House GOP Launches Social Media Contest

For the third year running, Congressional Republicans will go head to head in a bracket style competition to see who’s the best at using Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to communicate with constituents. The House GOP, which launched its 2012 New Media Challenge on Monday, has taken to buying Facebook ads, integrating email with social media sharing, and even recently learned directly from @ComcastCares social media strategy leader Kip Wetzel.

“Between 25 to 50 percent of the [Republican] Congress is doing some kind of online advertising,” said Patrick Bell, MPA, director of new media for the House Republican Conference. Vice chair of the group, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, heads up the initiative, aimed at helping House GOP members incorporate social media into their interactions with constituents.

According to Bell, 95 members had signed up as of Tuesday morning to participate in the contest, which will involve seven to eight weeks of NCAA bracket style matchups. The first three rounds will consist of Twitter battles, in which members with the most new followers go on to the next round. A similar Facebook contest comes next, followed by a YouTube battle for the most new subscribers. All three platforms will be considered in the final rounds.

“On Facebook primarily it’s really a way to increase engagement, and with increased engagement comes new audience and new page likes,” said Bell. He said some GOP members also use Zip code targeting to aim specific status posts to specific areas in their districts.

Last week, Comcast’s Wetzel spoke to congressional staff of the Republican New Media Caucus about social media engagement, according to Bell. That group meets weekly on official business, but usually takes time to highlight best practices in digital media among other Republicans.

For instance, the winner in 2010 and 2011, Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, used his email messaging to constituents to promote his social media accounts.

In 2010 and 2011, three final champs received a first prize tablet device, second prize smartphone, and a gag third prize – a decidedly non-techie set of knives. This year’s awards have yet to be determined, said Bell. The contest was borne out of the Republican Party’s 2009 mission to improve its digital media efforts in the wake of President Barack Obama’s innovative digital campaign.

“After 2008 the leadership was concerned we had fallen so far behind it was going to be hard to catch up,” said Bell. “[Social media] adoption rates skyrocketed in that time largely due to the leadership advocating this as the new channel to build and grow audiences.”

Bell said he doesn’t expect the contenders to use online ads to help grow their numbers. When elected officials do place ads online to reach constituents, the campaigns are conducted separately from any political PAC or official reelection campaign activities. Instead, they use franking funds – money that congressional members and government bodies can use to spread the word about official, non-campaign related initiatives.

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