Social Media and Lobbying

I work in Washington, DC, a town in which if you bump into someone on the subway, there is a 50 percent chance he/she will be a lobbyist.  Or if you rear-end someone on K Street, a 60 percent chance of “impacting” a lobbyist.

Ok, I exaggerate, but using influence to try to impact a legislative or regulatory outcome is not new to Washington.  And, despite blustering in every presidential election cycle, this is not likely to change any time soon.  Lobbying is part and parcel of our democratic process, like it or not.

In my mind, lobbying is something that is accomlished by one or a set few individuals, trying to influence a small group of individuals.  One-to-one or few-to-few.   But with it’s power to create communities, how has social media affected or impacted the activities of some of the biggest lobbying groups in the political arena?  Where is the intersection of lobbying and social media?

My wildly unscientific study

Some think of lobbying as more of a one-to-one activity that occasionally sees the disinfectant of sunlight in the form of mandated disclosure.  Social media is about the power of many to many in the form of completely transparent communities – but communities that want to impact a legislative or regulatory outcome.

Here’s my unscientific experiment.  I have chosen at random, three very influential United States lobbying groups as examples. And I looked at how they use social media:  does social media support a one-to-one, traditional method of lobbying, or does it create community, a traditional definition of social media?  Oh – and lest I incur the wrath of my readership, I have listed these three groups in alphabetical order.

  • AIPACThe American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  AIPAC says that they “…help make Israel more secure by ensuring that American support remains strong…AIPAC has grown into a 100,000-member national grassroots movement described by The New York Times as “the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel.”Are they a strict lobbying shop, or one uses social media to transcend traditional influence into online community building?ANSWER:  Sort of.When you visit their Web site, in the left-hand nav bar, you’ll see Screen shot 2011-01-18 at 6.39.45 AM prominent links for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the ABCs of community building in social media.Just as one example, 17,654 people “like” their Facebook page.  There’s a lot of news and video on it, but to me, the only thing that makes it the slightest bit of an interactive vehicle are the comments on the links that they post – their Wall.   People comment or “like” links on the page and there is some interesting back-and-forth there.  I wonder which comments get removed, though.  The site, however, strikes me as more of a news site than a community site.

    It seems to me that they have checked the box for use of social media, but have not done much to create and nurture the conversation that is at the heart of successful social media efforts.

    Does AIPAC use social media to support lobbying efforts?  Kinda sorta.

  • National Rifle Association (NRA).  The NRA Web site, while a little hard to navigate, is largely devoid of social networking tools.  In fact, there are none that I can see.  The site says that it is “a unique state-of-the-art network [that] offers fast access to live news and commentary, legislative updates, links to all of the NRA channels and properties, plus countless hours of archived video resources.”  I don’t know that I would call it “state-of-the-art,” but  if you subscribe to the theory that a lobbying organization is supposed to lobby in the traditional sense – raise money and use that money to influence the political process, this site seems to be a way to establish who they are and what they do.

    Does the NRA use social media to support lobbying efforts?  No way.

  • United States Chamber of Commerce (U.S. Chamber).   The U.S. Chamber is, according to their Web site, “…the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.”Screen shot 2011-01-18 at 6.59.24 AMWhat struck me immediately about the U.S. Chamber site were the prominent, above the fold links to their social networking tools, just below the top navigation.  Moreover, rather than just listing the widely understood icons of the social networking sites,  they provide an explanation/teaser for each.
  • Facebook:  118,000 people “like” the page – a pretty sizeable audience.  What sets their Facebook page apart from that of AIPAC is that, aside from the news and videos that you would expect to see on a lobbying group’s site, they have a Facebook page/app called “American Free Enterprise” on which you can invite friends, join a discussion, sign a pledge and – most interestingly of all – take an “IQ Quiz.”   Interesting stuff, and beyond the one-way-communication Facebook pages that I see.What’s really interesting is that, on their wall, like on that of AIPAC, there are several comments that could be viewed as unflattering or counter to their view.  The fact that they are up there leads me to think that comments are, for the most part, uncensored and that the debate that happens about the U.S. Chamber and their issues moves from the organization to its supporters and detractors.  And that’s not a bad thing.

    Does the U.S. Chamber use social media to support lobbying efforts?  Yep.

So based upon my wildly unscientific and incredibly subjective study of three of the larger lobbying groups in the United States, who uses social media to support lobbying?  Here’s my report card:

  • AIPAC – they use social media, but it’s largely one-way communication, when true social media is about conversation.
  • NRA – no use of social media that I could find that is linked to their Web site.
  • U.S. Chamber:  they seem to take social media pretty seriously and have done a credible job of not just checking the box, but in engaging with their audiences.

I suppose that it’s posts like these that crop up in my mind when I have WAY too much time on my hands.

Mark

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