Alex Wirth is cofounder and CEO at Quorum in Washington, DC.
Social media is changing the way elected officials engage with constituents. Is your association part of the conversation?
If you go to your Twitter or Facebook page right now, what do you see? Probably a lot of political news. Maybe it's your media organization of choice posting a video of an interview with a legislator. Or maybe it’s your member of Congress sharing a photo of their most recent site visit.
Elected officials aren’t just using social media as a supplementary means of communication with constituents. They’re using it as the predominant channel. According to a report by Quorum, members of Congress used social media more than any other means to reach constituents in 2018. They posted 338,503 times to Twitter, 210,610 times to Facebook, 26,576 times to Instagram, and 17,289 times to YouTube.
How does this shift to social media affect your association’s grassroots advocacy efforts? The answer is twofold. First, advocacy must meet legislators where they are, using social media as a form of proactive outreach. Second, associations must post resources to social media, promoting issues and campaigns they care about.
If the lawmakers who are in a position to help you achieve your policy goals are active on social media, you need to engage there as well. With an active social media strategy, you can capture legislators’ attention and start a two-way dialogue.
At least 270 national and state associations were retweeted by a member of Congress in 2018, which means these organizations’ voices were amplified to reach thousands of the legislators’ social media followers.
And tweeting at lawmakers is just a start. You can also take a data-driven approach to advocacy by measuring their follower counts, engagement rates, and activities online. This analysis can help an organization target key influencers and maximize its audience reach.
Two ways legislators commonly use social media platforms are to share constituent stories and to present economic impact data specific to legislation or the lawmaker’s district. You can contribute to both of these conversations by sharing success stories that your association helped to foster.
Elected officials aren’t just using social media as a supplementary means of communication with constituents. They’re using it as the predominant channel.
Maybe you share a data point about how legislation affects a city in the lawmaker’s district, or maybe it’s a positive message from the industry you represent or a constituent partner. Rather than asking the lawmaker for something, you can be seen as contributing to the policy conversation.
Consider two recent major legislative debates: tax reform in 2017 and the January 2019 government shutdown. In both cases, personal stories and economic impact data were critical for legislators who messaged a policy stance using social media.
In pushing for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Republicans consistently cited examples of organizations and individuals who stood to benefit from the new tax plan and in many cases the specific dollar amount they estimated would be saved under the new law. During the shutdown, Democrats shared the experiences of federal workers in their local districts who were furloughed, as well as the financial impact on hundreds of thousands of federal employees going without paychecks.
Messages on social media will never replace face-to-face interactions between legislators and constituents, but you can stay a step ahead of national conversation by monitoring and participating in substantive policy debates already happening online. Make sure your association is using social media to engage actively with your legislative champions, and craft messages that are helpful to lawmakers who can spotlight your issue or campaign.