How to Get Through to Congress

photo by Brian B MaddenOn Capitol Hill today, phone lines and websites are buckling under the pressure of so many Americans trying to make their feelings known about the debt ceiling. They’re answering President Obama’s call in a speech last night: “If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.”

Mr. Obama wasn’t specific about how to do that, but most people apparently went the traditional route. Thankfully, though, there were other ways to make their voices heard.

According to a new survey –  ironically released today – Congress has rushed to embrace social media. And none too soon.

The Congressional Management Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to improving communications with Congress, found that most members have a Facebook page and are also on Twitter. The 260 House and Senate staffers who took the survey are generally pleased to have the new tools. “By a ten to one margin, they are reaching people they’ve never been able to reach before,” says Brad Fitch, CMF president and chief executive.

But now that there are so many ways to communicate, which method has the most bang for the buck? According to Fitch, “Sending an individual e-mail is 20 points more influential than social media.” In other words, the time you take composing an e-mail has more cred than a 140-character tweet.

And how can your message have maximum impact? Fitch shared two simple rules in a fact-filled interview on Facebook DC Live.

Timing is everything.  For heaven’s sake, make sure and get in your dibs before your Congress members make a decision. Check the status of your issue so you don’t waste your time or theirs.

Don’t be wishy washy.  “Have a firm ask,” advises Fitch. Determine exactly what you want your Congress member to do, then state it simply and clearly. Start by writing your message in short form on the Subject line.

What if you do all the right things, but your carefully crafted call or note hits a technical roadblock? You may have no choice but to go social. Says Fitch: “The best ways to get through are Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.”

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