January 4th, 2013
Welcome to Washington, 113th Congress! How’d you know that 13 is my lucky number?
But a new Congress isn’t terribly lucky news for digital advocates, because for at least a few weeks, the newbies won’t be hearing from us. Here’s why: they just got the keys to their new offices, and even if they did inherit legacy technology to process constituent emails from a predecessor, they won’t have the trained staff in place to run it yet.
Part of the problem is us: advocacy groups have gotten very good at flooding Congress with messages from their own constituents, typically via email but also by phone and by social media channels like Twitter and Facebook. In fact, according to a recent Congressional Management Foundation presentation, some three-quarters of constituent communications are now facilitated or mediated by an advocacy organization website, whether it belongs to the Chamber of Commerce or the Sierra Club.
Sitting Senators and Congressmembers have at least had time to set up systems — human and technological — to process the hundreds (or thousands) of individual communications they can receive on a single day during a hot legislative battle, though not all have done so successfully. But the newbies don’t even have that luxury, meaning that our advocacy emails are likely to be piling up untallied in a catch-all inbox, if they’re arriving in the right place at all (most “emails” to Congress actually route through a form on the member’s own House/Senate web page, which the various vendors like Convio and Salsa have to keep track of).
So as you’re gearing up for the next round of Hill fights (including those exciting sequels, “Return of the Avenging Sequester” and “The Debt Ceiling Rides Again!”), remember that not everyone will be hearing loud and clear from your supporters — i.e., their constituents. Perhaps some robust communications technology for Congress should be on the agenda instead of budget cuts?
Update: see the robust conversation that broke out about this article on Facebook, in which folks suggest some alternatives.