Use Twitter to Reach Your Member of Congress

G. R. Boynton, a professor in new media and politics at the University of Iowa, says that Members of Congress are not harnessing the communicative power of Twitter. He has a few recommendations, including the use of Twitter as an interactive tool (instead of just posting announcements): “Politicians are usually very good at interpersonal relations. Act as though Twitter is interpersonal relations. One of the things that means is interaction.”

Twitter’s interactive potential makes it a great way to reach your Member of Congress.

However, after opening a Twitter account, most people post updates about themselves: what they are doing or thinking. These are not very interesting, unless the person is your friend. Twitter can be a tool for interacting because it reaches directly to another person. But Twitter can also broadcast the interaction to the world: it displays your online conversations publicly, it’s both personal and powerful.

Here’s how to use Twitter to successfully interact with your Member of Congress:

1. Be yourself: put your real name on Twitter and let people know where you live. An elected official, or their staff, are always more likely to respond to someone that lives in the district. Posting updates that reflect who you are also helps build up your credibility: it proves you are not a political spammer. Being yourself increases the chances that you’ll have a real conversation with others on Twitter.

2. Be nice: the YouTube videos we see of activists and politicians yelling at each other are always humorous, but I doubt they represent long-term, influential relationships. A respectful question or comment goes a lot further to establishing a real relationship than a demeaning remark. My rule of thumb is: write what you’d like your mother to see.

3. Be clear: there’s no reason to disguise your point of view or argument. Being nice doesn’t mean going soft during a conversation. Link to a fact and use plain language to ask why your Member of Congress is ignoring the fact in a specific vote or policy stance.

4. Follow up: because few Members of Congress use their Twitter accounts for real conversation, chances are you will not get a real response. This should motivate you to keep talking about the issue and talking to the Member of Congress. Start telling your story to others. Your friends will be interested in keeping your line of question alive; the media may be interested in writing about a Member of Congress going silent on Twitter. The follow up rule also applies if you do get a response: thank the Member of Congress and keep the discussion going.

There are other ways to use Twitter as an activist tool, but I think this is the strongest use. Starting a conversation with your Member of Congress may result in real action in Congress.

If you are not on Twitter yet, check out American Majority’s guide to Twitter Activism. If you are on Twitter, be sure to follow Heritage Action. And let us know when you start interacting with your Member of Congress.

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