Social Media as a Tool for Policy Advocacy

Carrie Croft, Senior Consultant, Temple Scott Associates

Government relations is often viewed in the traditional sphere of meetings, emails and conference calls.  While these communications avenues still play a critical part in influencing policy, social media is now firmly part of the public affairs communications mix. 

Social media’s influence in political campaigns, government communications, advocacy movements, and the media itself has broadened exponentially.  It is an essential tool for communicating policy and asserting influence by politicians and those seeking to influence them. 

But before engaging in any online conversations, several activities will set you up for success.

Listening and Analysis

When seeking out conversations with Politicians and their staff, Twitter is the platform of choice. Decision-makers share information unhindered by the conventional rules, with unfiltered access to the public. It’s also where they also obtain a great deal of information.  Knowing what decision-makers and key stakeholders are talking about is essential.

A listening and analysis platform will provide GR professionals with the detailed insights they need to extract value from social media. 

Twitter-owned Tweetdeck is particularly helpful if you want to follow a specific list of users or track a particular conversation, as the platform provides multiple timeline columns for ease of use.   More advanced tools like Meltwater (which acquired social media analytics platform Sysomos in 2018) provide more robust tools for evaluating a wide variety of digital data points, from reach to influencer impact.

In short, the ability to monitor legislation, economic intelligence, policy debate, competitor activities, influencer conversations, to name just a few, helps us better understand how topics, positions, and even industries are framed. 

Direct Engagement

With nearly all Canadian elected officials on Twitter, policy professionals can directly focus on policymakers and key staff to promote policy goals.   Directed tweets that are on-topic and speak to issues in front of policymakers get noticed, especially if other users amplify them.

With over 30 million Canadians online, there are countless potential online advocates for your policy position.  It is important not to focus solely on the bubble, whatever capital it is in, but also to remember the influence that regular Canadians across the country (aka voters) can have on policy when sharing content. 

A strong government relations social campaign will combine narratives about your organization’s impact outside of “the bubble” and your policy subjects.  The value of social media is that you are in control of your narrative, and you can tell a complete story about your brand. 

Best Practices

An editorial calendar will help you plan and engage consistently.  Planning content around relevant legislative dates, lobby days, and organizational milestones gives you presence when the most impactful.  However, your plan must also consider the spontaneous nature of social media and react when your issues or policy priorities become part of the online conversation.  Engaging promptly and contributing to the discussion with commentary and prefabricated content will make your messages heard.

Success often lies in the story you tell and how you tell it. Whether you want to influence legislation, show off your work in specific regions, or highlight your charitable achievements, your messages need to stand out to grab the attention of stakeholders.  The more interesting and compelling the content, the better it will showcase an industry or topic, drive the conversation and help achieve your policy goals.  In the video communication era, the barriers to creating online video content that engages stakeholders are minimal, giving you more opportunities to engage more effectively online.

The Bottom Line

More often than not, the quality of government relations engagements is more critical than the quantity.  

Any effort to influence a policy requires a comprehensive approach. An integrated, proactive approach to your lobbying efforts, which combines the traditional with new and emerging technologies, may give you greater reach and more opportunities to achieve your policy goals.

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