by Noah Rothman,Campaigns & Elections Magazine – A story published yesterday on Politico quoted a number of sources questioning whether the amount of time that campaigns and Capitol Hill staffers spend monitoring communications through social media is worth it.
Keeping up with messages that arrive online via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms poses a number of challenges to staffers. One problem is that online messages arrive throughout the day, compared with old-fashioned snail mail, which arrives just once a day. Another is that it can be difficult to determine whether an e-correspondent is a constituent, much less a likely voter.
As a result, many staffers have come to see Internet correspondence as a waste of time. Indeed, Capitol Hill staffers surveyed by the Congressional Management Foundation said that social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are among the “least useful forms of communication for gauging constituent views.” Less than half of those surveyed said that contacts made through social media had any influence on lawmakers.
Skeptics believe that social media has been overhyped. A legislative director quoted in another study, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, complained that social media has “diluted the quality of communications overall.” If this is the case, then it could make sense to reconsider the amount of resources devoted to social media, given that only 8 percent of adult Internet users use Twitter, according to the same Pew study.
Kurt Luidhardt, vice president of The Prosper Group, a media consulting firm that specializes in online strategy, counters that integrating online utilities into communications strategy is integral to running an effective campaign or constituent services program. “I don’t know of any offices that, in my opinion, spend too much time on Twitter or Facebook,” he says. “Most people I talk to still do very little [communicating on social media], if any at all.”
Luidhardt advises his clients not to cede any territory to their opponents, especially on social media platforms. “It is about flooding the zone,” he says. As for the argument that online communications waters down political communications in general, Luidhardt says “that ship sailed ten years ago.” “Our communications have already been reduced by cable news and broadcast television to sound bites,” he says. “The idea that the Internet makes that condition worse lacks perspective.”
Justin Hart, managing director at RaiseDigital, a new media consulting group, takes issue with a quote from a legislative staffer in the Politico story suggesting that people who forward e-mails to congressional offices are questionable voters whereas constituents who show up at a representative’s office are highly likely voters. Hart argues that anyone that takes two minutes to contact their congressman is a likely voter. “If it is effective at influencing legislators, that is another question,” he says.
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