Lobbying social-media style with Twitter: Examples and how-to’s

April 8, 2009 at 9:28 pm Leave a comment

It’s been about a year since I’ve created a Twitter feed for my organization, Public Citizen.

During this time, we’ve posted links, conversed with followers, shared content related to our mission, and encouraged followers to take action. And overall, Twitter has helped us build Public Citizen’s brand, develop a younger following and seem more approachable. But one thing we haven’t tried is using Twitter to achieve what used to be a solely offline activity: Public interest lobbying.

Contacting lawmakers has become increasingly difficult. Their inboxes typically block large influxes of constituent emails (an example of this occurred news of the financial bailout first hit the news this fall), and constituents typically can only email lawmakers within their district. I’ve talked to some activists who have recommended going back to hand-delivering paper petitions to get the word out. There’s even a campaign from Consumers Union called Don’tBlockMyVoice.org.

Now, with the expanding world of social media, lawmakers are creating Twitter accounts. Granted, the person actually doing the tweeting probably isn’t the lawmaker, but this does provide another avenue, on top of paper, phone calls and emails, to communicate with elected officials.

The Sunlight Foundation recently implemented a Twitter lobby around Senate Bill 482 (the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act), which would require the Senate to electronically file campaign disclosure forms.

Interested to see how effective Twitter lobbying is, as well as how to implement such a campaign for Public Citizen, I reached out to Sunlight as well as other progressive activists from the ProgressiveExchange and got some great information.

Gabriela Schneider, communications director for the Sunlight Foundation, said creating a common hashtag, landing page, and incorporating Twitter into the overall online campaign are all important.

She said Sunlight began by tweeting a message to support S. 482 with a hashtag and landing page to jumpstart the campaign. Others could also easily retweet this information. (You can read the blog post that started the campaign here and the follow-up post here.)

While the Twitter lobby was effective in generating some media buzz and spreading the word, it still wasn’t the main way the organization communicated to members of Congress regarding the legislation.

Tracy Viselli, the West coast representative for Tweet Congress, also noted that reaching out to influential Twitter followers is a key way to get the word out. For example, if someone is following you whose tweets show up in the widely-read Huffington Post stream, that’s a great person to reach out to.

Another tip Tracy had was to write up a few suggested tweets for activists to use when contacting lawmakers with a “tweeting points” page (you can see an example of one of these here, from Progressives 2.0’s “Ask the President” project).

Thanks to both Gabriela and Tracy for sharing this information. As Public Citizen explores this use of Twitter, I’ll continue to share what I’ve learned and what techniques make Twitter lobbying the most effective.

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Entry filed under: Advocacy, Non-profit technology. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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