The claim is made in a detailed analysis of who is helping — and, at times, deliberately hindering — online political debate.
The study, which can be read in full at www.wilsonhartnell.ie, is based on an initial group of 250 “influential” Irish Twitter accounts.
An examination of who-follows-who within this ‘power’ group, combined with their total follower levels, was used to calculate who had the most influence on public views on the popular social media platform.
The list — which includes TDs, senators, councillors, media commentators and other interested bodies — is topped by commentator, David McWilliams, broadcaster, Matt Cooper and www.politics.ie.
Politicians, Gerry Adams (4th), Shane Ross (6th), Taoiseach Enda Kenny (14th), Lucinda Creighton (15th) and Defence Minister Simon Coveney (17th) make the top 20.
But the research by WHPR and Electionista said politicians were failing to implement coherent online strategies, strongly suggesting the public was turning to other sources to help shape their views.
Citing examples to prove its point, the study found Mr Kenny’s Twitter account had been left idle since July 2011.
Personalised, if sometimes bizarre, tweets such as those from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams were a better way to gain online public support as people feel they know the person behind the brand, the research said.
US expert Marshall Manson said the message was “not to be boring”, adding the current focus on safety-first formal statements instead of genuine online discussion with real people shows politicians have yet to learn the value of the social media world.
“Influence in politics or over policy via social media is not the same as political power or influence, but it is a growing element of it,” explained WHPR’s head of public affairs, Alistair Hodgett.
“While there are some examples of social media use to build and leverage influence, the general picture is of missed opportunity and unutilised potential.”
With a general election on the horizon within the next 18 months, Mr Manson said it was a near guarantee that politicians’ previously quiet accounts would jump back into life soon.
However, unless real public interaction replaces a reluctant online presence, he said the approach could backfire on those seeking to gain, or stay, in power as social media users can spot the difference.
“Many are not using Twitter to its fullest potential as a means of driving the policy agenda or as an ‘always on’ campaign tool.
“If we look at the contrast with politicians in the US, at all levels they have replaced traditional ‘rapid response’ operations with ‘real time’, as voters want to be connected in the moment.
“I expect to see Irish politicians increase their social media activity in the run-up to a general election. Some simple advice is that the conversation does not end on election day,” he said.
1: David McWilliams, broadcaster and commentator.
2: Matt Cooper, broadcaster and commentator.
3: www.politics.ie, asocial media political site.
4. Gerry Adams TD.
5. Harry McGee, political journalist and commentator.