Hate on the Hill?

Though nearly all public-facing professions have embraced social media as part of their communication strategies, it seems that social media is creating headaches for Hill staffers. A recent Politico article looked at the level of acceptance and general annoyance political staffers feel toward social media. “Social media not so hot on the Hill” speaks with elected officials and congressional staffers about how social media has changed their jobs, especially how they interact with constituents.

One of the most telling quotes was, “In 140 characters: “Social media is absolutely a pain in the a—,” a Capitol Hill aide confessed to POLITICO recently. “But that’s the nature of our business.””

Social media has been instrumental in increasing a politician’s reach and ability to disseminate its messages. However, it has also presented new tasks for staffers and more feedback from the public. Hill staff must create original outward content and engage the online community — usually on a daily basis. Yet, they must devote even more time to monitoring and responding to incoming content. This includes @ tweets, direct messages and Facebook posts, while also encompassing any public social media messages that reference their employer.

This constant stream of content has changed the way constituent communication is handled. “It used to be that constituent mail came in a bag once a day,” said Congressional Management Foundation spokesman Tim Hysom. “Now it comes multiple times a day in the form of e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. It’s a lot of moving parts that makes responding a real challenge.” These moving parts, which lead to increased amount of interaction, mean that each message is not read. Instead, the content is taken almost as a sample, to “gauge the pulse and get a feel for what people are thinking out there.”

All these elements mean added responsibilities, worries and time for Hill workers. A survey by the Congressional Management Foundation found that staffers think, “Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Myspace are among the least useful forms of communication for gauging constituent views. Less than half, 42 percent, said social media had any influence on lawmakers.” It also found that, “When it comes to wielding influence, staffers said traditional mediums, such as office visits and personal letters, overwhelmingly beat all types of form e-mail and social media contact, according to the CMF study.”
Facebook, President Obama checking his Blackberry and Capitol Hill are pictured. | AP Photos
So what does that mean for all those political campaigns that are using social media in hopes of impacting politicians or legislation? Staffers said that in-person visits and personal letter are the most effecting items for influence, yet couldn’t that influence be augmented? If a social media campaign gained enough attention it could generate news articles, TV spots and other external publicity — and ultimately be the reason someone writes a letter to their senator. Once picked up by traditional mediums, like newspaper, TV and radio, the campaign is no longer just online. The online campaign’s message becomes absorbed into traditional approaches and projected to the public in a new format. Though it is likely that the message will get sent back around on social media as a result, it will also likely lead to the “methods of contact referenced in the CMF survey, such as in-person office visits and letters. This can be accomplished on a small scale (the social campaign –> TV spot –> constituent office visit is an ideal, but probably not the norm) with “contact/write/visit your senator” functionality on a website, presenting clear messages that a constituent should address with their politician and promoting offline events, such as rallies, as integral aspects of a campaign’s success. What other approaches would you use?

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Unwritten Rules

While reading ePolitics this week I was intrigued by the article, A Politician’s Role in the Twitterverse, Part One: Follower to Friend Ratio. There are so many unwritten social media rules and it is interesting to consider if public figures abide by those same guidelines.

After receiving this tweet, “Should Politicians follow all of their own followers? What do you think? Should mutual following be a priority for politicians on #twitter?” the author answered no. However, it got her thinking more about a follower to following ratio means.

The ratio breakdown accordsing to TFFRatio is as follows:

  • A ratio of less than 1.0 indicates that you are seeking knowledge (and Twitter Friends), but not getting much Twitter Love in return.
  • A ratio of around 1.0 means you are respected among your peers. Many people think that a ratio of around 1.0 is the best – you’re listening and being listened to.
  • A ratio of 2.0 or above shows that you are a popular person and people want to hear what you have to say. You might be a thought leader in your community.
  • A TFF Ratio 10 or higher indicates that you’re either a Rock Star in your field or you are an elitist and you cannot be bothered by Twitter’s mindless chatter. You like to hear yourself talk. Luckily others like to hear you talk, too.

The article presents examples of politicians who are active on Twitter and what their ratios signify about their online presence. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has 25,594 followers but is only following 275 tweeters. However, Governor Patrick of Massachusetts has 14,446 followers, and is following 11,672 Twitter users for a follower/friend ratio of 1.23. Gov. Patrick’s high amount of followers most likely lead to his high followers, as people often follow back. This pattern of following  also maks him appear more engaging and connected to his constituents.

I agree with the author that you shouldn’t blindly follow everyone who follows you but using some discretion in reciprocating a follow can go a long way.

This also got me thinking about other unwritten rules on Twitter:

  • Always give credit where credit is due. Never use a tweet without proper RT credit.
  • Keep personal inquiries and sharing of personal information to DM.
  • No spamming! (OK, that one is written)

Anymore guidelines to share?

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Mobile Strategy

Mobile strategy is not something I am very familiar with. Sure, I’ve donated via text message and visit websites on my iPhone nearly daily – but I never had any personal insight into how this can transfer into an actionable plan for a politician, advocacy group or company. I found Katie Harbath’s guestpost, “Trend To Watch In 2010 – The Rise Of Mobile,” to be a great look at how a mobile initiative is designed and maintained from the ground up.

As she writes, the NRSC was one of the first party groups to do this – making them a pioneer in thespace, but concurrently a newcomer in this rapidly evolving area. As they were the first there was no one before them to compare with. This leaves many questions as to what goals and benchmarks are to be expected. Katie wrote she, “wanted to start gathering some data so we were making intelligent decisions on using mobile and not just flying blind.” Collecting data and information from the get-go allowed them to make informed decisions moving forward. They could even share this new information with their Republican candidates or community to get a leg-up on upcoming political campaigns.

I agree with Katie when she said, “I think a candidate using an iPhone app would see even more useby its visitors, especially presidential candidates.” In my opinion people (general population, not the political junkies we know and love here in the district) really get particularly excited when they support a specific candidate who stands for their same ideals. Though many people identify as Republican or Democrat and are interested in supporting the party at large, until they have that individual to care about they might not be as invested in seeking out videos, websites, etc. This could speak as to why a candidate may see more interest in a mobile app than the party organization saw.

Something I have touched on in past weeks’ discussion boards is that a little online advertising can go a long way. In the case of the NRSC, their visits broke down to, “Eighty-four percent of that was from our Google ads campaign, 10 percent from Google organic search and 4 percent from Facebook.” Aswas her case, in my experience Google/YouTube/Facebook ads have really made the difference. Not only are they sending more people to your website in the immediate, but long term they are widening the potential people who would then share that information on Facebook, Twitter, email and other communication forms – organically spreading your message further.

Another subject that jumped out at me was Katie’s Election Day theory, as it was a topic discussed in aprevious course. The article’s results were certainly impressive. “A whopping 65% of impressions and67% of the clicks on the polling place ads were from mobile on Election Day, and the best performing keyword for mobile, voting locations, had a staggering 20% click through rate.” My classmates and I had made the same assumption, that targeted mobile ads on Election Day would be successful in reaching a wide group of people. In addition, it might identify undecided voters, as these may be the individualswho are unsure of their voting locations.

“Mobile Phones in Advocacy Campaigns” helped layout the basics of this type of campaign and illustrated successful cases, serving as a manual to couple with Katie’s first-hand account.

The explanation on costs was quite interesting and gave better insight into the nitty gritty details of actuallycarrying out an initiative. The report discussed as aspect of SMS campaigns that I had not thought of before. Aside from the more normal use of gathering people and sending messages, in the Argentina Greenpeace case “movil activistas” sent SMS messages to legislators themselves. This was unusual tome because that means that they would have to have the legislators’ cell numbers. Did Greenpeaceprovide them? I wonder if the same method would be used in the U.S.?

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Elusive Impact

Measuring the impact of social media efforts seems to be an ever-evolving beast. As Dr. Rosenblatt explains in his blog series, “Measuring the Impact of Your Social Media Program,” and “Rules of Social Media Engagement,” social media is meant to generate support and disseminate your messages — and we need to gauge how much influence that is producing. As he writes, “Influence comprises several metrics, which can mostly be summarized within these categories:”

  • Reach
  • Engagement
  • Driving web traffic home

As was pointed out, reach is largely those who saw, but not necessarily clicked on your ad, so the messages need to be clear and effective. Reach is one of the measures that is often the most impressive number of a campaign. This is because it is extended to include the people who have seen your message — as well as those who have potentially seen the message. Depending on how you measure this the number can be, shall we say “inflated” to encompass the largest potential audience. I am always a bit wary of how to measure reach in online campaigns. Have you all had any experience in quantifying digital reach?

I was pleased to learn about the many tools available to help us quantify our digital work. Measuring hashag usage as that is something I had not yet had to do, but I can now use it to help relate to a client how many potential people may have been exposed to a tweet when we incorporate hashtags (something that is still not complete clear to them, some big numbers might do the trick!) Backtype.com is another that I was excited to learn about and had some fun clicking around the site. It looks like they are starting up a paid service that will offer even more analytics — I look forward to seeing that advancements they offer.

I enjoyed the section on driving traffic back to your website, which is one of the hard-to-achieve goals of online communication because those visits could translate to sales, donations exposure of your issue or similar feats. Making it easy to visit a site, through a shortened link and ensuring the link is actually to what you advertise it is, is important to gain the trust of your valued social media audience member. I have a never-ending battle with a webmaster for one of my clients because he tweets links to his blogs about corporate news and images, rather than to the corporate site (for SEO purposes). Presenting a barrier to viewing the actual content is likely to make a visitor stop there and not continue on to find the content they had intended on viewing (especially in the case of his blogs, very link heavy and not clear as to what you should be clicking on).

Dr. Rosenblatt wrote, “And there is a great need to bring many of these disparate metrics tools into a central dashboard that makes collecting the data less time consuming and confusing.” This will definitely be something to look forward to — but until then we must develop personal combinations of tools and services that reflect the metrics important to us and our campaigns.

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Going Viral?

Christine’s post this past week got me thinking more about large scale viral campaigns, as I’ve only participated in smaller initiatives. She wrote, “What are some tactics you have used or observed that helped a social media advocacy campaign to stand out, grab attention, and ultimately influence behaviors?” While reading Mashable I saw a related article that caught my eye, “Why Viral Campaigns Can Still Be Challenging for Non-Profits.”

The article focused on a British campaign by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) UK called “Not In My Cuppa” with the goal of saying “not in my cuppa to factory milk from battery cows.” Its crux is a YouTube video, coupled with a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. The author touched on the things that the campaign did right and where they could have improved, while illustrating the inherent challenges faced  by a social media advocacy campaign.

After looking over the campaign I thought that it was only moderately successful. It was mildly entertaining, has low membership and viewership numbers and even the media relations manager couldn’t speak to any evidence that their effort lead to the positive outcome.

My boss wrote a blog for PR Week last summer that seems to speak to many of my thoughts on the campaign, “Lessons learned from a viral video.”

He wrote:

“Here are my tips for making corporate video content that people want to watch:

  • Keep it short. A video more than two minutes is usually too long.
  • Keep it funny.
  • Make sure the pace is brisk. The modern attention span needs MTV-style editing.
  • Unless there is a reason not to, use some music.
  • Most videos need a little advertising money to get some traction — $500 per day on Facebook or YouTube ads is a good floor.”

Some of my thoughts on the campaign:

  • I believe the video was too long. The three plus minute video was just too much, and didn’t keep my attention. In my job we try to never create a video longer than 90 seconds as you loose your audience. This video reaffirms that rule 🙂
  • It was said that the video took a humorous approach was to encourage it to go viral and  avoid “spreading depression and charity fatigue.” But I didn’t find it very funny. Did you?
  • Speaking to the “brisk” comment above, I thought the song was a bit too slow to elicit comedic value — a faster tempo song could have done the trick for me.

What I did find interesting from this article was how to measure a viral campaign’s impact. As we all know it is hard to gauge what actions your efforts have initiated. Did your video produce a click? A vote? A letter? “It’s difficult to attach direct action to viral campaigns. Understand your targets and find other ways to measure your reach, such as mentions in the press.”

Mentions in the press are a good way to judge impact — though if you are in the media it means you’ve already gained a significant amount of attention, right? Other ways to judge impact is through website trackbacks — was the visit generated through YouTube? Also, your social media numbers, views, friends, followers, etc. What other methods could be employed?

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Left or Right Leaning?

This week I have to say I struggled through The Argument and found it much less interesting than other books and readings this semester — therefore I will mostly focus on the Huffington Post piece, “Media Advocacy: Amplifying Your Argument.” The article, written by former CAP intern Harry Weisbren, was well written and evoked a personal opinion while still instilling knowledge (I can’t say the same for Matt Bai).

I found something he wrote on very topical as I wrote about a related idea on this week’s discussion board. Weisbren discussed how any issue brought about by media can be considered advocacy, and that has a subsequent impact on what does or doesn’t get carried by media outlets. “Even if the media outlet is attempting to be an objective source, their passing along news of the advocacy — while highlighting certain issues and promoting specific sources — has a large persuasive power on its own.” The mention of an organization or issue on a mainstream site lends validity to the topic, which often creates credibility with the organization or spokesperson. If an issue is inherently left or right leaning then pickup by a favorable outlet may be preferred, but positive pickup by a neutral or opposite leaning outlet could offer an increased reputation and value in the topic. That the issue goes beyond party lines.

On the other hand, the content of advocacy issue (one that is leans in a certain direction politically) can have a result on the media outlet itself, making is seem biased in favor or against an issue. The hostile media bias — which refers to the finding that people with strong biases toward an issue perceive media coverage as biased against their opinions, regardless of the reality — is in effect in this case. If Fox News reports on a negative aspect of an issue, the liberals will most likely say “Well of course they said that, it’s Fox News!” No matter what their stance, the opposition will probably attribute their reporting to the conservative bias. This of course is also felt the other way about liberal outlets.

Similarly, this made me think about the media outlets that are not objective (despite what they advertise). Once a media outlet gets pitched they can, in theory, take the story in whichever direction they like. They may write about the positive points of your organization as you’d hoped, or they could instead turn your information around and write a negative piece.

The alternative to media outlets that the internet presents is the millions of other sites/outlets/blogs that could cover an advocacy issue. As was said in the “Virtual Printing press” video, the web has eliminated the gatekeepers. Before, if the newspaper wouldn’t cover your story it wasn’t going to be covered. Now, if mainstream media doesn’t care you can almost undoubtedly find someone who will. Although media is still an important component to advocacy, it is certainly not the only avenue.

Despite my overall thoughts of The Argument, one section I thought more on was the notion of Bill and Hillary Clinton as the country’s beloved “First Couple.” While true that Bill had a nearly 90% approval rating and Hilary ran on the platform of restoration of former ideals, I think the country wasn’t necessarily looking to revert back to the way it was. Instead we wanted change – change that Barack Obama promised.

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I Stand with Planned Parenthood

I was traveling this weekend with minimal access to the internet so my time on Facebook was limited — yet each time I scanned my News Feed on my iPhone the most consistent message that popped up was “Stand with Planned Parenthood.” Friday the House of Representatives voted to cut Planned Parenthood’s federal funding in their government spending bill. Supporters of the organization have taken to the internet to garner signatures for an open letter to Congress, to urge Senate to overturn the cut and to bring attention to their plight.

The online campaign is asking people to sign an open letter to the representatives who voted to cut funding, largely through Facebook. I believe that Facebook was the best medium for this effort because Planned Parenthood already had a large community on the platform, with nearly 120,000 fans. This is in addition to the numerous regional Planned Parenthood divisions with roughly one thousand fans each. Planned Parenthood was able to tap into these already established communities and urge them to support their open letter campaign. The sharing nature of Facebook also let fans post that link on their own walls with the click of a button, further spreading the “Stand with Planned Parenthood” message. In fact, it has been shared more than 369,000 times! (The amount increased to that by more than 12,000 in the 30 minutes since I last checked!)

Leading up to the House decision Planned Parenthood carried out an aggressive email campaign which asked for “emergency contributions.” The email messages were worded with vigor and a sense of urgency to elicit action from its readers. One of the sections that resonated the most to me was in an email titled, “Ten days to decide the future of PLanned Parenthood.” The message read, “And at the end of those 10 days, every single one of us who cares so deeply about the millions of women, men, and teens Planned Parenthood health centers serve will ask ourselves, “Did I do everything I could to protect this irreplaceable organization from these devastating attacks?” I am determined to say yes. Absolutely, unequivocally YES. I’m counting on you to agree — so, if you can, please help by making an emergency contribution to Planned Parenthood Federation of America today.

This two pronged approach — Facebook and email — allows Planned Parenthood to reach different audiences with different messages. The email campaign seems to be more focused on donations while the Facebook effort is signatures and support. I think these may be because someone who has signed up for emails updates probably already has an invested interest in the organization and may be more likely to contribute funds. Since Facebook is a social, sharing platform its purpose seems to be spreading the message and garnering supporters more than asking for money. This is the best route because, as we’ve discussed recently, you need to be cognizant of what you are asking of someone and in what manner. Personally, I am less receptive to requests for donations on Facebook. Yet, a think coupling the tools is best — hopefully reaching their audience with both emails and a Facebook presence. This would hopefully result in publicity and donations to support overturning the bill.

Time will only tell the effect this online effort will have when the bill reaches the Senate.

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