The most common misconception around digital engagement is that the power of the Internet exists in the future. Just about everyone I talk to about digital strategy, from elected officials to interns who want to work in politics, tells me that they want to do more online because thatís where things are headed. But that perception is wrong. The Internet is the present. We no longer go online, but the online world is woven into the fabric of our daily lives.
According to the research firm Forrester, Americans now spend as much time online as we do watching television (and often those TV sets are Internet devices in their own right). The more integrated technology is in our society, the less meaning terms such as online and Internet have.
But for the savvy member of Congress (and their savvy staff), the current digital reality creates an opportunity for new levels of civic engagement and grass-roots support. By building and maintaining a few simple channels and engaging in the online space, members of Congress can build support for their legislation and allow activists and constituents to participate in the legislative process right along with them.
The first step is to re-engage online resources built up during the campaign. While your campaignís online resources arenít covered under franking rules and you canít use your campaign site to conduct official business or send emails to this list from your government account, you can encourage folks from the campaign to remain involved. The Senate and House Ethics committees will have guidelines for what is allowed.
The most important resource to keep active is your email list. Supporters liked you enough that they volunteered to receive updates from you in their inbox. Your email list is populated by evangelists for you and the legislation you want to champion in Congress. Keep them updated on what youíre working on, but more importantly, give them things to do. Got a bill that you want to get out of committee? Ask them to call members who can make that happen. Want to get the word out about what youíre doing in office? Suggest that they share an article about you on Facebook.
Next, make sure that your official online properties are easy to navigate and make sharing simple. You want to ensure that your constituents can get the information they need and that those interested can spread the word about what youíre doing to their own networks. Whenever possible, make sure statements and newsletters are webpages and not PDF files. And the person assigned to keeping up your website should check frequently to make sure there are no broken links. Set up official YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts as quickly as possible.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.