Friday, February 27, 2015

Is it White and Gold? Or Black and Blue?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the great “is-the-dress-white-and-gold-or-blue-and-black” controversy. Let me start by saying I have no definitive answer. I, like many of us here in Washington, DC, am not a scientist. What I find most interesting is the public’s response to what we all hopefully can agree is not the most critical question of our time. And what I’ve seen scares me a little. People are becoming intransigent, immovable, -- one might even say irrational -- in their opinions. And yet it’s clear that – hey – two people can see the same thing in different ways.

To paraphrase my colleague Nick Tobenkin (who’s not particularly concerned about the dress’ color), the fact that everyone has become so entrenched in their perspective explains a little about our political process. If we argue so vociferously about a dress, is it any wonder we can’t come to an agreement about the federal budget or immigration or health care? I think we should view this experience as evidence that people really do see the world in fundamentally different ways, both physically and mentally. And perhaps if we recognize that we can come to understand each other a little better.

As for me? When I woke up this morning to the barrage of increasingly angry Facebook posts, I took one look, decided the dress was white and gold and then wondered what all the broo-ha-ha was about. I saw no inkling of black and blue. But later today, after all the controversy and drama, I saw the picture again. It looked black and blue—so much so that I wondered who’d changed it. I’m going to take that as a sign of an open mind, willing to consider compromise. Or it could just be old age. But I’m going to stick with the former.

- Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Social Media: A Cautionary Tale

Raise your hand if you’ve ever posted something stupid online. A joke. A picture. A Facebook status update or comment… Or have you ever had anything you’ve posted be misinterpreted? My hand’s up, and I bet yours is too -- as is the hand of every member of Congress, I’m sure.

We all do it, and we sometimes get called out, whether fairly or not. A friend of mine posted this interesting New York Times piece about a woman whose life turned into a nightmare when she tweeted something she says she thought was satire, but others took seriously.  The person who publicly shamed her later apologized. But it was too late.  She’d already lost her job along with any credibility in her field.

This cautionary tale made me resolve to think more carefully about what I post online, as well as what I’m going to get outraged about. Sure, there are some easy ‘immediate outrage’ situations, especially in the political world. Anthony Weiner comes to mind. And there are plenty of people who repeatedly post hurtful, dreadful, personally degrading things. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t point fingers where finger pointing is necessary and even valuable. And as public figures, politicians should be held to a higher standard.

But in some cases, especially when these tweets happen during heated political debates, people hit send before they think, and they regret it later. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are terrible people (yeah, some are). It means they made a mistake. And sometimes those mistakes aren’t even substantive. Sometimes it’s just something they thought was funny and no one else did.

My first boss in Washington, DC once told me ‘never say anything you wouldn’t want on the front page of the Washington Post.’ This has become even more important, and more difficult, in the social media age. If we want a more civilized political discourse, perhaps we can all give each other a break every once in a while. I promise to do so if you will too.

-Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Congressional Offices DO Pay Attention to What You Post on Social Media!

In October 2014, the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) released some polling information that provides shocking news about social media and its impact on legislative offices. At least I thought it was shocking, but maybe that’s because I’m old.

For the longest time, social media used to be a somewhat challenging way to get a Congressional office’s attention, mainly because it’s not ‘place-based.’ In other words, legislators and their staff have no way of knowing whether the people commenting on their blogs, Facebook pages, or Twitter accounts are constituents.  And since constituents rule when it comes to policy decisions, that meant that social media could go only so far in influencing outcomes.

Well, that’s apparently changing. The study suggests that the inability to separate constituent communications from those outside the district “doesn’t really matter much to lawmakers, who see social media more as a barometer of public opinion” (attributed to Brad Fitch, President and CEO of CMF). As with any advocacy campaign, though, the quality of the communications matter more than the quantity. Staffers can tell the difference between the mass tweets encouraged by an advocacy group and the ‘real deal.’ And when it comes to the real deal, a majority of offices polled said that even a single constituent commenting on their own was considered influential. Even in the social media world, one personalized communication can make a difference.

So find your legislators on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn  -- whatever have you – and start commenting. Politely, please. 

- Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru