Monday, November 14, 2011

Using Facebook to Influence Congress

NEW ORLEANS -- The American Medical Association brought Brad Fitch, CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), here for a workshop for physician activists on lobbying Congress.Among the numerous interesting tidbits that the data-dripping Fitch dropped was this one:

Sixty-four percent of congressional aides that CMF surveyed say Facebook is an "instant gauge of public opinion on issues they are talking about." When their bosses are undecided on legislation or what to talk about, they are likely to settle on which ones get the most "like's."

Using Facebook as an incoming communication tool to reach Congress? Never thought of that.

Hungry for details, I dug up the CMF's July 201 report, #SocialCongress: Perceptions and Use of Social Media on Capitol Hill. Under the heading "Congressional offices are using social media to help gauge public opinion, augmenting traditional tools used for that purpose," this is what I found:

According to the senior managers (primarily Chiefs of Staff, Deputy Chiefs of Staff and Legislative Directors) and social media managers (staff who identified themselves as having responsibility for their office's social media practices) who responded to our survey, offices have integrated social media into the array of tools they use to understand constituents’ views and opinions. Not surprisingly, these staffers say they rely most on the more tangible and verifiable forms of interaction with constituents, such as attending events in the district or state, receiving personalized messages from constituents, and holding town hall meetings. 
However, it is clear that congressional offices are taking Members’ Facebook friends seriously. Almost two-thirds of the staffers view Facebook as an important source for understanding constituents’ views and opinions. Twitter and YouTube have also clearly gained acceptance on Capitol Hill, with significant percentages of the staffers surveyed  saying these tools are important sources for understanding constituents.
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the senior managers and social media managers surveyed think Facebook is a somewhat or very important tool for understanding constituents’ views and opinions.
  • More than one-third (42%) say Twitter is somewhat or very important for understanding constituents.
  • YouTube is viewed by just over one-third (34%) as somewhat or very important for understanding constituents’ views and opinions.
Facebook recognizes this trend and offers advice for those of us who might want to travel this social media advocacy avenue. In this video, Katie Harbath, Facebook's public policy manager, discusses working with members of Congress and their staff to engage with constituents on the platform.

So where do we find our senators and representatives on Facebook? Surprise -- Facebook has compiled a page at, which the network says "will highlight innovative uses of Facebook by members of Congress, list members' pages and communicate news and information about Facebook and Congress."

The "innovative uses" include Facebook chats with constituents, videos, and polls. The page also includes sub-pages listing all of the congressional Facebook sites, separated into House and Senate. I signed into Facebook as Texas Medical Association and liked both Texas senators and all the Lone Star State representatives I could find.

Now I just have to come up with a strategy to use this new tool to get TMA-member physicians to engage Capitol Hill on Facebook to build momentum for Congress to fix Medicare's broken physician payment formula.

Here are a few more links of interest:

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