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A reason to applaud Congress

Posted by at Jul 28, 2011 04:29 PM CDT
Categories: Advocacy, Nonprofit Trends, Research, Social Media

It’s been a rough couple of weeks with the debt ceiling negotiations dominating the media and negative public sentiment at an all time high. So, I want to call attention to a little gem of a report that was released this week which may lift your spirits. 

In their #SocialCongress report, the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) shared some really great research about how quickly our elected officials have adopted Social Media as a channel for communicating with and listening to their constituents. Considering that the word “luddite” could accurately be used to describe Congress’s pace in adopting technologies like websites and email communication, this is remarkable news.

A lot of the report’s findings are not terribly surprising, such as the fact that younger staffers and early adopters are much more likely to see value from social network communications.  But, since Convio sponsored the report, I had a chance to participate in a Q&A session with CMF and there are several  great takeaways from this report that grassroots advocacy organizations can put to good use as they start (or expand) the way that they engage with elected officials via social networks. 

  • Congress is using Social Networks to communicate with constituents
    Most notably, the report confirms that not only does almost every member of Congress have a Facebook page or Twitter feed, but they consider these channels to be an important place for them to communicate with their constituents.  As with so many other new channels of communication, this doesn’t mean that all the old channels are going away.  Members of Congress are turning to Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube to augment what they are hearing from other channels.
  • Other channels aren’t dead
    Earlier this week, when congressional webservers and phone systems failed because too many constituents contacted their Representatives all at once, it was the perfect time to rely on Facebook and Twitter to get messages through.  But, we shouldn’t interpret the report (or this week’s technical glitch) as a directive to stop using email, phone, or even postal mail as a means of communicating.  Effective grassroots advocacy campaigns are all about getting the right messages from the right constituents to the right officials at the right time via the right channel.   
  • You need a unique strategy for social media advocacy
    The report suggests that you may need a different strategy for how you engage via social networks. When it comes to taking the pulse of their constituents, members of Congress primarily turn to Facebook to create a dialogue and hear what their constituents have to say about it. This means that part of your job will be to find those dialogues being created about your issues and then driving constituents to comment. 
  • Quality still trumps quantity, most of the time
    With each subsequent report that CMF puts out, we are reminded that the quality (and uniqueness) of the message is more important than the channel by which it’s delivered.  In particular, Facebook does not lend itself to identical form comment campaigns.  I’m also told that Facebook has shared directly with CMF that they are prepared to squash any advocacy campaigns that appear to be run by an organization that is trying to “game the system.” So, it’s in your best interest to place the highest priority on comments that are written in your constituent’s own words.


On the other hand, Twitter’s retweet functionality better supports this kind of campaign, so I’d argue that it’s not a terrible idea to pursue that approach there.  Families USA’s recent campaign is a great example of how an org might go about doing that.  

I’d be remiss in my duties as an advocacy product manager if I didn’t point out that Convio Advocacy has recently added new tools to help you run grassroots campaigns on social networks.  Our Representative Lookup tool includes links to officials’ pages on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  And, in the release coming out in August, you’ll also be able to personalize emails and webpages with this content.  To get the most out of your next action alert, you might consider personalizing the thank you page with links to where the activist can go to “amplify” their message on their Rep’s Facebook wall. 

At the end of the day, all this new technology is bringing greater opportunity to grassroots organizations who are ready to think outside the box about how they conduct campaigns.  For those of you who are still having trouble convincing luddite organizational leaders to invest resources in social networks, I’ll arm you with one final piece of information.  A report released recently by the Pew Internet and American Life Project tells us that Facebook users are more politically engaged than the average American.  In particular, compared with other internet users a Facebook user who visits the site multiple times per day is two and a half times more likely to have attended a political rally or meeting, 57% more likely to have tried to convince someone to vote for a specific candidate, and 43% more likely to have said they voted or intended to vote (compared with non-internet users: 5.89 times more likely to have attended a meeting, 2.79 times more likely to talk to someone about their vote, and  2.19 times more likely to report voting).  So, get out there and fish where the fish are!

Watch live streaming video from facebookdclive at livestream.com

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