Every advocacy professional knows that Washington’s political landscape shifted substantially in the last election. Congress is now divided, there are more than 100 new lawmakers in town and the chambers have never been more diverse.
How your organization responds to these new conditions will determine how effective your advocacy will be this year.
From the experts at SevenTwenty Strategies, who have been helping companies, associations and nonprofits advocate before Congress for almost two decades, here are five tactics to keep in mind as you run your program.
Start with the New Faces
Scores of new lawmakers were sworn in last month. It’s your obligation to meet them — and to do it before you need them. Think about when a new neighbor moves in. The polite thing to do is to introduce yourself and bring them something — before you ask to borrow the weed whacker. When it comes to lawmakers and their staffs, the same rules apply. Introduce yourself and offer to serve as a resource on your issues before you ask for their support.
Focus on Social Media Engagement
The new Congress is far younger than its predecessors, with the average age dropping by as much as 10 years, according to one estimate. In the House, there are now 25 new members who are 40 or younger and a handful are under 30. The influx of millennials in the last election will change the way business gets done.
The new Congress is far more attuned to social media. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat and the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress at 29, has more than 2.6 million followers on Twitter. And she’s just one example. Like the president, lawmakers will increasingly be using social media to state their positions and influence policy.
Savvy advocacy organizations will match that fluency and engage lawmakers on social media. For many organizations, this will mean beefing up strength in this area and making social media a primary, two-way communication channel with Congress, rather than a broadcast-only afterthought.
Arm Yourself with Modern Listening Tools
Sophisticated communication, especially on social media, goes beyond staffing, a content calendar and a Hootsuite account. It means modern media analysis and social listening tools that tune your organization into the conversations happening among your stakeholders and constituencies.
For example, SevenTwenty Strategies’ Calibrate720, uses artificial intelligence to track hundreds of thousands of sources, providing real-time traditional and social media analysis in order to shape effective messages and drive the ROI of communications campaigns. Based on software developed for the United States government, Calibrate720 helps organizations anticipate, react and measure the impact of their communications, ethically analyzing digital sources of public data, considering the meaning of coverage, and sorting data based upon specific communications objectives. Modern advocacy requires modern tools.
Remember, Retail Works
Of course, there will always be room for face-to-face advocacy. Whether you hold a fly-in and visit members of Congress or invite lawmakers to tour your facility in their district and speak to your people, in-person communication will resonate greatly with new lawmakers who are still finding their way. Whatever else you do, and it may be a lot, make sure that lawmakers know you represent real people and that your program has a face.
Let Constituents Do the Talking
Lawmakers are elected by constituents and are beholden to them, and that’s who they want to hear from. Communications from constituents will always carry more weight, especially in the House, where lawmakers face voters every two years. When you reach out to lawmakers, whether that is in person, via email or on social media, make sure that constituents are part of your plan. An authentic message from a constituent will always ring true.