Examples and Specific Ideas
Senator Kyrsten Sinema represents the state of Arizona. Her Twitter and Facebook accounts are regularly updated and include information on what the Senator is working on in Washington, but also have a lot of useful information on available constituent services and activities happening in Arizona. Like most elected officials, she also has an official Youtube channel filled with snippets of her daily life as a Senator, both in Washington and Arizona. Her online presence is filled with original, interesting content.
Her official website is easy to navigate and incorporates her social media accounts with her press releases and news updates. It also outlines her legislative priorities and explains some of her political philosophies and how her office can assist constituents with federal government services.
Senator Sinema's official website isn't expansive, but it gives the public everything it needs to know about the Senator in an easy-to-follow layout. Her social media accounts are creative and descriptive, mixing legislative updates with facts and interesting information about what is going in Arizona. Her accounts are a great example of creating engaging content and using social media to promote a member's state or district rather than just dryly highlighting policy viewpoints.
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers represents eastern Washington state. She is a part of the House Republican leadership team and has been in Congress since 2005. As such, she has an established online presence, including relatively large followings on her social media accounts. Her official website is impressive for its colorful layout and deep content. She has a page dedicated to explaining each vote she has taken. This is a great idea that more members should consider. Constituents often want to know why their representative voted the way he or she did. Justifying and explaining votes is an important part of ethical leadership as an elected official.
McMorris Rodgers' Twitter and Facebook feeds are a good mix of district activities and legislative updates. Her tweets often link to news articles reinforcing her legislative priorities or issues she agrees with. Additionally, her Youtube channel features her speaking in committee hearings, on the floor of the House, and in media interviews. Overall, her online presence is professional and reveal some of her personality. The posts seem authentic. McMorris Rodgers does not shy away from commenting on controversial issues, but her position is clearly stated and backed up with facts.
Ideas for Content
While social media is an important part of constituent communication, in order to be most effective social media must be integrated with more traditional forms of constituent outreach, including constituent mail, newsletters, press releases, and website content. Posts made on social media accounts should funnel people to the member's web site. Boilerplate language could be included, including hashtags promoting the member and the district.
Any press releases should be posted on Twitter, Facebook, and the member's website. All social media posts should include a link to the press release on the member's official website or the member's web site itself. An official Youtube channel should also be created as a source for member speeches and media interviews. Relevant videos should be hyperlinked in all social media posts and featured on the member's website. All communications should be complementing each other and promoting the member.
Beyond social media, more traditional forms of communication are essential to inform and educate constituents about the member's legislative priorities and what he or she has been working on. This is particularly important because many constituents do not get their information online and rely on newsletters or constituent mail for their legislative information.
Creating a newsletter can be challenging, especially when Congress is not in session and there isn't much to report on. But there are many ideas that can be incorporated into an engaging newsletter. These ideas can apply to both a paper newsletter sent by mail or an electronic newsletter sent by email and posted on the member's official website.
Featured Federal Agency - Describe the responsibilities and duties of lesser-known federal agencies, including links
Community Spotlight - Highlight a small town or neighborhood in a large city and introduce some of its community leaders
Top Issues of the Month - Discuss top legislative issues of the month based on social media interactions and/or constituent mail
Bipartisan Cooperation - Highlight work done and/or bills sponsored with a member from another political party
Featured Small Business - Recap a facility tour taken by the member or describe the products sold by a small business in the district or state
The Congressional Institute has additional information and insight on how to create an effective and engaging official web site and newsletter
Even in the age of social media and instant access, constituent mail remains an integral part of constituent engagement efforts. Communicating with constituents by sending them an old fashioned letter establishes a direct connection with them and allows the member to directly and specifically answer a question or address a topic without losing context.
Managing the inflow of constituent mail, especially email, is time-consuming and complicated. There are resources available to assist a new office with establishing constituent mail systems, including the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) Constituent Communications page. Many new Congressional offices utilize CMF to help them set up their offices, including creating and implementing systems to manage constituent mail.
There are businesses that will manage your inbound and outbound constituent mail for you. Each new Congressional office has a budget for constituent mail management, and the House and Senate have approved a list of vendors for mail management, which is also known as Constituent Relationship Management (CRM). One example of a CRM vendor is iConstituent. Its software and interface is easy to use and helpful to manage the potentially thousands of emails that can arrive in a new member's inbox each day.