Smart Social Media: D.C. is Getting There – Are You?

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By Francie M. Israeli, Vice President and Managing Director Washington, D.C. Office

Often considered stodgy, beholden to tradition and resistant to change, the U.S. Congress can now firmly claim one very modern addiction – social media.  During President Obama’s State of the Union address this week, Members of Congress (or, more likely, their staff) tweeted more than a thousand times from their official Twitter handles, according to the New York Times.

United States Capital

The State of the Union itself was strongly positioned for spreading the message socially.  The White House promoted a mobile-friendly “SOTU” website that streamed interactive content and additional material during the speech; heavily pushed the use of hashtags; tweeted White House-approved sound bites prolifically during the speech; and held Twitter conversations with White House officials the following day.  The White House also released the entire text of President Obama’s speech via Medium, an online publishing platform founded by Twitter’s founders.

Engaging virally with voters spreads far across the aisle, of course.  Earlier, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) garnered significant attention through social and traditional media when his office posted on his official blog a Buzzfeed-esque “listicle” of GOP-approved responses to one of President Obama’s policy positions, all cleverly illustrated with GIFs of Gen-Y pop queen Taylor Swift.

Rep. Boehner’s post drew some criticism, but also hefty praise from savvy pundits who understand that on the road to the White House (or any major office), candidates cannot bypass one critical voting public – younger voters.  (In Boehner’s case, the Taylor Swift post was particularly effective because it specifically addressed an issue that resonates with this set – the cost of college education.)

Younger voter turnout in the 2014 midterm elections was generally weak, but this voting bloc was greatly important to the Democratic victory in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.  And as the inevitable march toward the 2016 General Election begins, both parties are well-served, having cultivated the attention and loyalty of young voters early and where they are more likely to be reached: online.

As the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project has reported many times, the vast majority of Americans get their news digitally. Pew also notes that users of social media are also sharers – at least 50 percent of users share content online, and nearly half use social media to discuss news and important events.

These are important facts not only for politicians seeking votes, but for any campaign that seeks to influence or change the behaviors of Millennial Americans – who, according to census data, are quickly outpacing the Boomers in terms of population.

The importance of crafting compelling stories and creating content that is inherently and easily shareable are not new concepts, but with social channels now driving instead of reflecting the conversation, they are more important than ever.  Our elected officials in Washington have finally become very wise to the power of well-crafted social engagement.

Photo courtesy of Jason Ippolito on Flicker:

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