Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Communicating with the Capitol: The Power of Constituency

We all want superpowers, right?  Personally, I would like to be able to teleport.  Or fly.  Basically, find some cool way of avoiding my walk home every night in the freezing cold.

What if I told you that you do have a superpower?  I’ll admit, it may not be quite as flashy as flying or teleporting or being invisible, but seriously, you do.  It’s the power of constituency.  Sounds cool, right?

Basically, Members of Congress live and breathe by their constituents.  As a constituent, you elected your two Senators and your Representative because you thought they would do a good job representing your interests.  If they don’t end up meeting your expectations, you, as a constituent, can help vote them out.  That’s pretty powerful.

And as a result, Members of Congress really do care about what you, as a constituent, think!  They want to know your opinion on issues, how issues directly affect you, and what policies you’d like them to focus on.  That way, they can work to best serve your interests and thereby win over your vote again when it comes time for reelection.

On the other hand, many offices either have policies that they will only meet with constituents or that there must be some sort of tie to the district or state if a non-constituent is requesting a meeting.  This makes sense given the onslaught of meeting offices receive in a given week.  They have to prioritize their constituents.

So whenever you are communicating with the Congress, whether you’re trying to set up a face-to-face meeting or just corresponding with the legislative staff about an issue you care about, make sure you include your address, or at least your zip code.  If they can see right away that you are in their district or state, they are so much more likely to act on your issue.  Seriously, I hear this time and again from schedulers as we set up meeting after meeting on Capitol Hill.

So next time you have an opinion on an issue and you want to ask your Member of Congress to act, make sure you use your superpower.  Tell them explicitly that you’re a constituent.  Your superpower can help make sure your legislators hear what you have to say!

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Let’s Get Social!

Some of you may have seen the slightly embarrassing yet surprisingly catchy train wreck that is “Let’s Get Social,” a viral video of a performance at the Social Media Marketing World conference in which a woman sings about the importance of getting “social with social media.” If you haven't seen it yet, you should and you can watch it here. With wonderful lyrics like “Here’s some photos from my life/My cat, my kids, some bacon” and “We’re looking for the secret/Of Facebook’s Holy Grail/We try to keep from paying/That leads to hashtag #fail,” it is in and of itself just that, a hashtag #fail.

However, amongst the terrible lyrics and awkward rap bridge they actually make some good points about the importance of social media. The message here is that you can’t just post to social media and expect results—you also have to interact with social media. Follow people who care about the same issues. Retweet them and like and share their Facebook posts. Find the hashtags that are popular for your issue area and use them in your own tweets. Turn yourself into a valuable resource that people are going to want to follow and then start a discourse with your followers to make them feel involved. If you build a trust with your followers, you will have a much greater impact in the world of social media.

The most important thing I get from this video is that it’s important to have fun with your social media. Yes the video is ridiculous, but look at how many views it has! Sometimes the social media world can feel like one big competition for attention, so you need to find a way to rise to the top. This video might go a little too far onto the ridiculous side of the spectrum, but if you can find a balance between professionalism and fun then you’ll enjoy a level of success that you haven’t reached before.

Now, everyone say it with me …

Let’s get social!!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Communicating with the Capitol: Know Who You're Talking To

Congressional staffers have told us repeatedly how much it drives them nuts when advocates come into meetings and ask them to support a bill their boss has already co-sponsored.  When this or something similar happens, they say they often tune out because the advocate seems uninformed and couldn’t even take the time to do some basic research.  If you want your meeting to be effective, you need to put in a little work ahead of time.  I know you’re busy, so I’m not saying you need to go read the books they’ve written or all their past speeches or anything, but there are a few things you should do before your meetings to make sure you are well-prepared.  Trust me, staffers remember the meetings they have with informed constituents.  Here are some quick tips.

  • Read the member’s bio:  This takes at most 10 minutes.  Understanding where they come from and how they got into politics can provide great opportunities for you to personally connect with the office.  Say, for instance, you are a small business owner and as you’re reading your Senator’s bio, you find out that she worked for a small business for years before running for the Senate.  That would be a great way to connect with the office early on.  The more connecting lines you can draw, the more likely you are to be remembered. 
  • Know their issues:  Now that you’ve read the bio, it’s time to dig a little deeper.  Nearly all Members of Congress have either an “Issues” or “Legislation” tab or something similar where you can find out their priorities.  I know you are going to find this shocking, but most Members of Congress come to the Hill because they are truly passionate about an issue or two and they really want to make a difference with that issue.  They’re not all greedy, corrupt, power hungry Frank Underwood clones (at least not when they first get to DC).  You may just not always agree with the issues they’re passionate about.  If you can find ways to frame your asks around key issues they care about, they are far more likely to follow through and act on your issue.  Get creative here.  For instance, say one of their priority issues is education but you’re advocating for legislation to help caregivers for people with long-term disabilities.  Maybe you could demonstrate how improving caregiving allows people with disabilities to attain higher levels of education.  That’s just an example, but if on the surface your issue seems unrelated to their priorities, think outside the box a little and I’ll bet you can come up with some connection. 
  •  Figure out which committees they’re on:  Determining the committees and subcommittees a Member serves on can give you insight into some other issues their office focuses on.  If they serve as a chair or a ranking member on a committee, they likely have staff dedicated solely to that committee’s work.  If they are on a committee under which your issue falls, the staff is likely to be better informed about your issue, which in turn will better help you make your case.  If they’re not on a committee that relates to your issue, that by no means makes a meeting pointless, but it’s good to figure that information out ahead of time so you’re not blindsided if they say something like they work on your issue all the time in their committee. 
  •  Check out bills and votes:  As I mentioned earlier, one of the complaints we hear most often is that a Member of Congress will have already co-sponsored the bill you are asking them to co-sponsor.  If you are advocating for a specific piece of legislation, make sure you know who the co-sponsors are, what exactly the bill does, and why you support it. provides useful brief bill summaries so you don’t have to go in and read the full text of the legislation.  If your Member of Congress has co-sponsored your bill, you can still go in and thank him or her.  This will again show the office that you are well-informed and will also demonstrate that you care about and are following the actions the Member is taking on your issue.

Doing your research ahead of time doesn’t have to take days, but it can mean the difference between seeing progress on your issue and having a staffer walk out of a meeting with you and never think about your issue again.  Show the Member or their staff why you care about your issue, but also show them why they should care too.