitter as a broadcast, not a communication channel or a vehicle to engage with Canadians," Mr. Blevis writes in his report.

Among the leaders, Mr. Layton has the most clout. It is measured by looking at the prominence of a Twitter account, such as the number of times someone is mentioned in a third-party tweet.

Mr. Blevis believes the NDP Leader's clout factor is the result of his recent announcement that he is suffering from prostate cancer. "Twitter messages referencing Mr. Layton became more frequent in the morning of February 5 when his office announced a press conference for that afternoon," the report says.

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"Tweets of support directed at Mr. Layton's Twitter account, poured into the microblogging service for several days driving his Clout ranking up 574 per cent."

Mr. Ignatieff's clout rating is the lowest among the leaders.

Given all that, however, two MPs - Mr. Moore and Mr. Coderre - stand out as the most effective users of Twitter.

The two men engage their followers, Mr. Blevis says, noting that Mr. Coderre has a good "conversational tone" to his Tweets while Mr. Moore has developed "an authentic, relatable and active online voice."

And they are not tweeting for vanity. Rather, the two MPs are using it for politics, making announcements, having conversations about ideas and building networks.

Mr. Blevis has found that Mr. Moore's following is growing steadily, attracting 20 or 30 new followers every day over the last month. "If you offer value people will find you," he says.

And why is this important?

Mr. Blevis believes that politicians need to use the "digital space" knowledgably and actively as "Canada heads into a debate on the digital economy."

"A core group of MPs have been successful at adapting their networking and communication skills for services like Twitter," he writes.

"These MPs are building strong and engaged communities in the process, communities that could be important assets in future elections and leadership races."

(File photo: Sean Kilpatrick for The Globe and Mail)

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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