Capitol Hill Dems and Social Media: The Sky is Not Falling

The latest from Martin Matheny (blog, Twitter), whose recent exploration of Nine Things Campaigns Shouldn’t Forget in the Gee-Whiz World of the Social Web was a big hit here.

Capitol Hill Democrats and Social Media: The Sky is Not Falling

Martin Matheny

Heads up, Democrats. Apparently, we’re getting our derrieres handed to us in terms of social media, at least according to this piece at Mother Jones. Here’s the lede:

“Who’s winning the social media war on Capitol Hill? The Republicans — and they are slaughtering the Democrats.”

And the data to back up the “slaughter?” Well, John Boehner has over 75,000 Facebook fans, compared to just over 20,000 for Nancy Pelosi. But, if there’s one thing that responsible communicators (like the ones you’ll find here at e.politics) preach, it’s that new media is about more than numbers, it’s about engagement.

Granted, the more numbers you have, the more engagement you’re likely to have, but shouldn’t the bar be quality, not quantity? Put another way, I’d rather have 100 people actively engaged — sharing content on Facebook, Twitter, and via email, than 1,000 people who are not much more than names on a page.

I think what we’re seeing on the Republican side is just a long-overdue realization of the power of the social Web — a realization that many Democrats came to in 2006 and 2008 (and we’ve got the Congressional majority, not to mention the White House, to prove it). The Republican social media surge is proportionally larger, because the space itself, and the numbers of people therein, is proportionally larger. But, as evidenced by Newt Gingrich’s comments recently, many Republicans haven’t gotten past the “gee-whiz, social media is TEH ANSER to all our problems” stage.

It ain’t. And we know that. As Josh and Tyler said last week, “Social media is not your campaign savior. If your candidate thinks social media is a mythical democratic medium that will catapult him to viability, jump ship.” It’s not just that you’re in the space, you’ve also got to be committed to doing the legwork to produce good content that grows organically and fosters engagement. Just getting an account is not going to get you a single vote, volunteer, or dollar.

A more sobering, and more thought-provoking piece of data is this: 79% of Republican House members are on Facebook. There’s no recent data on the Democratic side; the latest is from January of this year, showing that 34% of House Democrats were on Facebook. So, this is cause for a bit of worry, perhaps. Yes, just being in the space isn’t the answer, but you’ve got to be there to compete.

In the end, however, color me unworried about this. There’s a lot more to taking back a majority than social media. You’ve got have a good message, and the resources to get it out in ways both new and traditional. And let’s be very frank, the social Web (with a few exceptions) has so far proven itself as an effective medium for engaging supporters, not necessarily persuading the undecided directly.

In the end, it’s not the platform, it’s what you do with it. Both sides could be doing more, it’s true. But, social media is not, nor should it be, a mere numbers game. Come November, we’ll be able to hash out who won the engagement war a little more clearly, and it might well be the same team that lost the numbers game.

And as of last week, you can follow Nancy Pelosi on Twitter; welcome aboard, Madam Speaker. And Martin, nice job sucking up to your fellow authors in paragraph 3. It never hurts. –cpd

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Martin Matheny
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  • “nice job sucking up to your fellow authors in paragraph 3”

    Hey, never hurts to get on peoples’ good sides, besides I like it here. The atmosphere is nice, the beer’s cold, and you don’t get snippy when I put my feet on the furniture.

  • You left out, “and the Ladies are lovely.” ‘Cause all of our female readers are drop-dead gorgeous, God bless every one of you. Or more likely, considering the demographics of the political internet class, God bless both of you, and please keep reading….