Thursday, August 30, 2012

Class 2 - #SocialCongress guest speaker Brad Fitch, Congressional Management Foundation

Our second #electionclass starts with our first guest speaker Brad Fitch, President and CEO of Congressional Management Foundation, Washington, D.C.

CMF's mission is:
CMF works internally with Member offices, committees, leadership, and institutional offices in the House and Senate to foster improved management practices. From interns to Chiefs of Staff to Members themselves, CMF provides services adapted to the unique congressional environment.

In preparation for Brad Fitch's guest lecture, please read the full #SocialCongress report (pdf) and leave your questions for Mr. Fitch in the comment section of this blog update. 

Please start to follow the Congressional Management Foundation on Twitter @congressfdn.


  1. Via #ElectionClass hashtag a review of an earlier CMF talk about #SocialCongress:

  2. Dear Mr.Fitch, I have some questions regarding to SocialCongress report:
    1. How can you explain that 50% of staffers 51 and older agree that social media offers more benefits than risks (Figure 6), at the same time only 32% of staffers 51 and older agree that social media is worth the time their offices spend on it (Figure 4)?
    2. Do you know what percent of congressman's and senators are using direct social media (not through staff)?

  3. My two questions:

    (1) Given that older congressional staffers are less likely to trust the ability to control one's message on social media, what are effective protocols developed by Congresspersons to ensure effective messaging with minimal distortion? Are different social media platforms seen as more adept at control one's message?

    (2) Some of our readings suggest that republican Congresspersons are more likely to use Twitter (and social media in general) to better connect with traditional media outlets whereas democrats are more likely to use social media to connect with individual constituents. Do you agree with this suggestion? Is there a partisan divide on how best to use social media?

  4. Hi Mr. Fitch. Couple of questions:

    (1)Respondents to the #socialcongress survey seem to agree that social media is now an important component in gauging constituents’ temperatures. In what ways is social media better at helping MCs to understand constituent concerns and opinions than the more traditional tools of doing so, such as town hall meetings, reading letters, etc.? In what ways it is worse?

    (2) In the #socialcongress report and elsewhere, it is argued that MCs are often very slow to adopt institutional reforms, emerging technologies, citizens’ concerns, etc. You write that this is not the case with social media. Why specifically is this not the case with social media? Is it cost-related?, Is the demand so great that it cannot be ignored?, etc.

    (3) In your opinion, what MC is using social media in the most creative fashion?

  5. Mr. Fitch,

    (1) Could you please clarify what the #socialcongress report defined as risks to using social media? I assumed that concerns of information taken out of context or being leaked prematurely (as written in Finding 5) were considered such risks, but wanted to know if there were other risks that your organization or the staffers surveyed also noted.

    (2) Additionally, the majority of the offices surveyed for the #socialcongress report noted that social media allowed them to understand constituent views better. Can you share your thoughts on whether the constituents who more actively participate in social media provide a fair assessment/representation of the total constituency in a congressional district?

    (3) Do you have any ideas on ways that congressional offices could encourage the use of social media tools to those who aren't currently using those resources for civic participation purposes?

  6. Hello Mr. Fitch, below are my questions regarding your study named SocialCongress report:
    1- It is general belief that young people and non-conservative (traditional) people are more open to new technologies and thoughts. Your study also confirms this. Do you agree with that?
    2- Your study shows comparisons between people and approaches toward social media, which is a very valuable study. Is there any study showing quantitative results of social media’s effect on the, for example, citizen engagement, democratic participation, openness etc.?
    3- May be I am wrong but I still want to ask this question. Are Figure 1 and 2 related to the explanation on the pages 2 and 3?
    Ahmet Kaya

  7. Mr Fitch,
    1) The #socialcongress report stated that more than two-thirds of social media managers feel email and the internet have made senators and representatives more responsive to their constituents. However, how do they use social media to manage negative publicity? In addition, how do they use social media to manage what the opposition is reporting that would be detrimental to their campaign?

  8. Hello Mr. Fitch,

    (1) Besides the survey of congressional staffers or citizens, do you have any ideas on the more objective methods of measuring the benefits that the organization gains from using social media versus the risks it takes?

    (2) According to the report and experience from the real world, using social media will inevitably cause risks, whether it's interaction among citizens or between citizens and organizations. What do you think is the most effective strategy in the risk management?

    (3) According to my comparison between Twitter and Weibo (microblogging service in China), it seems more likely to have effective and meaningful democratic dialogues in Twitter and I believe the main reason is Twitter has relatively more real-name users. Do you think the percentage of real name users in the overall users is an important variation in measuring the role social media plays in promoting civic participation and democratic dialogue?

  9. Hello Mr. Fitch,
    According to the #socialcongress report, I notice a quote from a House Staff Assistant which claims people at the top are much less willing to use social media as a tool than some of the more entry-level staffers. This phenomenon is quite common in different cultures. However, I don't understand the reason why this happens universally. Is it because people at higher level tend to be more sensitive to their privacy, or just because at most cases senior officials are older than entry-level staffers?

    After reading this report, I gain a better understanding on how officials feel about using social media as an effective tool to communication with the public. However, I think respondents' various backgrounds have a huge effect on the survey result. Given the uneven number of responses received from the House and the Senate, and the uneven number of respondents with different political reference, I wonder how accurate this report can be?

    Thanks for taking time and sharing your ideas with us!

  10. Hello Mr. Fitch:

    1) You mention the “significant gap” in Congress between offices that embrace technology and social media (early adaptors) and those that tend to distrust or avoid technology and social media. What kind of mechanisms could be used to realistically and effectively bridge this gap?

    2) With reference to figure 11, you highlight the possibility of a significant flaw in the perception (and execution) of advocacy campaigns aimed at Capitol Hill – that social media managers have little interaction with traditional forms of constituent communication, and hence may possibly overestimate the effect that advocacy campaigns might have on the democratic process, as opposed to a mail staff mired under a flood of letters in a congressional staff office. Given that a sizable percentage of constituents still prefer to write letters to their congresspeople, what steps do you think need to be taken (if any) to coordinate between these two different types of communication to improve the quality of advocacy aimed at congressional offices, to ensure that congressional media teams can correctly interpret the desires of all constituents?

  11. Hello Mr. Fitch,

    1- According to the #socialcongress report a sizable percentage of respondents held Facebook (64%), Twitter (42%), and YouTube (34%) as important tools that enable them to better understand constituents. What tends to be the demographic makeup of constituents reached over social media? Are constituents reached over social media younger, more affluent or more highly educated? Or, are Congressional staff finding that constituents reached over social media are reflective of the demographic mix of the Member’s district?

    2-Are constituents who use social media to contact their member of Congress also likely to use more traditional methods of contact (such as email, fax, phone call etc...) or do they tend to use social media exclusively?

  12. Dear Mr. Fitch,

    In Figure 11, a sizable percentage of congressional staffers in all three categories reported that email and the Internet have reduced the quality of constituent messages to Capitol Hill.

    1) What does "quality" mean in this report's context? How have these mediums for communication affected constituent message quality?

    2) Is it reasonable to use this report as firm support of the view that social media in Congress has served primarily to strengthen an MC's message rather than to empower constituents to communicate with their MC?

  13. Hello Mr. Fitch,

    (1)I am wondering if using social media actually helps Senators and Representatives be reelected. Do you have data on a correlation between social media and reelection? For example, information on a relation between social media use time and reelected congressmen.

    (2)I think that congressional offices may get biased constituents’ opinions by using social media because the opinions are heavily skewed towards young people who are more likely than old people to enjoy the Internet and social media. Are there some options for the offices to obtain impartial opinions through social media?

  14. Hello Mr. Fitch,

    According to the #socialcongress report, the use of social media has made it easier for citizens to become involved in public policy, changing the tone, speed, and the nature of the democratic dialogue between citizens and Congress. However, people who engage in political activities online or who write to their elected officials are very likely to be politically active members of their communities and even four times more likely to work for a political party than the general public.Consequently, the question remains how accountability should look like online? And is there a risk of widening the gap between those constituents who use social media tools and those who don’t?

    Social media communication facilitates citizen participation and promotes democratic discourses. Nevertheless, 70% of senior managers and 66% of mail staffers feel that email and Internet have reduced the quality of constituent massages to Capitol Hill. In regard to rising volumes and workloads, how can the Congress improve meaningful constituent correspondence in the long term?

    Thanks for taking time and sharing your ideas with us!

  15. Mr. Fitch,

    (1) In figure 13 staffers displayed their desire to be more involved in certain types of media communication. I'm wondering if there is any data from those staffers on their current social media presence or if they want to work towards creating one in the future (do not currently have accounts).

    (2) Of the various social media outlets, is there one that seems to be favored over the others in congressional offices?

  16. Dear Mr Fitch,
    In figure 9 did you provide respondants with a definition of "meaningful" or did they define it for themselves? I ask becuase I am interested in your intrepretation of the responses as to this question: do you see social media becoming the leading method of communication with constiuents, a complement to curent methods or part of an evolution in communication.
    Thank you,

  17. Dear Mr Fitch,

    I am curious
    - if you could name the best example you have seen in the public sector using socia media
    - if you beieve there is a chance that social media will make young people overrepresented in the democratic dialog?
    Thank you,

  18. Dear Mr Fitch,
    Welcome to SU and thanks for sharing your idea with us!
    After reading the #SocialCongress report, I have 3 questions for you.
    1. According to the report, staffers from Democrat offices feel that they should spend more time on online communications. I'm curious how you would evaluate Democrats and Republicans' performance with social media right now.
    Is it because Democrats are more in favor of social media that they believe they should work harder on it, or because they do not devote as much as Republicans to social media at present?
    2. The report says that less than 50% of congressional staffers surveyed feel that social media contributes to more meaningful interactions with Constituents (Figure9). What's the meaning of "meaningful interactions"? What do you think are reasons for that?
    3. The report mentions Facebook, Twitter and Youtube as social media Congress is using, but it doesn't give any distinction between these platforms. I wonder if offices have any different usages and attitudes toward these media. And is there any other medium Congress is using or trying to use?


  19. Dear Mr. Fitch

    In figure 13 'My office spends too little time on...' shows that democrats feel that their office spends too little time on communication more than republicans. What were the average ages of the surveyed staffers working for that parties? Could it be related to age?

    Thank you...

  20. Good Afternoon and thank you for speaking to us today.

    I would appreciate your insight on the following questions regarding the report #SocialCongress and about social media in general:

    1. The results of #SocialCongress indicate that social media managers were more positive about email and internet communications from constituents than senior managers. Do you think this is a result of social media managers having much less experience than senior managers, in addition to having limited exposure to traditional communications. I ask because I am curious if senior communications managers are hesitant to use social media because it is new or because 140 characters does not indicate why a constituent is for or against an issue.

    2. The results mentioned in the social media managers felt that the results of social media was worth the time the office spent on it. How much time do member offices spend on social media?

    and finally, a few general questions:

    3. Do you know how many Congress members communicate through social media directly rather than staffers posting blogs and tweets? It seems that social media can be a personal communication, similar to a signed letter as compared to faxes and webpages.

    4. What do you personally think of social media?