When Sen. Bob Casey needed to get the word out to beer makers back home that he was pushing legislation to cut taxes for Pennsylvania's small breweries, he took his message to Foursquare. The Finance Committee Democrat left "tips" for Tröegs Brewing Company in Hershey, Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery in Phoenixville and Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville about the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act, plus a link back to his website for more information.
Casey's creative approach to contacting his craft brew base earned him accolades on Monday when the Congressional Management Foundation announced its 113th Congress Gold Mouse Awards. CMF praised Casey and 17 other members of Congress for using innovative social media practices to interact with constituents. "For geographically based issues, Foursquare is perfect," CMF President and CEO Brad Fitch said in an interview. This was the inaugural year for the social media category in the Gold Mouse Awards, and Fitch said the winners all "used the platform wisely ... to advance their own legislative goals."
Other champions include: Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., recognized for building Storify narratives on important policy topics; Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., awarded for sharing lessons from his personal stroke recovery journey on YouTube and Flickr; and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., highlighted for using Twitter to caucus with fellow members of Congress. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., also got a plug in the 87-page report for striking "an authoritative tone that leaves room for humor," on social media, and "weaving past and present together" with his Throwback Thursday Instagram posts. Fitch said having offices self-nominate turned out to be a great strategy for the social media category. The landscape is so vast that a comprehensive sweep, like the one conducted to crown winners of the best congressional website category, would be "impossible."
Seventy websites won awards in the seventh biannual Gold Mouse contest for congressional websites. Proportionally, Senate member websites earned the most awards, 20 of the 100 Senate member websites. 10 percent of 435 House member sites and 16 percent of all House, Senate and joint committee sites.
Gold medal winners in the Senate include Casey; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; and Mark Udall, D-Colo. In the House, Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.; Karen Bass, D-Calif.; and Michael M. Honda, D-Calif., dominated. Gold medal winners among committees were all in the lower chamber — House Natural Resources, House Rules and House Education and Workforce.
As CMF scanned the sites, they found some troubling trends. Many members still use their websites for "one-way messages promoting a politician or cause," much like they were doing in 2002, when the first Gold Mouse awards were presented.
"While some legislators are creatively using social media to shine a light on their representational and legislative activities, most are not," the report states. "Too few are using social media to build trust and understanding of Congress, and too many are employing 1960s-style Mad Men advertising strategies — repetitive and simplistic jargon wielded like a hammer to hit citizens on the head … over and over again."
While still weak, member websites have shown signs of improvement. An increasing number provide basic legislative and casework information and links, CMF found. More than three-quarters provided a voting record, compared to 56 percent in the previous Congress.
CMF has been studying online communications in Congress since 1998, with the goal of assessing Congress’ performance in online communication and providing congressional offices with examples and guidance to enhance their interactions with constituents on the Internet.
The full results can be found here. Correction: 2:59 p.m. An earlier version of this story misstated the frequency with which the biannual Gold Mouse Award is given.