This session will not only debut the latest survey data from CMF, but will also feature a panel of senior legislative staff and advocacy practitioners to discuss the most effective communications strategies to make sure your advocates’ voices are resonating with policymakers.
Nichelle Schoultz, Office of Congressman Anthony Brown (MD-4)
Stefanie Carey Barone, Office of Congressman Steny Hoyer
Amelia Chassé Alcivar, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan
Sarah Ankney, Office of Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25)
Brad Fitch, Congressional Management Foundation
- Survey results
- In-person issue visits from constituents (49% a lot of influence / 48% some influence)
- Virtual or video calls/visits from constituents (37% a lot of influence / 59% some influence)
- Need to see more diverse faces: make sure your meeting isn’t a screen full of white guys. Keep this in mind for your next virtual meeting because both D’s and R’s are taking notice.
- “Social media enables us to have more meaningful interactions with constituents”
- “Social media have made members/senators more accountable to constituents”
- Virtual meetings are here to stay! Moving forward, there will be a hybrid environment of engagement with constituents.
- In-person obviously have the benefit of personality, but virtual meetings offer flexibility
- Preparation for a virtual meeting should be the same as an in-person meeting. Preparation, dress, timeliness, and formality is still all there.
- Designate a leader for the conversation and avoid background noise.
- Most powerful virtual advocate experience: Father shared photos of his daughter as she grew up living with a neurological disease from childhood to her wedding day. At the end, the group held up signs that said “thank you, Congressman Brown”
- Alzheimer’s group comes in every year to advocate for funding and they are always consistent and prepared. This group recalled personal details from past meetings and the relationship has really grown.
- Social media is a blessing and a curse: Members can reach out but people can also reach you. The scope has expanded now so that national criticism can make its way in – not even constituents communicating with the legislator.
- Social media is a condensed, canned version of every message. Reactivity + brevity = a storm sometimes.
- Social media is forever, but it needs to be wielded wisely. It’s a great gauge of constituent sentiments.
- Future of citizen engagement? People will continue to stay engaged – they are not afraid to hold their elected officials accountable or remain on top of it. People are much more involved now.
- Congressman loves town halls, especially prior to the pandemic, usually with a few hundred attendees. The virtual town halls now gather thousands of attendees.
- Keep doing what you’re doing – your voices matter. It might not feel like your message is being heard, but she encourages advocacy leaders to continue. The only defeat is not being in the game.
- Giving people a voice as a conduit to the crowd.
- How to keep the meetings effective? Bring the conversation back to the people you are seeking to help. Keep it centered on who you’re helping and why
- Virtual is here to stay.
- She has found that advocates would come on their own, without having done any research on the member, with no messaging or talking points ready.
- Know who the member is and what their issues are.
- Don’t just read off a piece of paper!
- Coolest virtual experience: Sharing images of people they loved who have passed from cancer, one of the photos was one of their old advocates, and that hit home. Humanizing the meeting and adding that personal touch is really powerful.
- A celebrity Tweeted the phone number to their office and received hundreds of calls in one day – powerful use of Twitter.
- Social media has emboldened people to be more outspoken and say whatever you want to people without consequences – this is not true.
- Mail campaigns can be very productive – letter writing and emails can definitely get the attention of the office.
- Don’t underestimate the value of in-person options.
- Virtual calls were a great equalizer.
- No travel times for other meetings or duties meant that members could spend more time with constituents.
- If you have the infrastructure to train your advocates, do it! Prepare your technology and make sure anyone who is doing this professionally is trained and competent on all the main meeting platforms (Zoom, Teams, WebEx, Google Meet, etc)
- During the pandemic, the coolest virtual meeting/advocacy experience was with student advocates. Their initial meeting was sloppy and disorganized, but after feedback about the meeting, the students got their plan together and advocated heavily on the bills they were taking issue with.
- Different platforms have different uses. Twitter is for engaging with stakeholders rather than constituents – media, professional advocacy groups, and other legislators. Not a great tool for getting constituent feedback. Facebook is where they conduct most of their constituent feedback and Instagram is used for more personal/humanizing content.
- They instituted a Facebook policy a few years ago: reserve the right to remove comments that are copy and paste jobs. Is not an effective strategy and does not drive the desired results – calls and letters are much better. If you want to raise your voice, use your own voice.
- Because social media is quick, easy, and free, it can become toxic. People feel comfortable saying things online that they wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face if they were in the same room. Social media acts as a place to relieve pressure.
- It’s still important to engage with these audiences when applicable.
- It’s important to remember that the people commenting are not a representative sample of everyone seeing your content on social media.
- Hard and fast messages like weather emergencies, law enforcement updates, etc are very effectively communicated on social media
- Email is here to stay. Every week, their office sends an internal email called a top 5 report, which breaks down top constituent issues or main stories for the week.
- The silver lining of the pandemic: constituents are much more familiar with their state and local governments and how things work at both the state and federal levels. There is more engagement with state leaders from advocacy groups and constituents and she sees this trend continuing.
- Keep your messages clear and use that as your guiding force.
- Tri-county council had a watch party for a piece of legislation that they were watching. It was very interactive and all done virtually.
- Being intentional with still scheduling events that you would normally want to do, but making them happen in a virtual setting.
- Comments or messages are all monitored on social media inboxes. Have to figure out what kinds of social media works for her office: having a tele-town hall and streaming that on Facebook allowed them to reach a lot of people.
- Most engagement on social media comes from constituent success stories.
- People expect to see their members on social media, so it’s a norm/expected. Some of the toxicity of social media has crept into some virtual/in-person situations. Social media is so fast/instant but the legislative process is not fast, so that lends to frustration within audiences.
- Email is here to stay. They can send surveys to the constituents for instant feedback on issues.
- There’s no comparing to one-on-one events or in-person options. Build the relationship, invite to in-district events or ceremonies and maintain that interpersonal relationship/connection.