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.


Get Ready for Skype Town Hall Meetings

December 2, 2010

“New media technology has made it possible for citizens to enact more directly and efficiently than ever before with their elected leaders, and created the potential for unprecedented, real-time dialogue between the American people and Members of Congress.”

The House Republican leadership drafted this quote in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on April 19, 2010.  If the Republican leadership stays true to its words, Representatives will be allowed to interact with their constituents on Skype when the 112th Congress convenes in January.

Members of Congress from both parties have been using new technology to interact with their constituents for a number of years.  Telephone Town Halls have become a staple on the Hill, with Representatives answering questions from thousands of constituents over the phone from the comforts of their Capitol Hill office.  Currently, in order to implement either a telephone or virtual town hall, offices have to pay thousands of dollars to companies such as iConstituent, one of only a handful of certified companies that can work with Congressional offices.

Skype – which is free for everyday users – has been banned from Congressional offices because it is classified as a peer-to-peer application and thus presents security concerns.  According to this CNN article, Skype is working with Congressional lawmakers to alleviate any security fears.

The fact is Skype will present Congressional offices with a much more affordable communications option with a level of technical support similar to what they are already receiving. So when Skype becomes available to Congressional offices, how can Representatives utilize it to reach out to constituents?

One option is for Members of Congress to “attend” more functions in their home state virtually.  A Senator may not be able to fly from Washington D.C. to Nebraska for an reception, but they can link into the event and address the crowd via Skype.  Another option is for more Representatives to follow the lead of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and chat online with school classes in their home district.  Opportunities to connect with supporters will only increase as Skype unveils video via mobile phones, which is surely to come soon, as this article illustrates.

Inevitably, technologies like Skype and mobile video are going to create many more opportunities for Members of Congress to reconnect with their constituents on a regular basis.  From meeting with supporter groups, talking with donors, and having a presence at more events, inexpensive video conferencing tools are going be a boon to Congressional offices and a nightmare for schedulers.

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 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, 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.


Party Website Wars (Part Two)

September 26, 2010

After reviewing the DNC’s new Website last week, it is time to fixate our eyes on the RNC’s revamped

As the minority party, the site takes a very aggressive tone. When opening the home page, there are two images with rotating messages – these messages include:

  • Where’s the Bus? – redirects visitors to
  • Deficit of Hope – opens a negative video regarding the President, stimulus and budget deficit
  • Stop Obama, Start Volunteering – redirects visitors to, which presents upcoming volunteer opportunities and a video message from Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN)
  • Get Your Fire Pelosi Gear Now – redirects visitors to the GOP store
  • Volunteer from Home – redirects visitors to
  • Show your Support – presents GOP donation opportunities

Of the six rotating messages, four are negative. This is an example of the Republican strategy heading into the midterms. Somewhat surprisingly, the new House Republican agenda unveiled by Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) on Thursday is no where to be seen on the Website – minimizing its significance during the campaign season.

Scrolling down the page, there are three subsets with the headers “Steps to Victory”, “Trending” and “New & Noteworthy.” Further down the page there are imbedded campaign videos from Republican candidates throughout the country. This is something the Democratic Party lacks on its home page. The videos are effective in highlighting top-tier candidates and top-level Republican messages.

An innovative feature of is RNC Women. Just as the DNC has a Spanish option specifically to connect with Hispanic constituents, the RNC has a specific site dedicated for outreach to women. RNC Women spotlights female Republican candidates, contains RNC Women social media links, and has female-specific resources such as videos, training manuals, groups and polling.

The RNC’s Website also contains a customization option for the home page. Visitors can change the color of the page, enter their zip code and highlight issues that are most important to them.  This tool – despite its prominent positioning on the page – is not very effective. Allowing users to control the look of eliminates the Republican Party’s ability to brand itself. In addition, the zip code and issue elements do not appear to have any redeeming value. After entering those into the system, the home page does not change and it lacks the local flare of the DNC’s site.

Objectively, the site could use more social media interaction. While the DNC directed supporters to individual candidates’ Facebook and Twitter pages, the RNC only directs visitors to official RNC social media sites.  In addition, lacks interactive elements such as the iPhone canvassing app and localized content. These differences are indicative of party strategies for November with the Democrats trying to localize races while the Republicans are working toward a national referendum.

The RNC does a great job of incorporating video on its Website and those videos coupled with attack-oriented merchandise and alternative Websites – such as – will go a long way toward driving the Republican base to voting booths on November 2.

Party Website Wars (Part One)

September 21, 2010

Last week the DNC released its redesigned Website, This follows the RNC’s unveiling of earlier in the summer. A close inspection of both Websites highlights the parties’ differing strategies as they compete for votes in November. Today, we will begin examining the party Website wars with the Democrats.

Opening, it is easy to be struck but its simplicity. The top prominently displays the party’s new slogan – “Change that Matters” – and a new logo with ambitions of building upon the successes of President Obama’s logo which was prominently displayed on merchandise throughout the summer of 2008. In the top right corner the site offers a Spanish version – something the Republicans lack – demonstrating the Democrat’s outreach to that important constituency.

The new DNC logo

The most eye catching element of the site’s home page is its large banner with four rotating messages:

  • “The history of the Democrats is the history of America” (with a picture of President Roosevelt)
  • “A new identity that captures the spirit that unites us all” (exploring the new look and image of the party)
  • Join an organizing rally with President Obama
  • Pledge a commitment to vote in November main banner

Remaining above the fold, the most innovative aspect of is the “find a local candidate” feature. Users can type in their zip code and the site will highlight all Democratic candidates running for Senate, Governor or House of Representatives in that state or district. When users click on the candidate’s profile, a quote from the candidate is displayed along with their primary Website, Facebook page, local event information and volunteer information.

Scrolling down the home page, visitors will find the main DNC social media links – including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Flickr – and streaming Democratic Twitter updates from the party, a candidate and a state party. In addition, as Website users scroll to the bottom of the page they find a group of nine boxes with links to such features as the Democratic store, an iPhone canvassing app and a video from David Plouffe.

OFA iPhone Canvassing App

When a user signs in, they are presented with a personalized Dashboard. The Dashboard includes options such as signing up for events, finding Democratic groups in an area, writing a blog and updating a profile. Users can also enter their cell phone number to receive campaign messages via text.

For me, the most effective tool of the Website is the local candidate feature, which not only informs voters of their local candidates, but highlights upcoming events and connects voters to their candidates via social media. The Spanish option for the Website is very important and the site does a good job of incorporating the party’s new logo and inspirational leaders (Obama and Roosevelt).

Objectively, it would be great to incorporate video more prominently on the home page. has minimal embedded video and does very little on its home page to incite passion among the Democratic base. The Website does a tremendous job of delivering local information to supporters but lacks the fervor to rally people to volunteer and vote.

And when it comes to passion and inciting fervor, it is tough to compete with the GOP – and we will examine their Website in our next installment.

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 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.