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Social Media Goes Viral on Capitol Hill

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When Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) decided to run for Minority Leader after Democrats lost the House in November, she wanted to get the news out fast and cast a wide net. So she tweeted it.

Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was tweeting with pop star Lady Gaga to drum up support for repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the lame-duck Congress. And House Republican leaders seized on social media on the night of the State of the Union, posting 31 YouTube videos in rapid-fire response to Twitter-fed questions from the public.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) don’t even have Twitter accounts.

The role of social media in Congressional leaders’ messaging and outreach has exploded over the past few years, whether it be through tweets about floor schedule updates or on Facebook. But within that trend is a clear — and nonpartisan — divide between the savvy and those still in the dark.

House Democratic and Republican leadership aides are eager to tout their bosses’ use of social media.

Gerrit Lansing, a spokesman for House Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.), hailed Republicans’ “great success” with their State of the Union effort. Eight Members participated — including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) — as GOP staffers filmed, edited and tweeted video responses that were uploaded to YouTube every four minutes. Cantor has already emerged as a leader in social media with a separate project, YouCut, which allows people to vote online for specific spending cuts, and every week he takes the winning items to the House floor for a vote.

House Republican leaders also harnessed social media to propel their “Pledge to America” agenda; they solicited tens of thousands of ideas from people on the Internet about what should be on the GOP agenda, along with 1 million votes and comments on proposals.

“House Republicans are always eager to find new ways to communicate with constituents and this State of the Union response was the next step in engaging constituents in near real time, demonstrating that House Republicans remain the dominant social media force on Capitol Hill,” Lansing said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has also proved to be adept with new media: Last June, he organized a “Member Online All-Star Competition” to get lawmakers engaged on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) was named MVP, and the effort led to House Democrats acquiring more than 43,000 followers and subscribers within three weeks. Hoyer also hosted a “5 at 5” week on Twitter, where every day he asked people to tweet to him whatever questions they had. At 5 p.m., five questions were answered.

“House Democrats are constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to talk to their constituents and deliver our message through social media, and this continues to be a focus for us throughout this Congress,” Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said.

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