Facebook Timeline Burnishes U.S. Lawmakers' Image

Using Facebook’s timeline features to profile the record and life history of a member of Congress makes sense, but how do you tell an interesting tale about a congressional committee that writes tax policy?

That was the challenge for Jim Billimoria, communications director for the powerful U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means. It was one of the first of three committees to launch timeline shortly after the Facebook feature for pages became available.

Billimoria told us in an email interview that he and his team are stepping up to this challenge with charts, graphs, video and images that explain a lot of different types of data.

What was your strategy when making the move to timeline?

The Ways and Means Committee is the oldest committee in Congress dating back over 200 years. We wanted to accomplish a few things with the timeline rollout to bring fans closer to the committee — show the committee’s rich history and bring our fans behind the scenes a bit to demystify what this committee does.

One of the main goals was to make our data visually appealing to those stopping on the page to engage our fans and start a conversation.

By studying our page’s analytics we were able to determine what type of material draws the most response – - photos, graphics, charts — and we’ll continue to incorporate more going forward with timeline.

How many people manage the committee’s Facebook page?

Two staffers handle the committee’s Facebook page and organized the transition. Chairman Dave Camp (a Republican from Michigan) has always been open to trying new ways to connect with Facebook fans and will be engaging more with fans over the next few months.

As a committee that deals in facts and data, how do you plan on making the most out of timeline’s visual appeal?

The ability to highlight and pin elements on timeline can show the everyday work the committee does on the economy and jobs. We’ll also use tabs more for major policy initiatives moving forward to make our Facebook page a site that can bring the entire debate to people in innovative ways beyond the standard press release or email.

Member pages can tell a life story; your page represents a group of individuals. How do you use timeline to tell the committees’ story?

The Ways and Means Committee dates back to 1789, and its membership includes eight former presidents, four former Supreme Court Justices, and twenty-one former Speakers of the House.

In addition to its distinguished membership, the committee has been at the forefront of major policy decisions — from free trade agreements to the creation of Medicare, social security, tax reform in 1986 and welfare reform in 1996, just to name a few.

We’ll show these accomplishments with behind the scenes photos to create the visual story for our fans to see. While different than a member’s page, the challenge lies in the opportunity – - what do we highlight, what will Facebook fans find interesting, those are issues we welcome and will be finding out as time goes on.

How do you plan on using timeline in the future?

Chairman Camp and the committee members will take questions from Facebook users and respond to fan questions via video again this year as they did when the free trade agreements were being debated last year.

It allowed for multiple interactions from fans, allowing them to become an integral part of our Facebook page, letting them know we were listening and will answer their questions.

Another idea we’re working on right now is livestreaming committee hearings and having users ask questions on Facebook in real-time and selecting some of those questions to be asked during the actual hearing.

What’s your favorite timeline feature?

Being able to pin a post to have it be the first thing users see is a great new feature. As major policy debates develop we’ll be able to draw attention to the items we feel are important in the debate with this feature and not let the information get drowned out by other items we post.

Also, policies take a while to see their way through Congress. Being able to show this process and how much work goes into it will bring fans closer to their representatives.

What advice would you give to other congressional committees?

Plan ahead, have a sense of what you want to use timeline for and how these new features can be leveraged to connect with fans.

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