Meet The Company Behind Capitol Hill's Facebook Ads

Did you know that there’s a company that specializes in Facebook promotions for members of Congress?

Meet iConstituent, of Washington, D.C. We spoke to the company’s Marketing and New Media manager, Andrew Foxwell, by phone and email to learn more about how the company collaborates with congressional offices to maximize their Facebook use.

How did iConstituent get its start? And in what ways does iConstituent work with members of Congress?

iConstituent got its start in 2000 and was formed by a group of interactive software experts in California for the purpose of improving constituent communications.

We are now the largest provider of online communications to members of Congress, serving over 300 members from every corner of the U.S., with over 60 online advertising clients in the House of Representatives.

We work with House members on Facebook advertisements, along with helping them connect their online inbound and outbound communication assets to their social media presence, thus creating a 360 approach to constituent communication, which improves our democracy by making it more interactive and constituent service focused.

In your experience, how much time are members and their staff devoting to Facebook?

It depends on each office, but members and their staff are spending more and more time on Facebook as they see it as a critical channel for real time interaction between constituents and their representative.

Since something like 42 percent of U.S. adults are now on Facebook, it’s essential that our representative government turns to this medium. Staff time is also not just spent answering comments and questions on members’ pages, but creating rich content for the pages that engages their respective constituencies.

What are the biggest challenges that members of Congress face in terms of Facebook? What issues need to be considered when an organization creates a Facebook or social media policy?

Some of the biggest challenges for members go along with not broadening their presence as much as they could, which is why I believe we’ve seen a large uptick in members doing Facebook advertisements. I also believe a challenge is creating innovative ways to communicate with their constituents. Answering questions is good that come in on a member’s wall, but what’s the next step in terms of communication?

For example, I have heard of a few members lately recording video responses to constituent letters and posting it on their Facebook profile. It’s this type of thing that is a challenge for finding what works.

What are some effective Facebook tips you can offer based on your experience with Members of Congress? Can you offer suggestions for launching an effective Facebook ad campaign?

Facebook advertisements along with Facebook strategy both have similar tenets of success. It’s all about ensuring that your message is timely and that you’re A-B testing. I also wholeheartedly believe in running advertisements that ask questions, bringing constituent engagement to
the forefront.

For example, if you run an ad or ask a question on your profile page pertaining to a recent speech by the President, you’re going to see a higher interaction rate that creates an online dialogue directly into the halls of Congress.

Furthermore, A-B testing works miracles through being innovative with messaging and photos. We have the ability to know what messages work, so invest in ads that work and keep going with a results-based approach. With the new targeting options that are available (zip-code targeting, as well as hashtag targeting) it’s about ensuring you get results and don’t pay for things that do not work.

We have been successful with this mantra, as the zipcode targeting is nearly doubling click through rates and the hashtag targeting has been helpful as well for having a broad but targeted approach.

In an age where you can measure every interaction and post, you should take advantage of the statistics that are available to you so you are creating a Facebook presence that works. Member offices, as well as other government agencies, need to be thinking hard about their role as a publisher of rich content — because the best stuff is what gets created and shared, even during slow periods.

If we can get people to interact on a member’s Facebook profile with questions or opinions, this is our democracy in action. If done right, this also raises the tone of our debate significantly.

Why do you think social media usage has taken off among government, advocacy groups and members of Congress?

I believe it’s taken off because people want an interactive democracy that places them at the table of discussion by merely logging into Facebook.

It also has a very measurable impact that is quantified in real numbers that members and agencies can point to showing effect of interaction, which is opposite of what has been the norm for years – - those ineffective glossy mailers. With Facebook and online ads you get immediate results, wrapped around analytics that show what effect you’re having along with what type of impact it’s having. The days of spending money blindly are over.

It’s obvious the biggest opportunity is taking input from constituents from around the U.S. and placing their input that ads generate into real action, either legislatively otherwise.

We are in an era where you can comment on your member’s Facebook page and by that afternoon you get a response that they are looking into it for legislative purposes. This is awesome and we must take advantage right now.

Federal agencies are also getting into Facebook for the very same reasons. They have the constituency of the United States and need to inform people on things that they see as priorities.

Why should members of Congress launch an ad campaign?

There are different reasons to run a campaign, one of them being to merely create an enhanced social media profile throughout your district so people know you’re there for them.

Another is a focus of constituent service to merely ask, “I work for you. How can I help?” which ensures you get interactions and drives people to your page. You can also run advertisements for events to get the word out. Overall, an ad campaign is run to ensure people know the Member is there for them to listen and serve.

What kind of Facebook ads are the most effective for members of Congress?

The most successful ads we have are ones that address constituent service. An example would be “I am hosting a town hall tomorrow. Click here to register! If you can’t make it, like my page and share your question.” Or “Do you need help with your Veterans Benefits? I can help.”

These ads bring into light what this is all about: ensuring interaction and a more personal relationship with your member of Congress through the use of technology.

What do you think of how members of Congress are using Facebook?

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