The economist and commentator David McWilliams has topped a Twitter “power list” that purports to rank Irish users according to the influence they exert on the “political and policy landscape” through their social media presence.
Mr McWilliams was ranked ahead of broadcaster Matt Cooper and the account for the website Politics.ie, with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Irish Times political correspondent Harry McGee completing the top five.
The "Power100" list was compiled by the public relations agency Wilson Hartnell and political researchers Electionista, and like many such lists it involves a mix of art and science.
The PR firm calculated the list by deciding upon an initial group of 250 accounts deemed to be “influential”, and then analysing which accounts within this group were following other accounts from the group.
TD, councillor and senator accounts were taken as the starting point, with the media and commentator accounts most-followed by the politicians later added into the mix.
The rankings are then based on the number of such “power followers” and the number of “public followers”.
Mr Adams, whose idiosyncratic tweets raised eyebrows when he first joined Twitter, is one of only two TDs in the top 10, with the other being the sixth-placed Shane Ross.
Irish Independent political editor Fionnan Sheahan, RTÉ Prime Time presenter David McCullagh, Irish Times communities editor David Cochrane and Government account @OireachtasNews round out the top 10.
To make the upper echelons of the list, “influencers must have combined both broad public reach and influence on other influencers”, Wilson Hartnell said.
Despite not having tweeted since July 2011, the Taoiseach's account, @EndaKennyTD, makes it into 14th place. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was ranked 48th, while the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was in 30th.
The list is dominated by men, with just 21 of the accounts in the “Power 100” owned by individual women, although some accounts are anonymous and 12 relate to organisations.
According to the analysis, Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald is the only Cabinet member to follow all her colleagues, while Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney are the most followed by their colleagues.
The researchers speculate that the inactivity on the Taoiseach’s account reflects “ a switch to using party and government accounts and uncertainty about how to best to manage his social media presence”.
But the lack of consistency in how many politicians use Twitter means that an effective social media strategy is still “a political prize waiting to be taken”, they add.
“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,” said Wilson Hartnell head of public affairs Alistair Hodgett.
“While there are some strong examples of social media use to build and leverage influence, the general picture is of missed opportunity and unutilised potential.”
Wilson Hartnell is part of the public relations group Ogilvy and is ultimately owned by the world's largest communications company, WPP.
Marshall Manson from Ogilvy’s social media division contrasted the situation in Ireland with how politicians in the US give “real time responses” via Twitter and use it as an “always on” campaign tool. “Some simple advice that our politicians should remember is that the conversation does not end on election day,” he said.
Although the study does not consider the impact of retweets, “favourites” or replies, the highest-ranked accounts do tend to be interactive, with politicians lower down the list slower to engage, Mr Manson said.
“The best performers mix personal and policy. In short, be interesting.”