Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are useful tools for members of Congress to gauge public opinion on issues and to communicate with their constituents.
Every member of Congress has at least one social media account and posts regularly online.
Is Social Media effective at contacting Congress?
In our comprehensive guide that teachers readers how to influence Congress and advocate for your issue, we have a chapter called The Seven Most Effective Ways To Contact Congress. After much deliberation, we decided that social media did not make the list.
Proponents for social media making our rankings argued that congressional offices have reported using social media more and more to monitor the public opinion of their constituents.
Congress also pays attention to what is “trending.” Popular hashtags like #TaxReform, #LoveWins, #BlackLivesMatter, #BringBackOurGirls, and #NetNeutrality have impacted policy in the United States in some way.
In addition to using social media to gauge public opinion, members of Congress use social media to speak directly to their constituents. It is a useful tool for them to bypass traditional media and communicate with their voters. Lawmakers are starting to recognize the importance of social media in discussing their policy positions and explaining their votes to the people.
However, we decided that social media would not make the list of The Seven Most Effective Ways To Contact Congress because of how much noise is out there on social media. Without a large following or a partner organization, it's difficult for an individuals to stand out from the crowd.
To put it into perspective, on Twitter there are around 6,000 tweets posted per second, which means 350,000 tweets per minute, 500 million tweets per day, and around 200 billion tweets per year. With all that racket, members are not expected to respond to every post, and your message can easily be overlooked or ignored without political repercussions.
When you are using social media to influence your elected official, you need to accomplish two very important goals:
1) Your representative (or his or her staff) reads your post, and
2) They see that your issue has a lot of support from their constituents.
Here are the eight best way to ensure that members of Congress see you post and know that your issue has a lot of support from their constituents:
Tag your representative’s personal account. If he or she has an account that they personally manage, your message has a better chance of being seen by your actual member of Congress.
If your member of Congress does not have a personal account, make sure you tag their official account instead. It may not be seen by the elected official, but a staffer will get a notification when you post.
Post your message to your representative’s favorite social media channel. Don’t tag them on Twitter if they devote more time to Facebook.
If they support your issue, thank them in the comment section. Politicians love compliments in a public forum.
Make your tweet personal. Personal tweets have a much higher chance of getting shared and liked.
Include a good image. Posts with pictures get a lot more likes and shares.
Use hashtags. Research shows that posts with hashtags get more likes.
Tag an individual or organization who works on your issue in your post.
Here are some social media tips to help you stand out from the crowd
1) Retweet, like, or share your member's posts.
If any member of Congress posts something online about your issue that is supportive, make sure you retweet, like, or share the post with your network. It’s one thing if a staffer sees another post get a lot of attention; it’s better if the post they wrote gets a lot of positive responses. Also, consider commenting on it, or better yet, thank the member of Congress for their leadership on the issue. The more comments, likes, or shares the post gets, the more likely it is that staffers will perceive it as popular issue.
2) Ask for retweets, likes, or shares on your posts.
Reach out to your network beforehand and ask them to like/share/retweet your post. If there is an individual or an organization with a lot of followers who cares about your issue, direct message them asking for them to share it. Social media posts can backfire if it looks like nobody cares about the issue. If nobody is liking, sharing, or retweeting your posts, staffers might interpret that to mean that nobody cares about your issue.
3) Ask a softball question.
One strategy that works well is to ask a question on social media that will give your member of Congress an opportunity to talk about their work. If you ask a question like, “Why didn’t you support x, y, z policy?” your chances of getting a response are slim.
However, if you ask a question that will give your member of Congress a chance to highlight their accomplishments, your chances of a response are much greater. For example, say something like, “Thanks for support on x, y, z. Would you mind telling us what the next steps in the bill are and how we can support it?” Being viewed as a partner is much more impactful than criticizing or humiliating.
If you want to learn how to make the most of your social media account, shoot us an email and we can take a look at your posts so far and give you suggestions specific to the issue you care about and how you can be more effective advocating on that issue online.
Remember, the only way we are going to level the playing field between average citizens, big corporations, and wealthy political donors is by adopting smarter, most effective strategies for contacting Congress.
This post was adapted from The Advocacy Guide, a free e-book that teaches you how to advocate effectively for your issue and how to influence your member of Congress. Inside you will learn: 1) How Congress Works, 2) How To Influence Congressional Staffers, 3) Six Steps to Creating an Awesome Advocacy Plan, and 4) The most effective ways to contact Congress. You can download it for free at www.advocacyguide.org.