10 Nov / Twitter Starts to Roost In Swiss Parliament

Photo of the Swiss Parliment building in Bern, Switzerland from Wikicommons.

Photo of the Swiss Parliament building in Bern, Switzerland from Wikicommons.

Since the success of Barack Obama’s 2008 Social Media campaign, politicians in Switzerland know that the use of Twitter can be an important pillar in a digital campaign strategy. Nevertheless, Twitter still isn’t that popular in Switzerland, and it is still known as an elite network where mainly people from political, journalism/media and communications spaces are online.

Some politicians, however, are beginning to realize the strategic potential of using Twitter. Because of the structure of the Twitter network in Switzerland, Twitter can be a good tool to manage relationships and influence journalists and social influencers.

Despite its worldwide use, there are barely any research papers about the use of Twitter in Switzerland.  So for our bachelor thesis at the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich, my colleague Nina Rupp and I researched opinion leadership on Twitter within the Swiss parliament members.

We investigated if there were different dimensions of online opinion-leadership on Twitter. For our methodology, we tracked data from 107 of the 246 parliament members who had a Twitter account by February 2015.

After tracking data with the program R during two three-week periods, we performed a first cluster analysis to discover which accounts represented opinion leaders. We extracted a total of 25 accounts, which, according to our analysis, were opinion leaders on Twitter. We used two decisive indicators to determine this: first, the interaction, which included received Favorites, Retweets, Replies and Mentions; and second, the reach, which included the number of followers and lists.

A second analysis of those 25 accounts gave us four different clusters. By analyzing the characteristics of each, we could clearly see that there were different dimensions of opinion leadership. The following four dimensions of opinion leadership were proven in the research:

The active-interactive, phased-opportunistic opinion leader (number of opinion leaders=3)

These opinion leaders are characterized by a high active interaction (lots of Replies and Mentions) in both phases, but with a significantly higher interaction during a Parliament-session. The term phase-opportunistic means that those opinion leaders are mainly active during parliament-session compared to a non-session time.

The broad reach, phased opportunistic opinion leader (n=2)

These opinion leaders, when compared to the others in the group, have a huge number of followers and a higher level of activity in active, as well as in passive, interaction (Favorites and Retweets) during Parliament-sessions.

Inactive-interactive opinion leader with medium reach (n=8)

Opinion leaders in this cluster are characterized by a very low active and passive interaction with hardly any differences between an in-parliament session and out of session.

Constant, medium-interactive opinion leader (n=12)

Those parliament-members have a constant active and passive interaction on a consistent level with no differences between Parliament-session and non Parliament-session phase.

The average age among the opinion leaders was 43.63 years, and 50.53 years among the members on Twitter, and 53.58 years as the average age in the whole parliament.

Additionally through our research, we could statistically prove that parliament members on Twitter (n=107) get significantly more Retweets, Replies and Mentions when parliament is in session.

In my view, these results revealed some interesting insights about the use of Twitter in Swiss politics. For example, the intensity of members’ Twitter usage increased once the Parliament session was underway.

Clearly, Twitter is slowly but steadily finding its way into Swiss politics. Perhaps the most important reasons to use Twitter is that it gives the user the possibility to connect with media outlets and journalists, and to interact with their audience without the classic newspaper-gatekeeper. Therefore, Twitter provides an opportunity to manage online relationships and to exert influence in an easy and efficient way. In addition, more and more media outlets directly embed tweets into their online articles, which may give a politician an extra option to increase their visibility.

For more information on this research project, please contact


Mattia Bütikofer is turner4D’s visiting fellow from Switzerland, where he works in our Zurich office. He is studying media and communications science at the University of Zurich.





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