Five Social Media Tips for Incoming Members of Congress

In January, 12 new Senators and at least 81 new Representatives will be sworn in as Members of the 113th United States Congress, and they will be stepping into an environment that is increasingly social media savvy, where Google + hangouts and hackathons are de rigeur.  What should these new legislators know about new media that can give them a leg-up on their esteemed colleagues?

First, they should recognize that Capitol Hill is a hotbed of social media. While some complain about the lack of progress and bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., when it comes to digital media, our elected officials have been busy embracing social media in a number of ways.

Case in point:  For the past few years, both the Democrats and the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives direct a social media challenge that encourages participants to generate new followers, likes and subscribers on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.  Every year a member is crowned as a champion from each party.

There was even a Hackathon sponsored by Facebook and the congressional leadership in the current Congress, as well as the launch of GOP Labs, a war-room type effort that not only monitors social media but helps train Republican staff members on effective ways to engage with constituents, media and other stakeholders.

New members and incumbents can also get a head start by adapting the lessons of the 2012 campaign, which proved that digital platforms are not only key to mobilizing supporters but can also affect behaviors. Think of the implications then, for passing legislation on “hot-button” issues, such as immigration or a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.”

Here are five social media tips for the incoming freshman class of the next U.S. Congress:

All About Engagement

We heard a lot about the importance of measuring engagement during the 2012 election, instead of relying solely on the number of fans or followers as a metric of success.  Obama held a solid lead over his rival Mitt Romney in fans and followers throughout the race, though Paul Ryan bested Vice President Joe Biden in those stats.  The fact is, fans and followers don’t assure a winning outcome.   Focus on content that generates re-tweets, comments, or shares. Facebook’s “talking about” feature was hailed by the Romney campaign as a key barometer. Social channels are a great way for staff and members to gauge the sentiment in their district over an issue especially as more adults (i.e. voters) take to platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Content is King  

Going hand in hand with engagement is the recognition that “it’s all about the content, stupid,” to paraphrase a famous James Carville quote.

Members and staff need to look beyond text posts and focus on creative messaging that is visually engaging and spurs an online dialogue.   During the 2012 campaign, images from key events on the campaign trail or the news cycle—think of President Obama’s “Four more years” Facebook post–often turned into viral Internet memes.

Crafting effective posts and messages during a legislative battle, for example, can result in organic growth and increase in shares, likes, retweets.

Get Creative  

Think outside the box.  Try new things.  Test different methods to see what works. That’s what several digital operatives said was key to their strategy during the last election. Getting creative means going beyond traditional platforms of Twitter and Facebook to incorporate niche channels, such as Pinterest or Storify, as a new way to engage constitutents.

Advertise

There continues to be evidence that advertising—whether it’s a sponsored story on Facebook or a post on Twitter—works as a means of growing a base of support on social media.  With the ability to hone a message to a well-defined demographic group, social media offers potent ways to reach even the smallest group of issues-based voters.  Video has long been a staple of political communications, and can easily be incorporated into advertising on Facebook.

Target

The Obama campaign proved once again that the candidate that understands exactly which needs to be reached, and how to best reach that voter, can pay major dividends. The campaign mined that data to test messages for advertising all the way down to the words used in a Tweet or Facebook post.  Congressional staff can take that lesson to look for ways to gather data on social media followers and friends, and take advantage of the latest targeting tools, to craft content aimed at very specific voting blocs.

In the future, look for members to continue to take advantage of Facebook’s open graph technology to gather data about their constituents, and use that information to better engage, target and mobilize supporters around important debates, just as their counterparts on the presidential campaigns did.

Social media has the ability to change how even the most routine constituent service tasks are managed. A regular newsletter for constituents that’s always been delivered via snail mail can be transformed into an iPad magazine complete with a video message from your representative.  As voters migrate to various smartphones and tablets, look for members to adapt their message accordingly.

Related Stories
Mediabistro Course

Social Media 201

Social Media 201Starting October 13Social Media 201 picks up where Social Media 101 left off, to provide you with hands-on instruction for gaining likes, followers, retweets, favorites, pins, and engagement. Social media experts will teach you how to make social media marketing work for your bottom line and achieving your business goals. Register now!