Next week when President-elect Obama takes the oath of office it will not only be a huge milestone in U.S. history, but it will also mark the start of a new era in how our government communicates with citizens and vice versa.
Obviously, use of the Internet to communicate with our elected officials is nothing new. However, with an increasing number of people using the Internet to get their news and communicate, elected officials, organizations and businesses are going to have to adapt from the Internet being a small part of their overall strategy to one that is integrated into everything they do.
In this month’s column I want to give you a quick overview of what this 2009 landscape looks like from the administration to Congress to the public and what to watch out for.
First, if you haven’t already, take a look at Obama’s transition site, change.gov. This site gives a good preview of what Obama’s White House Web site will look like. It not only has all the basic information about where Obama is on the issues etc, but it asks citizens for their stories; utilizes lots of online video where everyone from Obama to his cabinet members to his staff comment on a variety of issues; and, it has a section where the transition team is posting every document they’re given when they meet with outside groups.
How Obama and the Democrats plan to use Obama’s massive network from my.BarackObama.com as well as social networking remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, Obama’s supporters expect to be involved.
According to a report in December by the Pew Internet and American Life Project 51% of Obama online supporters expect ongoing communication from the administration including email, social networking updates and texts. Moreover, 62% of Obama voters expect they will ask others to support the policies of the new administration.
If you look at the numbers more broadly, what would you say if I told you that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook the last six months has been those 35-54 years old? It’s true. According to research done by iStrategy Labs, those 35-54 creating a profile on Facebook has grown 276% in the last 6 months. Those 55 and older grew the next fastest at 194% and those 25-34 doubled.
These numbers not only further prove how much this Internet thing isn’t going away anytime soon, but that it’s going to affect everybody. If 62% of people are planning to tell their friends to support Obama and his policies, this means Congress will see an influx of communications as they’re the ones actually setting the legislation. Obama supporters will also want to see state legislatures and city councils adapt similar policies and will use the same tactics to influence them.
So what is one to do? Thankfully there are already some tools and information out there to help guide the way.
First, take stock of what is already happening out there. While Facebook is growing fast so is use of Twitter. Visit TweetCongress and see who is Twittering in the House, Senate, individual states and political parties. Sign up to follow those you care about. I recommend using TweetDeck to organize it all and use TwitScoop in TweetDeck to keep track of what issues are trending on twitter at that minute.
Second, make sure to be keeping track of the blogosphere – both the top political blogs but also those in your state or specific to your issue area. TechPresident recently published its top 50 blogs at http://personaldemocracy.com/TopPoliticalBlogs which is a great resource to find who you should be reading. To find blogs in your states I recommend BlogNetNews.com.
Finally, take note and read the recommendations the Congressional Management Foundation released in December about communicating with Congress.
This report by CMF is a culmination of 10 years of research including hundreds of interviews with Congressional staff, citizens, grassroots organizations and vendors. It includes numerous suggestions to all those various stakeholders on how they can better communicate. The main principles are making sure any communication is trustworthy, authentic, effective and efficient.
While the specifics of how the Internet will be utilized by the new administration, Congress and organizations to reach their constituents and mobilize them is still in the works one thing is for sure — it will be used. The steps above will hopefully get you started in understanding the new landscape. As specifics start to be flushed out I’ll certainly discuss here in future columns.
Katie Harbath is the Director of Online Services at DCI Group. She has over 5 years of experience in the online political sphere including work during the 2008 and 2004 Presidential Elections. Her personal blog is at www.katieharbath.com and she’s on Twitter @katieharbath. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those by Katie Harbath.