Understanding how Congress could approach social media can be usefully grounded in how Congressional offices are already leveraging the medium. After Saturday’s sessions at Congress Camp, digging deeper into case studies of social software use by Congressional offices was a natural evolution. The second session of the day, on tools and case studies, grew from that need, focusing in on the questions posed by a member of Senator Sanders (D-VT) office:

How do we keep up with all these tools and identify the useful ones?

He asked for ways that Congressional offices could:

  • Listen to constituents
  • Develop and build upon trusted relationships with constituents
  • Filter conversations, given the massive amount of communications
  • Manage a two-way dialogue
  • The session looked at many different examples of Congressional use of social software, starting first with Senate or House pages and then moving to the digital outposts themselves.

    Case Studies

    The pages chosen were by no means comprehensive or representative of the makeup of either of the two chambers. Each was simply suggested by the participants in the Congress Camp audience and then discussed in the context of how external social media platforms and digital tools were being employed and displayed.

    Congressman Latta, for instance, used mobile technology in an innovative way by setting up his own SMS shortcode.

    Cory Booker enabled visitors to translate the content of his page using Google Translate.

    Congressman Culberson had his Qik feed embedded on his page, presenting a livestream to visitors if he chose to broadcast from his phone.

    Metrics for success

    As the discussion ranged far and wide, substantial questions emerged about measuring success – what are the metrics? And what are the risks? Noel Dickover pointed out that creating mashups or data feeds for agencies and offices can create legitimate concerns grounded in security and privacy.

    If revenue follows engagement in business use of Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0, what’s the parallel for Government 2.0? A vote? Passing a bill? Registering new voters? Location-aware technologies may matter in this context, in the future. The goals of the social media efforts of the Center for American Progress, for instance, is measured in terms of extending reach, policy and expertise.

    Metrics include:

  • Successful delivery of services
  • Signatures or delivery of petitions
  • Usage of platforms by constituents
  • Engagement, as measured by @mentions, retweets, reshares, likes or video replies
  • Raw numbers, as expressed by followers, fans, friends, clicks or viewsOne example of the latter is video of Michigan Representative Mike Rogers’ opening statement on the healthcare debate. The video went viral and has registered more than 3 million views on YouTube.
  • Tools

    The list is long, particularly when it came to Twitter, but one clear suggestion preceded the discussion:

    “Don’t focus on one – try many to see what works.”

    Choosing tools to integrate into a Congressional office or campaign should also, ideally, be directly tied to the desired outcome. (See “Metrics” above. ) Some platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, are now so big that any public entity is well-served to be represented. Others, like YouTube, are worth considering against smaller options like Blip.tv, Viddler, Veoh or livecasting services like uStream or Qik.

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