May 6th, 2010
Here’s a quick point that never hurts to repeat: asking people to send a message to Congress through an online advocacy system mean that you have to DELIVER the emails via the internet. In fact, it’s usually more effective to print them out and hand-deliver them, particularly as part of a visit from a lobbyist or citizen activist. This idea isn’t new — it shows up in the Online Politics 101, for example — but it’s easy to forget in an era when the default setting for online advocacy too often is to fall back on email alone when communicating with decision-makers. But as both hard experience and Congressional Management Foundation research have shown, a Congress that’s flooded with hundreds of millions of messages a year may well fail to notice when they get a few more.
Instead, it’s usually far more effective to take advantage of the online/offline connection and use each form of contact for what it’s good for. Online tools are a great way to reach many people at once, so it makes sense to use them to contact your advocates and point them toward a web-based interface. But mass emails aren’t a great way to get Congressional attention, so it makes sense to combine their delivery with a form of contact that DOES get noticed.
That may mean phone calls, since online activists can be asked to call the Capitol switchboard, but it also may mean printing emails out and running them down to the Hill. Delivered by hand, a stack of constituent messages have weight, both literally and metaphorically, and they reinforce an office visit by showing that a legislator’s constituents are paying attention. Thanks to Eric Rardin for bringing this idea up in an online conversation the other day.