A group of Republicans made their way from Washington to Silicon Valley last week to demonstrate both the party’s dedication to supporting the tech industry in general and its embrace of social media tools in particular. John Culberson (R-TX), Rob Wittman (R-VA) and Bob Latta (R-OH) — all members of the House Republican New Media Caucus — wrapped up their week-long trip to the region, which included visits to Google, Yahoo, Oracle and Facebook, on Friday. Republicans in the House of Representatives created the New Media Caucus as a way to teach congressmen and staff how to better utilize social media tools to connect with and disseminate information to constituents — in particular the 18-24-year-old American voter population.
So in response to all the flak the GOP received for not taking advantage of social media during the 2008 campaign, members of the New Media Caucus are actively trying to make clear that they get it now. During a roundtable with journalists at CNET on Friday, each of the congressmen said they now use Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis because constituents are used to being addressed individually via the web, not through mass mailings and landline phones. Wittman said he tries to tweet 5-6 times a day and Culberson said he reached out to his friends on Facebook to help come up with questions for the group’s meeting at Apple. The three even met with Randi Zuckerberg at Facebook to talk about how to better use the site.
So now that politicians from both parties understand they need to use social media, or face their own peril at the polls, how can they use it to connect with the 18-24-year-old crowd? As a member of that demographic, here are a few of my suggestions:
Create mobile applications — We have mobile applications to keep track of our Facebook friends and the latest New York Times articles, but not the president or our local congressmen. Government officials can create simple mobile apps that feature their Twitter feed, latest blog entries, video addresses, maps to town hall meetings — the list could go on. As the number of smartphone users continues to rise, mobile apps offer a way for politicians to connect with and engage young constituents no matter where they are.
Create widgets — Most of my friends use personalized homepage sites such as iGoogle, Netvibes and MyYahoo, and rely on widgets featured on those sites to keep them up-to-date on top news and track the most popular topics or videos being discussed on the web. To keep young people connected to what’s going on in Washington, the president and congressmen could create widgets that feature links to their blog entries, podcasts, video addresses or news articles.
Push updates to our Facebook pages — Make updates on their Facebook pages visible in our News Feeds. While many politicians have their own Pages, which they use as a forum for constituents who become “fans,” some still leave it up to those fans to visit in order to view any new content. To solve this, those politicians need to adjust their settings so that their updates are pushed out to their fans’ News Feeds. This would be a key way to deliver information to a younger demographic since Facebook still reigns as one of the top sites for young Americans.
My suggestions only scratch the surface; there are an unknown number of more creative ways politicians and government officials can use social media to connect with constituents — of all ages. For example, newly appointed Chief Information Officer Aneesh Chopra, who received a favorable response when he came to visit the Valley earlier this month, used Ning to distribute health information to doctors in rural areas in his former role as Virgina’s Secretary of Technology. Readers, what are your ideas on how Washington can connect with us using social media?