Thursday, June 28, 2012

For the past seven weeks, Republican lawmakers have been throwing down the gauntlet to beat one another in a race to get more followers, likes and engagement on social media.

The House Republican New Media Challenge came to a close on Wednesday after participants drew more than 50,000 new Facebook likes, Twitter followers and YouTube subscribers.

The Challenge, now in its third year, is the product of House Republican Conference Vice Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and GOP Labs, a House Republican effort to teach members of Congress and their staffers how to digitally engage with voters.

About 95% of Republican representatives who use social media signed up for this year’s challenge, according to Patrick Bell, director of new media at the House Republican Conference. Bell said that the competition framework drove Republicans’ new media teams to think up innovative new ways to use social media.

“Following conversations, hashtags, interacting with media all the best practices really come into focus,” Bell told Media when the Challenge began. “It’s through that competition that we see innovation and creativity. Competition is driving innovation [in Congress].”

The Challenge was built as a tournament system that looks very much like an NCAA basketball bracket. Participants were given a “seed,” from 1 to 64, based on their pre-challenge metrics (followers, retweets and so on). They then faced off against an opposing Republican lawmaker each week. Whichever lawmaker had the bigger uptick in those metrics for the week won and moved on to the next round.

At the contest’s end, Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) came out the victors.

“Social media is revolutionizing government and making Congress more accountable,” said Amash, a 32-year-old freshman Congressman. “I use Facebook to explain every vote I take on the House floor, and I personally interact with my constituents online. This not only empowers people at home but also shapes me into a better Representative. It’s an honor to win this year’s contest, and it’s a big win for the forces of liberty and transparency.”

Buchanan also praised the Challenge.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by your peers for having one of the best constituent outreach programs in the entire Congress,” said Rep. Vuchanan, 61 and a five-year veteran of Congress. “Since its inception, the New Media Challenge has been a way for Members to challenge each other to stay ahead of the curve online.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, I believe in listening to the people and giving them every opportunity to voice their views.”