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.



Moving from Social Media 1.0 to 2.0

January 25, 2011

We have seemingly reached the point where social media is accepted in all crevices of Capitol Hill.  A vast majority of members from both parties have twitter and/or Facebook pages, and are updating them regularly with posts highlighting legislative achievements and local news appearances.  So now what?

While a majority of politicians have social media pages, they are still not leveraging their full capabilities.  It is not enough to tweet and post on Facebook, the true power in social media is its ability to inspire action.  Matt Lira, new media director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said in a recent Politico article that social media’s “real potential lies in organizing government itself and how it functions.”[1]

There is no formal definition of social media 1.0 and 2.0, but here is my vision.  Social media 1.0 is what you currently see coming from most Member offices.  It involves basic posting on Facebook and Twitter and floor speech recordings on YouTube.  Its goal is to supplement traditional media coverage and draw attention to a Member’s legislative achievements.

Social media 2.0 is a planned and clearly orchestrated attempt to inspire action among its followers.  Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube posts are coordinated to present a central theme and encourage followers to express their feelings through replies or definitive action.  All social media postings are integrated to ensure a consistent message.  In addition, new forms of technology – such as mobile – are leveraged to enhance exposure.

A recent Roll Call article discussing radio’s influence on Congress included a quote from Rachel Maddow noting that “comparatively speaking, messaging on the left is much more ad hoc, much less disciplined and repetitive, and much less wide-reaching.”[2] The fact is Republican social media has been much more coordinated, with many more GOP members leveraging Web channels, as noted in our past article “Enthusiasm or Emphasis?“.  While social media is not the only reason for greater Republican messaging coordination, it is an important one.

Need a lesson on the power of social media 2.0?  Look to private business or entertainment.  Watch television commercials and see how the advertisements are encouraging you to log online or visit a Facebook page for more information.  Congressional communications in the digital age is about salesmanship as much as it is about substance.  And Members of Congress that harness a coordinated message supplemented by next generation social media tactics will be the ones to prevail.

Getting Out the Vote

October 27, 2010

Less than one week until Election Day. In order to celebrate, we are going to spend these final days examining original and effective tactics campaigns are deploying to market their final message and drive voters to the polls.

Commit to Vote Challenge


If you are a Democrat then chances are you received this on your Facebook page at some point over the last few days. OFA is sending this message to registered Democrats on Facebook asking them to commit to vote. Users are transferred to the Commit to Vote website on barackobama.com. After signing up, users can then challenge their friends to also vote in November. This is social media canvassing at its core.

Road to Victory Tour


Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) has fired up the bus and is travelling throughout the state of North Carolina on his Road to Victory tour. The one-term Republican, and fellow Wake Forest alum, is primarily using video to generate voter enthusiasm – with his website front page saturated in Youtube links. He is also using Facebook to ensure North Carolinians know where they can vote early. The “EarlyVoteNC” icon on his page allows supporters to find their early voting location by entering their address.

24 Hours of Tom


Embattled Freshman Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA) embarked on a 24 hour, 22 stop tour on October 25. The Congressman tweeted continuously throughout his tour and placed a tour map on his website. The tour generated substantial positive publicity in local newspapers and the coverage continued into the follow day with the announcement that President Obama will hold a rally with Perriello on October 29.

Enthusiasm or Emphasis?

October 24, 2010

Recent studies have found Republicans capturing a decided advantage over Democrats in the social media sphere. A September study by OhMyGov finds Republican Members of Congress outdistancing their Democratic counterparts on Facebook by more than 2-to-1. The gap is also widening, with the Republican Facebook following increasing by 35 percent from May 1 to August 31, compared to 22 percent by Democrats. A recent Burston-Marsteller report found similar numbers for Twitter. Republican campaign-focused Twitter accounts average 4,820 followers versus 2,972 for Democrats. Of the top ten most followed Twitter accounts, eight are Republicans.

According to the OhMyGov report, on Election Day in 2008, President Obama’s Facebook page had more than 112,000 fans compared to Senator McCain’s 4,600. The Democrats’ social media dominance seemed as firmly entrenched as their Congressional majorities. But in a span of two years – just as they are on the cusp of flipping the makeup of Congress –­ Republicans have captured the social media market. The question is how? Is it firmly the result of voter enthusiasm? Or have the Republicans placed a greater emphasis on social media and used it to ignite an anti-Democratic fervor?

Accounting for official Congressional social media pages, Republicans Members of Congress have 133 Twitter pages (61%) and 206 Facebook pages (96%), according to www.govsm.com. Democratic Members of Congress total 99 Twitter pages (32%) and 238 Facebook pages (76%). These numbers demonstrate that Republicans place a greater emphasis on digital communications than their Democratic counterparts.

Heading into the 2010 midterm elections, no constituency has shown more enthusiasm than the Tea Party. A recent CNN poll finds that 73 percent of Tea Party supporters are “very enthusiastic” about voting in November. Consequently only 43 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republican say the same. And these numbers are reflective in campaign social media statistics. According to a recent study by headcount.org, four of the top seven Senate campaign social media followings – when combining Facebook and Twitter followers – are Tea Party backed candidates. These politicians include Jim Demint, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Sharron Angle.

While far from being statistically significant, these numbers prove that both enthusiasm and emphasis are necessary to build a social media following. In 2010, the Republican Party has both – its base is much more engaged and party leaders are effectively capitalizing on that fervor through multimedia means – reminiscent of President Obama’s campaign in 2008.


Showcase Recess Activities

October 2, 2010

Members of Congress use recess to return to their districts and interact with constituents through town hall meetings and local events. But how many constituents are politicians actually reaching? According to an August Rasmussen Poll, only 35 percent of people have ever attended a political town hall meeting, proving a vast majority of constituents will not interact with their Congressman or Senator. This places the onus on Members to promote their recess activities through their Website and other digital means.

During August recess, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) travelled throughout Virginia meeting with constituent groups. The Senator attended 40 events and logged more than 1,600 miles on his odometer.  In order to promote his travels, the Senator’s staff created a 90 second video highlighting events and towns the Senator visited throughout the Commonwealth.

Congressman Zack Space (D-OH), in his second term representing central and southeast Ohio, posted a series of videos on his Facebook and Youtube pages through the month of August. Speaking in front of southeast Ohio landmarks, the Congressman discussed issues affecting his district and the ways in which his actions in Congress have positively affected the lives of his constituents.

While not using video, Congressman Jerry Moran (R-KS) – who is currently running for Senate in Kansas – continuously updates his Congressional Facebook page with pictures of him meeting with constituents in his district. The Congressman also posts the photos on his official Congressional Website.

Rep. Jerry Moran meeting with constituents

As long as it is not one month before an election, recess is an opportunity for Members of Congress to reconnect with their constituents. But it is impossible to meet with all voters directly, and Members need to do a better of job of selling their connection to the community. With anti-Washington attitudes enveloping the country, Members that use digital channels to showcase their connection with their district, will be best positioned to weather the anti-establishment storm. As former Speaker Tip O’Neil said, “all politics is local”, and now opportunities are available to showoff how local you are.

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.

Planting the Seeds of a Campaign on Social Media

September 7, 2010

The other day I received an e-mail alerting me that George Allen was following me on Twitter. This peaked my curiosity, knowing the former Governor and Senator is exploring a return to politics after his stunning loss to Jim Webb in 2006. The question to ponder is how can perspective politicians utilize social media as a precursor to a campaign?

2012 Presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are obvious candidates to examine for this article but instead we are going to fixate our eyes on the state of Virginia and examine two statewide politicians from opposing sides of the political spectrum.

Heading into his 2006 Senate reelection campaign, George Allen was seen by many as the preeminent face of the Republican Party. Many considered his Senate reelection campaign a mere footnote to a 2008 Presidential run. Then on August 11, 2006 Allen had his infamous ‘macaca’ moment, and the campaign derailed. Allen ended up losing to Jim Webb by approximately 8,800 votes, forcing the prominent Republican into obscurity.

Fast forward to 2010 and it is no secret that Allen is considering a rematch against Webb in two years. Allen is very active on Facebook, with his page consisting of more than 3,000 fans. He is working feverishly to increase his Twitter following. Allen is using social media to promote events he is attending on behalf of fellow Virginia Republicans, highlight articles that expound his political views, discuss sports and promote his new book.

Terry McAuliffe is best known in Washington has the chief fundraising architect for President Bill Clinton and former head of the Democratic National Committee. McAuliffe decided to try his hand in elected office, running for Governor of Virginia in 2009. Despite an overwhelming fundraising advantage and a lead in the polls for much of the primary, McAuliffe succumbed to a late surge from State Senator Creigh Deeds.

Judging by his actions, many belief McAuliffe is considering another run in 2013. McAuliffe is not active on Facebook though he is on Twitter, with more than 2,300 followers. He also regularly updates his Web site, www.terrymcauliffe.com. Similar to Allen, McAuliffe uses social media to promote events he attends on behalf of fellow Virginia Democrats as well as highlight interviews he participates in with reporters. McAuliffe is not as active as Allen on Twitter, only tweeting every few days.

Social media is a great avenue for prospective candidates to test the waters of a potential run for office. Politicians can demonstrate their commitment to the community, showcase their work with local political leaders and test messaging. Similar to other aspects of a campaign such as fundraising and community support, it is much easier to build a successful social media infrastructure by planting the seeds before announcing a candidacy.