Because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, Congressional Leaders and Constituents have turned to digital communications to share information and engage with one another. Some offices have been more successful than others in this change, with the more successful ones put in the appropriate tools, and bandwidth, to manage the high volume of digital content. Those offices that adjusted were able to engage with their constituents, informing them about the CARES act, Covid-19 testing sites, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and other critical information. This engagement, let constituents know that their representatives understood their concerns and prioritized responses to ensure that constituents’ questions could be answered.
This is what Constituent Engagement means for Congressional Offices, understanding constituents’ concerns, and communicating with them so that their concerns are addressed. This is not casework, per se, but rather the gathering of insight into the general publics’ concerns so that communication can be on-point and impactful. It can start with text messages to the office from constituents or telephone town halls, but bringing together the repeated concerns of constituents can help offices understand concerns so that they can create appropriate messaging.
How did that look early in 2020? Early into the pandemic, constituents and legislators were concerned enough about the potential impact to push for countrywide closure of non-essential businesses. Understanding that this was going to present a huge hardship for both business owners and workers, Congress passed the CARES act. Many constituents were confused about how the CARES act impacted their situation and what they should or could do to take advantage of the benefits. Many federal and private agencies failed to communicate with affected individuals, who then requested aid from their representatives. Knowing that this was happening, Congressional Offices could identify questions that came up time and time again and addressed them proactively to help impacted constituents.
For Federal elected offices, constituent communication is one of the main assets to political success. Having the right information communicated to people in a personalized and impactful way is key to successful engagement with constituents, which leads to long term support for the elected official. Constituent engagement is an opportunity to build consensus and support, however, it needs to be done in a smart and impactful way, with effective communication systems to reduce the load on staff.
There are significant long-term benefits of Federal offices switching to online communication. Historically, only a small percentage of constituents could meet with their representatives in person. Travel also reduced the availability of representatives as the time required to criss-cross the country between DC and local offices was significant. Digital communication has reduced the barrier for constituents and representatives to converse, allowing instantaneous virtual face-to-face and town hall meetings regardless of time or location.
Given this, why is Constituent Communication and Engagement failing in 2020? Primarily it is due to the fact that processes developed for in-person consultation, postal, phone, and other traditional communications do not lend themselves to email campaigns, Twitter feeds, and the Facebook pages of today. Twitter and Facebook are primarily one-directional and while they allow offices to send out a blanket message, they do not lend themselves to one-on-one conversations. The percentage of US adults who use Twitter is small (22%) and focused on younger adults. While Facebook is similar in the demographic skew, the percentage of US adults using it is a lot higher (75%). One challenge in using Facebook, in particular, is that it has become a hotbed on misinformation, with almost triple (1.5 billion per quarter) the number of interactions with news outlets that publish falsehoods and misleading content than back in 2016. Even so, there is one platform that is almost universal across the United States and lends itself to personalized one-on-one interactions.
That platform is a text messaging on cell phones. The vast majority of Americans, 96%, own and use cell phones daily. Text messaging is an effective way to communicate with those Americans away from the misinformation found on Facebook and other social media sites. iConstituent’s Constituent Engagement Platform has Smart Messaging built into it’s platform so that constituents can use direct inbound texting to their Representative’s office using a dedicated local phone number, which offices can respond to using personalized responses, leveraging the advantages of their CRM / CSS platform with auto-tagging, constituent databases, verified interactions, and optimized delivery for rapid communication.