Politicians' Web Town Halls Boost Ratings (National Journal)

View full article at nationaljournal.com.

Lawmakers' Internet-based town hall meetings increase constituents' approval ratings for the politician, enhance citizen engagement in politics and ultimately impact the probability of participants voting for that member of Congress, according to a new Congressional Management Foundation report. CMF Executive Director Beverley Bell said online meetings offer lawmakers a flexible tool for communication in addition to traditional in-person meetings, tele-town halls and newsletters. "People like hearing from – and feeling heard by – their representatives in all formats, including online," she said Monday.

Researchers from CMF, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Northeastern University, Ohio State University, and the University of California-Riverside found that members who engaged in online town halls experienced an average net approval rating jump of 18 points with similar increases in trust and perceptions of personal qualities. Town hall meetings also attract people from demographics not traditionally engaged in politics as well as those frustrated with the political system. About 96 percent of those polled said they would like to be included in similar events in the future.

Among those taking part in the study were Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Michael Capuano, James Clyburn, Mike Conaway, Anna Eshoo, Jack Kingston, Zoe Lofgren, Don Manzullo, Jim Matheson, David Price, George Radanovich, and Dave Weldon. The town halls with the House members were conducted in the summer and fall of 2006, prior to the 2006 election, and the session with Levin was conducted in the summer of 2008.

Click here (PDF) to read the full CMF report.

Gary Ackerman Launches a New Website

Representative Gary Ackerman, 5th District of New York, has launched a brand new website with iConsttiuent. Congratulations, Representative Ackerman, on your new site!

Visit Rep. Gary Ackerman's web site at http://ackerman.house.gov.


G.K. Butterfield Launches a New Website

Representative G.K. Butterfield, 1st District of North Carolina, has launched a brand new website with iConsttiuent. Congratulations, Representative Butterfield, on your new site!

Visit Rep. Butterfield's web site at http://butterfield.house.gov.

Dennis Moore Launches a New Website

Representative Dennis Moore, 3rd District of Kansas, has launched a brand new website with iConsttiuent. This site features a rotating feature gallery on the homepage. Congratulations, Representative Moore, on your new site!

Visit Dennis Moore's web site at http://moore.house.gov.


House Republicans Hope to Catch Up to Obama on Use of New-Media Tools (The Hill)

View full article at politico.com.

The House GOP Conference has signed a contract with a text-messaging company as Republicans race to get up to speed on new-media tools that helped President Barack Obama win the White House.

Constituent Mobile, an affiliate of the same company that ran Obama’s text messaging campaign in 2008, will help House Republicans boost relations with voters back home through text messaging.

The contract is part of a new-media strategy implemented by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) that they hope will pay dividends in the long run.

“It’s a recognition that in ’08, President Obama was very successful in using new media, and that this is how people communicate today,” McMorris Rodgers told The Hill. She vows to get Republicans more comfortable using new-media tools.

“This is how people across the country get their information. As House Republicans, we need to be utilizing these tools too,” she said.

The deal McMorris Rodgers signed will allow constituents to text their members at a short code — a six-number combination reserved specifically for the House Republican Conference and its members, in this case 467469, spelling “GOPGOV.”

Each member will have a keyword to use, so that a constituent in McMorris Rodgers’s district will be recognized as distinct from a constituent in Boehner’s district. Members can then use the numbers they collect to blast information about an impending vote, an upcoming town hall meeting or anything else they want to share.

The conference’s goal is “to get our members just reaching more people via texting. It’s creating a following of people and making them aware of our positions, our solutions, and then also seeking their input,” McMorris Rodgers said.

The latest sign that Republicans are taking new media seriously was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s announcement that he had hired his own Internet team at the same time he rolled out his political team. Pawlenty, who is eyeing a 2012 GOP presidential nomination, hired a high-powered collection of Washington- and New Hampshire-based experts who managed online campaigns for the Republican National Committee and several prominent GOP presidential contenders in 2008.

Meanwhile, former Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R) has hired the same firm as the House Republican Conference to operate what has become one of the most aggressive state-level texting operations in history.

A text message hits voters within a 50-mile radius of any event McDonnell holds to boost turnout, says spokeswoman Chrystal Cameron. And this week, one lucky texter will win Redskins tickets, compliments of the campaign.

“We made a decision very early on to make new media a central part of our strategy,” Cameron said. “Our program is going to be absolutely critical in the final days before Election Day.”

Reaching voters via text message can prove much more effective than other means, according to industry figures. The number of Americans with cell phones is far greater than the number with cable television or access to the Internet. More people open text messages, too; the rate is 95 to 100 percent, according to one estimate, far above the 10 percent a successful campaign e-mail generates.

Republicans can close the technology gap with Obama by seizing on texting and other new techniques, said Mindy Finn, one of Pawlenty’s advisers and a GOP new-media consultant.

“Obama ran a smart campaign across the board, including using proven-effective new-media tools with a ripe audience ready to use them,” she said in an e-mail.

“Feeling motivated by what they see as the now-dominant Democratic Party, Republican activists are turning to the most efficient place to organize — the Web — as we’ve seen recently with the resurgence of right-leaning activism at Tea Parties across the country, even in places where the official party structure is lacking.”

Even Republicans on stodgy Capitol Hill have spent significant time and resources focusing on improving the party’s new-media team this year.

Last December, Boehner sent a memo to GOP committee staffers laying out new guidelines for their websites that included integration of YouTube, Facebook and other media; live streaming of committee proceedings; and links to members’ websites, the conference website and an e-mail signup form.

Both Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have in-house new-media advisers, the first leaders to specifically carve out a staff role.

Still, the party has a way to go before fully utilizing new-media opportunities.

“Despite authentic bottom-up, grass roots-driven campaigns being the greatest success stories of the last decade, the majority of campaigns still fear veering from the traditional model that considers new media an afterthought,” Finn said.


Next Best Practices Meeting

Each month, we see hundreds of e-newsletters being sent out from the Constituent Gateway. We have been able to see what works well, what doesn't, and what types of e-newsletters generate the most interactions. Our training staff has compiled a list of some of our favorite ideas that we would like to share with you in our next Best Practices Meeting.

Building a Better E-Newsletter
Thursday, October 22nd at 2:00PM EST
Held online using our new product Virtual Town Hall

Register Now

This meeting will cover a general e-newsletter overview, list creation, "dos" and "don'ts" of content creation, and integration of social media and social sharing features. We will also be looking at several example e-mails.

Please register for this event in advance. Registered attendees will receive access information the morning of the event.

Thank you!
iConstituent Staff

Telephone Town Hall Update & Changes

By Christopher Brooks, Telephone Townhall Manager

We would like to take a minute to update our clients on some recent changes that we have made to our Telephone Town Hall service. We have also put together some best practices that we believe will help ensure your next call is a great success. If you haven't tried Telephone Town Hall yet, please feel free to contact us to learn more about this exciting product.

Mandatory Script Change – Answering Machine Script

We have identified a flaw in the BroadNet Boomerang software that causes the system to mistakenly identify a live caller as an answering machine and play the answering machine message to this person then disconnect. To remedy this, we had BroadNet implement the ability for callers to press 1 to connect in case this happens. Be sure to update your answering machine scripts to reflect this update. Please consult with your Franking representative regarding these changes as well.

Increased Account & Password Security

In response to the heated health care debate, we have found a number of attack groups and constituents looking to sabotage the software for these calls by attempting to interrupt access to BroadNet interface web servers. In response, several changes were made to keep unwanted users from accessing your accounts, but your help is needed. Shortly we will begin resetting passwords, which will require you to create a new password upon your next login. Please be sure to use a letter/number combination and be sure to pass this information around to your staff. *IMPORTANT* For security reasons, iConstituent will no longer hold a record of your password and will not be able to process a request for it in cleartext. If you need your password to be reset in the future, or would like to begin the process now, please be sure to contact us at itownhall@iconstituent.com.

New Support and Scheduling Structure

To better organize and track action items, we have moved Telephone Town Hall support into a similar support structure as Constituent Gateway and iConstituent Website issues. If you wish to schedule a Town Hall or have a question or comment, please forward them to itownhall@iconstituent.com . We also have a new scheduling form that is available online at http://iconstituent.com/iTownhallSetupForm . Be sure to use this form when scheduling new calls as we phase the old forms out. This form will be replaced with any future updates, but the link will remain the same.

Inbound Calls

We have recently seen an influx of constituents requesting to call into the Telephone Town Hall Meetings, and we've responded by including a new dial-in number that can handle up to 500 inbound participants. While it is possible for us to accept inbound calls, there are some challenges that we would like to shed some light on:

  • Inbound minutes cost extra: iConstituent covers the first 500 minutes of inbound participation. After this, inbound calls are 10 cents/ minute that can quickly add up as more people dial in.
  • Inbound callers can call from anywhere and are not readily identified: if the dial-in number for your call becomes available in the blogosphere, your dial-in participants could become very large and may not belong to your district or even your state.
  • All emerging technology has its flaws: BroadNet has run into situations where the dial-in number does not readily accept calls in the first five minutes (the point at which there is the most traffic on the line). When publishing your event's dial-in information, remember to remind all prospective participants to keep trying if they cannot get connected.

VIP Lists / Subscriber Lists

iConstituent gives you the option of having a VIP list, which are those who are called first from the Telephone Town Hall Meeting platform. This is a one-time-use only list, meaning it is applicable per call, and expires after dialing. You also have the option of maintaining a subscriber list for those constituents who will be contacted for every Town Hall event. Both lists are to be managed by your office. If you have any questions about this system please forward them to itownhall@iconstituent.com .

That does it for this edition of the Quarterly Town Hall Update. If you have any sales related questions please email dcsales@iconstituent.com. For support, or to schedule your next call, e-mail us at itownhall@iconstituent.com.

Denny Rehberg Launches a New Website

Representative Denny Rehberg, Montana, has launched a brand new website with iConsttiuent. The site features a scrolling Flash gallery of the beautiful Montana landscapes. Congratulations, Representative Rehberg, on your new site!

Visit Rep. Rehberg's web site at http://rehberg.house.gov.