Friday, June 17, 2011

Scandals, Twitter and Congress

Unless you've been living under a rock (and no, I don't want to insult rock dwellers) you've probably heard that a certain Congressman used a certain social media outlet to send pictures of certain parts of his anatomy to certain women. I realized that I can't type all the particulars because so many of them contain words that might be censored, particularly the Congressman's name.

In this whole situation there is one entity that I think needs defending -- and that is Twitter. To paraphrase an adage about guns (i.e, guns don't kill people, people do), "Twitter doesn't embarass people: people do." If there is any lesson to be learned from this whole sordid affair, it's that we all should be careful about a) what we post on the Internet and b) monitoring what others post because it's out there forever. The alternative is to not do embarassing things, but that doesn't seem like a very viable option for most of us.

I'm guilty of this too, of course. There are certainly unflattering pictures of me all over the Internet. I thought I was safe because these were taken before digital cameras (yes, I'm that old), but it turns out you can scan these pictures into a digital format and post them. Who knew?

All that said, social media approaches can be incredibly useful in grassroots advocacy efforts (as the advocacy guru you knew I'd get around to this). Once you stop snickering at the recent scandals (I admit, I'm not there yet), take a few quick and easy steps to use some of these outlets to promote your policy cause, including:

1) Facebook: Find your legislators on Facebook and "like" them. You don't have to actually like them, but it's a great way to keep track of what those legislators are up to as well as their general perspective on the world -- always good to know when you're advocating at them.

2) Twitter: As we've seen, sometimes legislators send out something totally inappropriate and that's always fun. But Twitter is also a good way, like Facebook, to learn more about their representatives' policy views.

3) You Tube: I learned recently that YouTube is the number two search engine after Google. Not only did this make me feel old (what are the kids doing these days?) but it made me realize my current videos are terrible. We're fixing that, but I think you'll find that many members of Congress have already figured this out and have many useful videos posted on their YouTube channels.

4) Linked In: Always a great resource for finding connections between your network and those you're trying to reach. Imagine the power of contacting a legislator through a mutual friend. The legislator is far more likely to take your call and perhaps even meet with you.

5) Two Way Street: No, that's not a social media channel, but it's always a good idea to ask legislators and their staff to follow you on all your own channels. You can make it even more appealing to them by posting videos of your meetings with them, positive updates about their work on your Facebook page and notes on your Twitter feed.

Take just one of these steps and you'll be using social media for good, not evil, in no time!

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