When a four-term congressman deletes his Facebook page to explore an alternative technology for receiving and acting upon constituent feedback, it catches our attention.
Now, it could be said that Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford (R) was jumping on the #deletefacebook bandwagon in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But his decision to leave the platform was still significant.
Whether it be over saturation, financial resource scarcity, questions of effectiveness, or headline news controversies: the advocacy community and elected officials are considering both the strengths and weaknesses of deploying assets towards Facebook advocacy.
We have previously argued that channel diversification is key, even though Facebook still holds a lion’s share of the social media market. A tug-of-war exists between best methods for sending advocacy communications and policy makers receiving input.
The over-arching issues facing Congress in how to most effectively process constituent and grassroots communications goes well beyond the challenges in using Facebook.
In a poll conducted by Probolsky Research this August, only 8 percent of citizens believe that online political or cause- based ads “like watching them to learn about the issues.”
Public sentiment and trust in political social media are waning, partially spurred by recent developments that have hit mainstream media. Trust in the educational value of the ads is low, which is likely to lead to a dip in overall activation and engagement with elected officials.
Research and analysis by groups like The OpenGov Foundation shed light on systemic communications problems facing Congress. Bottom line: Congress cannot keep up with the volume of messages, calls and social media posts.
The results are the public distrust, disengagement and polarization everyone feels—not to mention the endemic gridlock, high staff turnover and plummeting quality of legislation, which are indisputable.
Coupled with the issues with Facebook, popular or excessive use by senators of voice mail has limited advocacy professionals and citizens from reaching an aide, not knowing his/her direct line.
The senators’ phone goes straight to his/her voice saying the how busy the Senate is and offers option one: leave a voicemail message that may or may not be heard and responded to. Or option two: reach a member of the staff. It then rings and is not always answered.
Many advocacy professionals routinely encounter the senators’ voice immediately even on recess/non-session days. It’s frustrating for advocates and activists who may need to leave a message then and may not be able to do so later.
The good news is The OpenGov Foundation team is working to provide new solutions to tackle these challenges. Article One, a next generation voice and SMS communications tool, aims to improve the quality of constituent engagement while measurably improving the lives of members of congress and staff.
Those serving in congress are hungry for better, modern tools like Article One. For instance, after Congressman Crawford deleted his Facebook page this spring he replaced it with Article One, which uses Twilio’s SMS texting capabilities.
Now, this is a pilot study that may lead to a more viable alternative to Facebook advocacy. Another alternative gaining in popularity is telephone town halls where the elected official/candidate can be in DC, or anywhere on Earth with a landline.
The numbers of people participating on such calls are staggering, and it gives elected candidates and office holders a positive feeling — even though it’s not in-person and doesn’t facilitate a back-and-forth dialogue.
All and all, major problems persist with citizen and professional advocacy engagement and several issues have been identified on Facebook. Alternatives and innovators are fastidiously working to come up with solutions to improve the communications flow.
Joshua Habursky is assistant vice president of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, and adjunct professor at West Virginia University
Mike Fulton directs the Washington, D.C., office of the Asher Agency and teaches public affairs in West Virginia University's Integrated Marketing Communications program.