iConstituent in Washington Post: Social Media and Congress

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal-government/congress-not-making-the-most-of-social-media-to-reach-millennials-who-live-their-lives-online/2011/09/29/gIQA1mAR6K_story.html?hpid=z4

By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, September 29, 7:06 AM

WASHINGTON — Eight of every 10 members of Congress are on Facebook and Twitter — more Republicans than Democrats — but social media experts say lawmakers should be more interactive in using online communication tools to reach out to young people, one of their most elusive constituent groups.

People ages 18 to 29 — the so-called millennials — practically live online. Yet simply adopting the latest technology isn’t enough to bring them into the political world of Congress, according to the experts and leaders of youth-based political groups. Lawmakers instead should be using social media to actively engage that 18-29 crowd instead of as another one-way communication tool to tout their latest talking points.

“Social media has gone from a publishing platform to a really interactive space,” says Andrew Foxwell, manager of marketing and new media at iConstituent, a firm assisting congressional offices with constituent outreach. “You have to interact. That’s the added value of social media.”

Foxwell advises lawmakers to respond to millennials’ comments on Facebook and to their tweets, the 140-character-or-less messages sent to those who follow Twitter accounts.

It can be a significant audience. Three-quarters of Americans 18 to 29 use social media, and one-third go online to connect with government officials, according to a survey by The Pew Internet and American Life Project.

In Congress, 433 members of the House and Senate, or 81 percent, use Twitter, a recent survey of members found. Eighty-three percent, or 441 members, use Facebook.

When it comes to tweeting, Republicans have an edge over Democrats in both chambers.

In the House, 86 percent of Republicans tweet compared with 75 percent of Democrats. Forty-one of the 47 Republicans in the Senate tweet, as do 41 of the 51 Senate Democrats and both independents.

Youth advocacy group leaders urge lawmakers to use social media for more than dry policy statements and talking points.

“We want to know how you’re feeling,” says Angela Peoples of Campus Progress, who advises members of Congress to be “genuine” in their social media usage. “If you’re frustrated with the process, share that with your social media tools.”

Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, also pushes for authenticity. “Have a real conversation. Talk about the issues and engage them in authentic ways,” she says. “Be yourself, use the technology and people will write back.”

For Emily Bartone, an 18-year-old student at George Mason University in suburban Washington, personalizing the message is key to connecting.

“I want it to be something that’s going to be valid to me as an 18-year-old, as a new voter,” Bartone says. “They can talk and talk and talk about whatever their agenda is, but if they don’t personalize it to their viewers and their audience, then they’re not going to get anywhere with it.”

Social media should be a catalyst for political dialogue, Foxwell says.

“It’s what I call a 360-degree conversation,” he says. “The ultimate you could have is that somebody gets an email or e-newsletter from their representative. Then, they start following that representative on Facebook or Twitter, they ask a question and the representative responds back. Then you’re having a real experience, with a person.”

Like other media, it can be misused. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., was forced to resign in June after sending sexually explicit messages and photos to women who were following him on Twitter.

The 2008 presidential election showed tangible benefits for a candidate who could engage young voters via social media. According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 51 percent of eligible voters ages 18-29 cast ballots, up 2 percentage points from 2004, and most voted for Barack Obama, whose campaign used social media extensively.

Three years later, some millennials say lawmakers who have yet to become social media-savvy are missing an opportunity to connect with their generation.

“We’re a very underappreciated group of voters, but the thing is, when we’re passionate, we’re a very powerful group of voters,” Bartone said. “When you’re not using social media to contact us, to really get to us, you’re really . neglecting an entire group of voters that could really do well for you.”

Sarah Richard, a 22-year-old graduate student at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said members of Congress who aren’t using social media well are viewed as minor players, if not insignificant.

“If you’re looking for the youth vote for any election coming up, you need to have social media on your side,” Richard says.

Experts say lawmakers should develop specific strategies for targeting young people. Peter Levine, the director of The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, says lawmakers should hire millennials from their own congressional district or state to contribute their own content as a way to connect with others like them.

“If a staffer is writing the tweets for a member of Congress, say so,” Levine says.

He also suggests that lawmakers or their representatives invite comments and responses and then reply to them to make the conversation interactive.

Lack of a social media presence is a sign of being out of touch, says Matthew Segal, 25, the co-founder and president of Our Time, an organization created to bolster the voice of young Americans. The more out of touch the lawmakers seem, he says, the more millennials feel removed from the political process.

“Members of Congress have an obligation to stay on top of new emerging trends and culture because they represent the American people,” Segal says, “and that’s what the American people are using and consuming every single day.”

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

iConstituent Acquires DexteraNet, Leading Provider of Hardware Services to Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON D.C. – September 28, 2011

Today, iConstituent LLC announced the acquisition of DexteraNet, a leading provider of hardware and desktop support services to the Members of Congress. This groundbreaking move solidifies iConstituent’s unique position within the marketplace as a Total Solutions Provider. 

As the top provider of online communications to Members of Congress, iConstituent offers robust software services and in-office hardware and desktop  support. The new acquisition brings together unparalleled customer service, state-of-the-art products, and cutting-edge technology. 

"We are thrilled to welcome DexteraNet to the iConstituent family,” said Zain Khan, iConstituent CEO. “They are known for quick and effective customer service, which falls directly in-line with our strategic vision of first-rate customer service." 

By acquiring DexteraNet, iConstituent is fulfilling its mission of a "one-stop-shop," creating maximum efficiency for its clients. “We see this as an integral part of our business and an opportunity to integrate all our services under one umbrella," says Khan. "It’s a pleasure to welcome all the new DexteraNet clients to iConstituent.”

For more information, contact Andrew Foxwell at Andrew.Foxwell@iConstituent.com.

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How Sticky Are Your Links?

Did you ever wonder how long people pay attention to links that you share? Do they last hours, days, or weeks? How long will people pay attention to the links that you share? And does it matter where you post the links?

Like a bouquet of flowers that eventually wilt, links also lose their freshness with the passage of time. (Nice analogy, right?)

The folks at Bit.ly wanted to find out the lifespan of links. So they conducted a study to see what kind of valuable information they could glean. Looking at the half-life of 1,000 popular bitly links, they found that some interesting results:

  • The mean half-life of a link on twitter is 2.8 hours, on facebook it’s 3.2 hours and via ‘direct’ sources (like email or IM clients) it’s 3.4 hours. So you can expect, on average, an extra 24 minutes of attention if you post on facebook than if you post on twitter.
  • Interestingly enough, they also found that YouTube surpassed all of these Social Media venues when it comes to the lifespan of links.
  • The surprise is links that originate from youtube: these links have a half life of 7.4 hours! As clickers, we remain interested in links on youtube for a much longer period of time.

The conclusion? Most links last from about 2-11 hours. But the real takeaway is that the stickiness of your links depends on what they contain rather than where they appear: “On the social web it’s all about what you share, not where you share it!”

We want to know:Where do you share links that get the most responses?

Tweet Tweet: Posting Via Your Phone

As ubiquitous as it is, the Internet isn’t always available. And when it’s not, you might still want to tweet. In fact, you should be prepared to tweeting through text messages is simple — if you know how. So we thought we’d give you some simple advice about how to do this so you can tweet from wherever you are:

  • Link your phone to your Twitter Account via SMS or the web
  • Locate your Twitter short code.
  • Send a text message to your short code.
  • Check to make sure it posted to your Twitter profile by logging in and clicking on Profile.

That’s it. Happy Tweeting!

Social Media Changes the SEO Game

The news is here, and it’s big: Search engines are now incorporating social media into their results. This means that your Facebook Likes, Tweets, and +1s could have a direct impact on where you appear on search engine rankings.

 

As a result, the game is changing for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Way back when, an entire industry emerged to help people figure out how to rank higher on Google to gain more visibility. To do this, websites became packed with links from relevant sites, keywords in headlines and titles, and of course, sticking to Google’s standards for relevant, high-quality content in the format they prefer.

But this is changing as social media cannot be ignored: After all, with 30 billion pieces of content per month, social media is a force to be reckoned with.

 

By taking social media into account, searches have the potential to be even more relevant. Now, a post that is popular on Facebook might rank more prominently on a search engine. This means lots of changes: Last year, Bing began incorporating social media-like data into its search results, while with Google +, when you log in and search, social data personalizes your results. Both of these companies have added real-time results to searches, so that a recent Tweet might just show up on your search.

So what does this all mean for Congressional offices? It means that Tweeting, getting Likes on Facebook, and creating content that people love and want to share is more important than ever.

We want to know: What are your strategies for getting Facebook Likes?

STUDY: Posting Directly On Facebook is 88% More Effective Than Posting on Third-Party Apps

Did you ever wonder if there’s really a big difference between posting on Facebook directly versus posting to Facebook through third-party applications? You aren’t the only one. A recent study by Applum took the question seriously: The company analyzed more than a million Facebook updates on more than 50,000 Pages.

They found their answer: posting through one of the top ten third-party apps gives an average of 88% fewer comments and likes compared to posting directly to Facebook yourself.

Why the dramatic results? Here’s a few speculations:

  • Facebook’s algorithm penalizes third-party apps. For example, FB updates from some third-party apps are condensed into a single News Feed story — basically eliminating the myriad chances for engagement and interactions you could potentially have from separate posts.
  • Facebook users can decide to block all updates from any third-party app. It’s pretty clear how this would lead to less engagement!
  • Many posts on third-party apps are automated, which could contribute to the timing being not quite right for posts.
  • Content from third-party apps, such as Tweets,  is often not optimized for Facebook.

We want to know: How often do you post to Facebook through a third-party app?

Meet The Company Behind Capitol Hill's Facebook Ads

Meet the Company Behind Capitol Hill's Facebook Ads

via @AllFacebook.com http://www.allfacebook.com/facebook-ads-politics-2011-09

Did you know that there’s a company that specializes in Facebook promotions for members of Congress?

Meet iConstituent, of Washington, D.C. We spoke to the company’s Marketing and New Media manager, Andrew Foxwell, by phone and email to learn more about how the company collaborates with congressional offices to maximize their Facebook use.

How did iConstituent get its start? And in what ways does iConstituent work with members of Congress?

iConstituent got its start in 2000 and was formed by a group of interactive software experts in California for the purpose of improving constituent communications.

We are now the largest provider of online communications to members of Congress, serving over 300 members from every corner of the U.S., with over 60 online advertising clients in the House of Representatives.

We work with House members on Facebook advertisements, along with helping them connect their online inbound and outbound communication assets to their social media presence, thus creating a 360 approach to constituent communication, which improves our democracy by making it more interactive and constituent service focused.

In your experience, how much time are members and their staff devoting to Facebook?

It depends on each office, but members and their staff are spending more and more time on Facebook as they see it as a critical channel for real time interaction between constituents and their representative.

Since something like 42 percent of U.S. adults are now on Facebook, it’s essential that our representative government turns to this medium. Staff time is also not just spent answering comments and questions on members’ pages, but creating rich content for the pages that engages their respective constituencies.

What are the biggest challenges that members of Congress face in terms of Facebook? What issues need to be considered when an organization creates a Facebook or social media policy?

Some of the biggest challenges for members go along with not broadening their presence as much as they could, which is why I believe we’ve seen a large uptick in members doing Facebook advertisements. I also believe a challenge is creating innovative ways to communicate with their constituents. Answering questions is good that come in on a member’s wall, but what’s the next step in terms of communication?

For example, I have heard of a few members lately recording video responses to constituent letters and posting it on their Facebook profile. It’s this type of thing that is a challenge for finding what works.

What are some effective Facebook tips you can offer based on your experience with Members of Congress? Can you offer suggestions for launching an effective Facebook ad campaign?

Facebook advertisements along with Facebook strategy both have similar tenets of success. It’s all about ensuring that your message is timely and that you’re A-B testing. I also wholeheartedly believe in running advertisements that ask questions, bringing constituent engagement to the forefront.

For example, if you run an ad or ask a question on your profile page pertaining to a recent speech by the President, you’re going to see a higher interaction rate that creates an online dialogue directly into the halls of Congress.

Furthermore, A-B testing works miracles through being innovative with messaging and photos. We have the ability to know what messages work, so invest in ads that work and keep going with a results-based approach.  With the new targeting options that are available (zip-code targeting, as well as hashtag targeting) it’s about ensuring you get results and don’t pay for things that do not work.
We have been successful with this mantra, as the zipcode targeting is nearly doubling click through rates and the hashtag targeting has been helpful as well for having a broad but targeted approach.

In an age where you can measure every interaction and post, you should take advantage of the statistics that are available to you so you are creating a Facebook presence that works. Member offices, as well as other government agencies, need to be thinking hard about their role as a publisher of rich content — because the best stuff is what gets created and shared, even during slow periods.
If we can get people to interact on a member’s Facebook profile with questions or opinions, this is our democracy in action. If done right, this also raises the tone of our debate significantly.

Why do you think social media usage has taken off among government, advocacy groups and members of Congress?

I believe it’s taken off because people want an interactive democracy that places them at the table of discussion by merely logging into Facebook.

It also has a very measurable impact that is quantified in real numbers that members and agencies can point to showing effect of interaction, which is opposite of what has been the norm for years –- those ineffective glossy mailers. With Facebook and online ads you get immediate results, wrapped around analytics that show what effect you’re having along with what type of impact it’s having. The days of spending money blindly are over.

It’s obvious the biggest opportunity is taking input from constituents from around the U.S. and placing their input that ads generate into real action, either legislatively otherwise.

We are in an era where you can comment on your member’s Facebook page and by that afternoon you get a response that they are looking into it for legislative purposes. This is awesome and we must take advantage right now.

Federal agencies are also getting into Facebook for the very same reasons. They have the constituency of the United States and need to inform people on things that they see as priorities.

Why should members of Congress launch an ad campaign?

There are different reasons to run a campaign, one of them being to merely create an enhanced social media profile throughout your district so people know you’re there for them.

Another is a focus of constituent service to merely ask, “I work for you.  How can I help?” which ensures you get interactions and drives people to your page. You can also run advertisements for events to get the word out. Overall, an ad campaign is run to ensure people know the Member is there for them to listen and serve.

What kind of Facebook ads are the most effective for members of Congress?

The most successful ads we have are ones that address constituent service. An example would be “I am hosting a town hall tomorrow. Click here to register!  If you can’t make it, like my page and share your question.” Or “Do you need help with your Veterans Benefits? I can help.”

These ads bring into light what this is all about: ensuring interaction and a more personal relationship with your member of Congress through the use of technology.

Say Cheese: Photos Are Worth A Thousand Words

Not everyone is a professional photographer. And you aren’t going to hire one for every picture that appears on your website or Facebook. But that presents a problem: how do staffers — who are likely using a simple digital or smartphone — get professional, photographer-worthy photos that create buzz and catch the eye?

Here’s a primer:

  • Hold that button!
    The most common mistake using basic cameras is releasing the shutter button too soon. Don’t make this amateur mistake. When you hold the button for a few seconds, you’ll avoid a blurry picture.
  • Crowd control.
    When taking photos in a crowd, make sure to focus on one element in the scene. When you do, you’ll have a clear point of focus.
  • Go for High Resolution.
    When using a camera phone, set your resolution on high. You won’t be able to notice on your camera, but you will on the computer screen.
  • Edit before you upload.
    It’s tempting to snap and immediately upload to Facebook. But you are missing a crucial step: editing your photo. You can use Microsoft office image viewer for basic photo editing tools like color and cropping, or an online photo editor like Picnik, which allows you to tinker with exposure, shadows, highlights and red-eye removal.
    Be discerning.
    A photo should elevate your communication. Before you post a photo, ask yourself: “What is this adding to the mix?” If the answer is nothing, then move on until you find a more compelling photograph.

We want to know: Who is responsible for photos in your office?

Bright Idea: Innovative Ways to Build Your Email List!

It’s hard to keep up with all of the potential ways we can communicate with technology. We can help. A new idea floating around is using your follower list to use Facebook to build your email list. It’s a mouthful, we know, but it can definitely be effective.

Personal Democracy Forum’s Nick Judd (@nclarkjudd) writes about this phenomenon in a recent post on Tech President. Read about how Senators are using this technique, to a positive effect.

We want to know: Do you think this idea will gain traction or have you tried it?

Stop Wasting Your Money On [bad] Online Advertising

Via @newmediacongress.

http://www.newmediacongress.com/2011/09/stop-wasting-your-money-on-online.html

If you are advertising online, there is a good chance most of your spend is wasted. In a rush for instant gratification, most individualsand ad-buying firmsmake a critical mistake. It's the reason most people give up on online advertising: chasing views.
 
In old media advertising, the paradigm is "the more voters' eyeballs see the ad, the better". Most firms in this model charge a flat percentage of your budget.

 
With online advertising, this model breaks down.

To maximize the value of online ad spending, you should start with a small group of highly-targeted voters (to the point of being creepy) and work your way out. You want the cheapest clicks from the highest-value targets. This process helps you continually create the most-effective ads in terms of cost and public opinion.

 
Unfortunately, online advertising companies don't see it that way. Their goal is to make as much money as possible, and to do that, they have to make you spend as much of your money as possible. They blanket your district with ads and charge by impression. But, what are the measurable the results?
 
In television advertising it is acceptable to say "we spent $20,000 on evening news spots to get your ad seen by  10,000 likely voters." In online advertising should be is totally unacceptable to say "we spent $1,000 and your ad got 3,000,000 impressions from 20,000 Facebook users." 
 

Online advertising—and social media itself—are about creating action. If your online ads program is tied strictly to views and not metrics of success, you are getting carpet-bagged. 

 
There are some honest ad-buyers out there. One model company who does a great job of creating franking ads for members of Congress is iConstituent. Their ads are highly-targeted and well-managed, with pricing based on results, not views.