Is it Time to Leave Lobbyists Behind? A Look Into Social Lobbying

A recent article by POLITICO’s Anna Palmer entitled “K Street’s boom goes bust” describes how many DC lobbying firms reported stagnant or negative revenues in 2011.  Their sluggish year is attributed to the slow economy and, perhaps more significantly, major shifts occurring in the public affairs industry.  The article describes how a few new kids on the advocacy block are starting to rival the traditional lobbying establishment:

“Fights are no longer just about which side has the most — or best — lobbyists. The new world of Washington influence is more diverse: Traditional access lobbying is waged alongside campaigns that use media, grass-roots activism and the Internet — activity often not reported in federal lobbying filings.”

The article goes on to cite the recent SOPA/PIPA debacle as an example of the power behind grassroots and online campaigns, as well as individual internet users, when they make their presence known in Washington.

This isn’t to say that the big K Street lobbying firms will be closing their doors any time soon.  However, the reality of this “new world of Washington influence” has significant implications for those of us in the public affairs industry.  A TechCrunch article on this very topic notes that “social lobbying,” where social networks trump cash as the currency influence, is becoming a preferred method for “savvy” special interest groups to promote their causes.

Though some believe this movement towards “social lobbying” is the result of negative connotations associated with traditional lobbying, it also seems to reflect our growing propensity to spend time online.  As we become more mobile, connected, and web-dependent, it makes sense that special interest groups would want to engage activists where they are: on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and wherever else our web roamings lead us.

While it may be difficult to predict the future of the Washington influence game, for the time being, it seems as though online and grassroots activism is solidifying its position in DC.  As we move through 2012 and complete another election cycle, perhaps we will see if it is indeed here to stay.

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