Question: How many U.S. elected officials are on Twitter?
Answer: All 100 Senators, 97 percent of the Representatives (that’s 421.95 of the 435, and while we’re loathe to speculate what .95 of a Representative looks like, it’s surely a tweet-able moment) and all but one of the 50 Governors. So, if you want to be on the radar of officials you need to influence, you’ll need to be reaching them on the wings of the tiny blue bird.
Tweeting reaches all the way to the top these days. In July, President Obama made history by being the first president to live tweet. For over an hour, he received tens of thousands of questions, tweeted to #AskObama, about the economy, health care, and other important issues.
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The event was so overwhelmingly popular that the president’s economic advisor, Brian Deese, followed suit the next day to make sure responses on key topics did not go unanswered. That’s a pretty high bar for elected officials who feel obliged to respond to their constituency on social media, and based on their activity, they got the tweet … we mean message.
Twitter is a must for any organization with an advocacy focus, so, in the spirit of your elected officials who are already doing it, here are 9 ways to optimize your Twitter campaigns.
Be Kevin Bacon
Never be more than a few degrees of separation from the core people you want to influence. If you need to reach Congress, follow that member’s chief of staff, legislative assistant, significant other, pet – you get the picture. The best way to influence an issue is to influence all the people the decision maker listens to. Twitter, more than any other social platform was built on that notion. Respond to their tweets, talk about the same causes and become their best friend.
This buys you a personal brand, and one day maybe an in-person meeting. If you want to endorse a candidate, follow their PAC, their advisors, their biggest fans and enemies, and have a conversation.
Grow Your Advocate Base
Twitter is a great way to get more people to engage with your organization and take action on your campaigns. Invite your followers to your website and other social media platforms. Rally them with calls-to-action to write letters to Congress, call state officials, sign petitions, and use other methods of social media.
These people are already engaged on the same topics and issues as your campaign, and are ripe for converting in potential advocates and long-term members or followers of your organization. Even better, their social media activity means they’re more likely to stay active than someone who doesn’t already have a digital presence.
Don’t forget to get everyone in your organization involved. In a study by HootSuite, the social media management tool, an employee advocate program at Whole Foods found that content shared by employees scored eight times more engagement than the same content shared on brand channels.
Influence Your Grassroots Campaign
When news happens that impacts your grassroots campaign, tweet the policymakers, the candidates who hope to be elected – based on their stance on the issue – and the businesses likely to be impacted.
This focused strategy has impact for two reasons. 1) The important people on an issue know who you and your organization is, and identify you as a thought leader and 2) everyone who follows the people you’re tweeting at reads your message, and tweets their own thoughts.’
Twitter is not just a vehicle for your opinion. It’s about building relationships. Identify the elected officials, candidates, and influencers on issues your organization targets, and plan out the content you’ll post to get to those people.
Use Polls to Get Your Point Across
Twitter Polls allow you to get public opinion on anything. Create your own two-choice poll right from the compose box, and it will stay live for 24 hours.
How you voted is not shared publicly. The results however, can be re-tweeted. Ask the public which side of your campaign they weigh in on, and tweet your favorable results to a candidate opposing your position. Let them see the data and use it to bolster your campaign.
“Hey, Congressman X, you may be against raising the smoking age, but our poll says 3 out of 4 Americans are for it!”
Polls mean you condense all the opinions being tweeted into one, easily digestible post, and that gets your point across, times 10.
Alert the Media
Newsjacking is capitalizing on a popular story already generating tons of media coverage and social media engagement, and using it to amplify your message.
The presidential debates and election years are prime fodder for this, and several corporations will do their best to inject humor to garner attention on Twitter.
Tweet at reporters for coverage on topics you care about. Reporters check social media for news, but it’s also a good way to reach them. Most major media networks will use Twitter lists to give access to their reporting staff, so you can stay updated on the stories they’re covering, and directly tip them off.
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If you or your organization doesn’t have a huge social following, the best thing you can do is have someone else with thousands of followers say what you’re thinking for you. The press holds a potential megaphone to take your idea from barely heard to a trending topic with a single post.
Build Rapport with Officials and Candidates
Several of these folks pay social media managers to guide their presence on Twitter, just like they pay large PR firms to represent their brand on more traditional channels. In an election year they’re responsive and invested like never before, and all about presenting a good face on social channels.
That gives you an opportunity to build rapport more easily. Introduce yourself, and present an opinion on a topic they’re currently engaged in. The goal is to get them to remember you’re an authority when relevant topics come up.
And don’t presume it’s the office intern or a PR firm posting all their tweets. A recent study by the National Journal found many members of Congress were likely to do their own posts on weekends, so don’t take Saturday’s off from tweeting.
Federal and state agencies and sub-agencies are active on Twitter because it’s a channel to monitor public opinion on regulatory policy.
The U.S. Department of Education surveyed its decision about the importance of games and development in education funding via Twitter on December 9. And they sought responses on Education Simulation to change Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations with a tweet.
Submit your opinion and play ball with the issues that affect your organization. If only nine responses come back, you have a one-in-nine chance of advocating for your outcome directly to the decision makers. If the agencies can make regulatory decisions based on social media, you need be part of the decision-making process.
Be realistic. You likely don’t have an extra two hours every day to devote to tweeting. The best thing you can do is plan content in advance using one of the many free or paid social content management tools, and live tweet on hot topics that require timely engagement – like the presidential debates.
Create lists on your Twitter account to more effectively target certain users and ask your advocates to subscribe to those lists. Send your advocates sample text to post on behalf of your organization’s views.
Make it as easy as possible for them to share.
There are hundreds of paid options on the market to manage your social media presence. The cheapest is to follow hashtags that are trending around topics you care about. The most expensive is hiring a PR firm to run the whole thing for you. Most advocacy groups probably need something in the middle.
The best place to start is to try Twitter out. Set some goals then figure out where you’re falling short before spending hard cash.
If you’re engaging with presidential candidates but not getting much response from your county council, it might be worth paying to send a little advertising of your content in their direction to a see how it goes.
If you’re struggling to build membership through social channels, pay for a little developer consulting on how to improve your website to get more conversions from your tweets. Do not tackle it all at once. Twitter is a marathon, not a sprint.
Why We Didn’t Say 10
Be unique. This is high school all over again. If you want to be popular, make your posts stand out. Include infographics, send funny pictures of your organization rallying on The Hill, post your selfie with President Obama. Convention is not going to get you noticed.
If originality isn’t your strength, post any podcasts, YouTube videos, or blog articles your team is part of, or supports. That’s a simple way to increase traffic and give a little extra content.