Leveraging Website Statistics

March 30, 2011

It is always difficult to measure the effectiveness of media campaigns.  Traditionally, staffs have counted media clips or calculated cable news ratings when a Member of Congress partakes in an interview.  While these methods produce a snapshot of exposure for a particular initiative, they do not present the whole picture and are not entirely quantifiable.  Fortunately, the Web offers a host of new methods for communications professionals to evaluate messaging efficacy.

Congressional websites are in many ways the first impression Members of Congress display toward constituents.  In addition, they can be a calculator to gauge the strength of communications campaigns.  Staffers can measure daily website unique visitors and analyze changes when new initiatives are introduced.

For instance, if the communications director decides to emphasize online and television appearances as opposed to radio and newspapers, he or she can measure the new campaign’s success by quantifying website visitors.  Other online measurement tools include Member Wikipedia page views, Facebook impressions, and Twitter retweets.

If a Member introduces a new bill or a scandal erupts, citizens will invariably scour the Internet for more information.  For instance, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) came under scrutiny recently for admitting she failed to pay property taxes on her private plane.  On March 22, the day the story broke, Senator McCaskill’s Wikipedia page received ten times more visitors than an average day, according to http://stats.grok.se/en/201103/Claire%20McCaskill.  In addition, she had an exponential increase in her Twitter following, which now contains more than 50,000 followers.

Web tools give Members of Congress more avenues to measure the effectiveness of legislative and communications campaigns.  These statistics can then be leveraged to make decisions on what legislative initiatives to pursue, what media outlets pitch, and how best to allocate a Member’s limited time – optimizing office operational efficiency.



To Follow or Not to Follow

September 15, 2010

Should politicians follow their supporters on Twitter?

To follow or not to follow, that is the question. I am not misquoting Shakespeare, but referring to whether or not politicians should follow their supporters on Twitter.

Allow me to elaborate. Some politicians, including Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Senator Jim Demint (R-SC), automatically follow Twitter users that follow them. On the other side of the aisle, the Democrat’s Twitter aficionado, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), refuses to follow her Twitter supporters and has gone out of her way to explain her position. So should politicians follow or not? Let’s explore.

Congressman Issa is Congress’ third most active Twitter user with approximately four tweets per day according to tweetcongress.org. Issa has more than 13,000 Twitter followers and follows more than 11,000 Twitter users.  Less than one day after following Issa on Twitter, a user is followed by the Congressman and receives a direct message. The message reads:

Do you want a government that saves more than it spends? I’m working in Washington towards that goal and want to hear what you think about.

Senator McCaskill is the leading Democratic Twitter user with more than 40,000 followers. Yet, McCaskill does not follow a single Twitter account.  The Senator is adamant that all her tweets come directly from her, or are approved by her. As such, she refuses to follow others since it is impossible for her to respond to their messages directly. She explains her decision in detail here.

By automatically following other Twitter accounts, politicians open a new channel of communication with their constituents.  Tools such as TweetDeck or Socialoomph allow Twitter users to automatically follow people who follow them, and send a welcome message similar to Congressman Issa’s. In addition, by following other Twitter users politicians can grow their account quicker and send direct messages to their supporters.

But it is impossible for a Member of Congress to respond to hundreds, if not thousands, of Twitter messages per day. Which means invariably their staff will be the ones directly responding to constituents. This is no different than other forms of communication such as form letters or e-mail, but it reduces the personal affects of Twitter and Social Media. Senator McCaskill may not maximize her following but she can ensure her Twitter account is personal and authentic.

Ultimately, politicians looking to increase their Twitter following as quickly as possible are best served to setup an automated following apparatus.  Some of their followers will be spammers and advertisers but it will increase their numbers and give their account more credibility to the media and ordinary citizens. Politicians looking for substance over quantity are best served with the more personal approach of Senator McCaskill.  It may limit their Twitter following, but that following will be more faithful and enjoy the personal connection.

Putting the Sport in Politics

September 12, 2010

How can politicians cross the political divide and connect with their constituents?  One sure fire way is sports.

This is nothing new. Politicians have been attending sporting events since the 19th century. President Howard Taft began the tradition of the ceremonial first pitch to start the baseball season in 1910. But in 2010, politicians are demonstrating their team spirit digitally.

For the Labor Day matchup between Virginia Tech and Boise State, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Jim Risch (R-ID) publically made a bet that the Senator representing the losing team will have to stand on the steps of the Capitol wearing the winning team’s jersey. Senator Warner publicized the bet on his Twitter and Facebook pages. Unfortunately for the Virginia Senator, Boise State won 33-30. Hope Senator Warner enjoys wearing blue.

In preparation for last year’s Nebraska and Missouri football game, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) incited a prank war with Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE). McCaskill raided Nelson’s office, replacing family pictures with doctored photos of Nelson dawning Missouri gear. McCaskill then posted the new pictures on her Twitter page.

In addition to what they can do while in office, politicians running for office can garner extensive value from advertising with local sports teams. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), a Wake Forest University graduate running for reelection, is placing campaign advertisements on Wake Forest’s official sports Website: www.wakeforestsports.com. He also acknowledged Wake Forest football and North Carolina Tarheels football on his Twitter page last week.

Nothing can unite a constituency more than sports. Fans quickly dismiss political ideology for tailgates and touchdowns. Politicians that can tap into the energy of a sports fan base can connect with their constituents while demonstrating a commitment to the town or state. And the proliferation of social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare present new, exciting ways to root for the home team.