COVID-19 has changed everything we know about communicating with constituents. Eight months in, and we are still adapting. As we look to the new Congress, it is essential that we use innovative, new tools to reach constituents without forgetting other tools that are still effective as an outreach tool.
The first thing you need to do is make a plan that includes all aspects of communications for the coming year and an idea of what it will cost. This will allow your chief and Member to know the strategy for the new Congress and plan accordingly.
Plans don’t necessarily need to be long and detailed. Have an idea of how often you want to do mass mail/email, telephone town halls, outbound texting, and outreach. Have it mapped out on a calendar so you can visualize what each month looks like from a communications standpoint. When do you want to do telephone town halls? When do you want to do a media blitz in the district? Do you have bills planned for the coming year? What is the timeline for introduction, and how does that impact your communications strategy? The plan for be as simple as one or two pages. Just be sure to leave room for flexibility to respond to the news of the day. As we’ve seen with COVID-19, the world can change almost instantly, and you need to be able to adjust accordingly.
COVID-19 has upended many things, including the ability for many offices to do mass mail campaigns. With staff working from home, there are no interns to fold thousands of letters.
Consider mass mail, instead. iConstituent’s eNewsletter platform is an easy way to get your message in front of the right audiences. Using tools like L2 Constituent mapping combined with your eNewsletter can ensure your email goes to the right people who are most likely to open it.
An important issue: the world has thrown a lot at people this year. Make sure your messages are clear. Make sure subject lines are direct and give people a reason to open the message. And make sure to create supplemental material on your website that goes into more depth on the topics you are messaging. Include those links in your emails.
With COVID, it is difficult to hold in-person town halls safely. But people have questions and want to hear from their Members. Regular telephone town halls are the answer. iConstituent has access to cell phones for many of your constituents and can help you target your audience, whether you are trying to reach 500 people or 50,000.
It is a great idea to use iConstituent’s GovText to text your target audience ahead of time and let them know about the telephone town hall. It will result in more people expecting the call, picking up, and participating. It also allows citizens to opt-out if they don’t want to be contacted. And best of all, texts have a 93% read rate!
The most successful telephone town halls have targeted messages or themes. In the past, I’ve hosted telephone town halls for veterans, a particular piece of legislation, or targeting constituent services. In these calls, we sometimes have guests from other government agencies or had a caseworker on with the Member to answer questions and help citizens get answers to their questions.
Social media is a wonderful way to reach people right in the palm of their hand. Using Facebook, the Member can go live with his followers and answer questions in real-time as they come in. On Twitter, he can post responses to questions posted using a unique hashtag. He can post video responses to questions left in the comments section of a post or questions emailed into the office on Instagram. It is easy, cost-effective, and immediate.
Doing earned media is always a great way to message. If you have the opportunity to go on national or local media to discuss an issue that fits your messaging, take the opportunity (even if there are no viewers on a particular channel). You aren’t necessarily looking to impress the millions of viewers on CNN or FOX. What you are doing is creating clippable moments for your social media. The same is true in committee hearings and on the floor.
Most of us know how to clip from C-Span’s website. Many of us get our video clips from committee media teams. Many others use TV Eyes or another service. But that doesn’t always help when the interview is on a channel that isn’t listed (like Fox). If that’s the case, use a streaming service like Hulu or Fubo. Set the DVR option to record the show and then go back and clip it using free, open-source software like OBS Studio. It is a great option to get snackable clips of your boss for Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Looking at next year’s budget and feeling a little squeezed? Using a competitor CMS vendor and thinking it has to be easier? It may be time to explore your options. iConstituent has the latest constituent management system on the Hill, and it is as easy to use as Gmail. In many cases, it can also save your office thousands of dollars. Chiefs will appreciate that, and your staff will appreciate a simple, easy new way to communicate with constituents.