We may not understand the technology behind it, but we’ve all seen how social media can dramatically change public discourse. America watched the Arab Spring unfold as social media was used to organize, communicate and raise the world’s awareness of repression. Closer to home, and more recently, nowhere has social media been more evident than in the case of Trayvon Martin. Without Twitter and Facebook, this story would have never become worldwide news and it’s doubtful that the nation would be re-debating the issues swirling around Stand Your Ground laws.. With such results, is it any wonder that advocates have turned to social media to get their messages across to the public and lawmakers?
Although the verdict is still out on effective social media can be when it comes to influencing public policy, advocates are using various forms of social media to reach their supporters and government leaders alike. Here’s how:
Keeping members, clients, etc. informed…
While emails can effectively get information to interested parties quickly, Twitter allows for real-time coverage of a developing story without flooding inboxes with burdensome email. For instance, when covering a legislative mark-up, an advocate can tweet as each vote or debate is occuring and the information will all go to one page.
Furthering discussion on a topic…
While Twitter is better for spreading a message quickly and reaching a broader audience, it is difficult to have a deep discussion about an issue in 140-character stints. Fortunately, there are programs that allow you to connect Facebook with Twitter so that the conversation can carry over to Facebook where posts and comments can allow the dialogue to expand. After the conversation develops, tagging a post on Facebook or linking it back to a tweet and using the @ command on Twitter could draw the attention of a decision-maker interested in what their constituents are saying.
Mobilizing your grassroots…
Twitter and Facebook have been credited with expanding the number and types of people who get involved in politics according to the Congressional Management Foundation. The hashtag (#) on Twitter allows you message to reach people beyond those who are following you. Using # and then a phrase, for instance #taxreform, will add your tweet not only to your feed but to a feed where people would go if they were following the tax reform issue. You can then ask all of these people to send a letter to their representatives about a certain issue or simply “tweet @ your representative and tell them how a tax increase would hurt your family.”
Staying in the know…
Back in the day, the quickest way to get the news was to read the paper or wait for a press release from a Congressional office. Then it was to stalk the newspaper’s website or the member’s website for the latest article. Today, before an article is written or a news anchor gets to the scene, news is released to the public via Twitter. For example, before President Obama announced Bin Laden’s death on television, Twitter had already blown up with the news. The bid caution in this day and age: Always consider the source.
Following well-recognized, established news outlets and public officials will usually provide you with reliable information. Twitter can also keep you updated on the issues that matter most to your favorite political figures as well as their activities, as many of them keep their Twitter feeds updated regularly.
While online advocacy is opening new doors to political involvement and increasing the speed by which we do business, it does not come without risks. Still, if you keep in mind who your audience is and learn from the mistakes of Anthony Weiner and Chris Lee, social media can be an effective tool in your advocacy arsenal.