By Robert Krueger, director of public relations and social media at the Urban Land Institute
Are Washington policymakers and staff actually paying attention to your social media posts? It may be surprisingly good news to public affairs offices that policymakers spend a considerable amount of time listening to rather than broadcasting their own messages. That was the panel consensus at a recent PRSA-NCC event entitled “Taking it to the Tweets: How Digital Advocacy Will Shape Public Affairs in 2015.”
The morning panel focused on what digital tools could reach decision makers on Capitol Hill and produce real results. Panel moderator and Co-Founder of Social Driver, Anthony Shop, shared the results of a recent Congressional study on what had more influence: email campaigns, a single Facebook comment, or a Twitter “thunderclap.” To attendees’ amazement, Congressional staff rated the individual Facebook comment as the most influential since they appear the most authentic and least manufactured.
Adora Jenkins, Vice President of External Affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council and Former Press Secretary to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, helped put this into context explaining that government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is limited in what it can broadcast since its social media posts automatically become official responses and part of government record. Because of this, government agencies will use social media platforms primarily as listening tools in order to analyze the sentiment of their constituents.
However, the ability of public affairs offices and lobbyists to take advantage of a social media-attentive Washington culture can be tricky. Panelist Allie Walker, communications specialist at Honda North America and former press secretary to Congressman Dave Camp and the Ways and Means Committee, stressed that the key is giving your public affairs audience the representation you intended. Speaking on reputation management through new digital tools, Walker said that her company focuses on creatively sharing what they have, what they do, and who they are through storytelling. She noted that this starts with listening at both the local and national level, building your image, and then acquiring a base of digital allies that will help communicate your message to policymakers.
Phillip Lovell, Vice President for Policy and Advocacy of the Comprehensive School Reform at Alliance for Excellent Education, provided the most detailed example of how a targeted digital campaign can get noticed by policymakers. Targeting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with his 99in5 campaign, his advocacy organization used visual technology to increase awareness to people outside the Washington Beltway. With the goal of getting over 99 percent of U.S. schools to adopt high speed broadband internet within a 5-year period of time, his organization asked students, teachers, and administrators to create and post online videos on why reliable and fast Wi-Fi is important to their school.
What made social media campaigns, like 99in5, such a success was its authentic nature. When digital advocacy campaigns ask constituents to be involved and help create content, a message becomes more genuine due to the fact that you have actual people advocating on behalf of your campaign. Panelists emphasized that whether it is an organically created video or a retweet, it is seen as mobilization by policymakers, and they will surely take notice.