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New Insights into Communicating with Congress

BY Alan Rosenblatt | Tuesday, February 8 2011

In the latest installment of the Congressional Management Foundation's Communicating with Congress research series, CMF has teamed up with A More Perfect Union to update its survey-based research on how congressional staff view online communications between Congress and its Constituents. Of particular note in this report is staffers' views of social media. In particular, staffers are increasingly attuned to the two-way communication social media provides.

While staffers still see social media more as a set of channels for getting their bosses' message out to constituents (74%), fully 64% see social media as a means to better understand constituents' views. This is an important finding, especially given developments in how social media is being used to influence Congress.

As I have discussed in previous writings, speeches, and trainings, the use of social media as a grassroots advocacy tool, a.k.a. social advocacy, is a game-changer. With Members setting up virtual offices on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Fklickr, they are opening doors for more citizens, from among their voting and national constituencies, to express their views and call on Members to vote for or against bills. In essence, they are creating opportunities for virtual demonstrations outside the doors of their virtual offices. And since these demonstrations are not restricted to citizens who live in the Members' states or districts, it forces Members to consider the impact of their votes on the national debate.

Recent blog posts by others have explored the impact of social media on advocacy. Allyson Kapin rightly argues that social media should never be the sole channel for advocacy campaigns. That said, there are some clear examples where social media can be a crucial channel for winning advocacy campaigns, as Megan Yarbrough details in her recent post.

Among Megan's examples is the Raise Hope for Congo campaign my colleagues at the ENOUGH Project ran to pass the Conflict Minerals bill last session. By targeting the Facebook pages of a limited number of members of the House Foreign Affairs committee, ENOUGH was able to recruit co-sponsors and convince the chairman to push the bill through the committee a year ahead of schedule. Within a couple months, it became law.

So, within this context, to see so many staffers looking to social media to not only talk to constituents, but to listen to them, as well, is incredibly heartening. It is also incredibly wise of those staffers because social media provides a set of channels where citizens can directly effect the reputation and performance of ALL Members of Congress.