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Using Social Media for Advocacy and Outreach

Social media has changed the way the public communicates with policymakers.

A 2015 survey of congressional staff by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) shows that a handful of comments on social media may be just as effective as thousands of emails. The study, which polled Capitol Hill communications directors, legislative directors, and legislative assistants, found that fewer than 30 comments on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were enough to grab a legislator’s attention.

FASEB uses social media to share advocacy news and information about science and science policy with Federation members and the public. Here are some tips on how you can use social media to spread awareness of and engage with lawmakers about issues affecting biological and biomedical researchers.

Join the conversation on Twitter

Engage with Senators and Representatives on Twitter to build visibility and credibility with their offices. Follow the steps below to use Twitter to contact your legislators.
  • Tweet: A 140-character message.
  • Retweet (RT): Sharing someone else's tweet. For example, if a colleague or legislator posts a link to an article or announcement, you can simply retweet it.
  • Feed: The stream of tweets you see on your homepage. It shows updates from users you follow.
  • Handle: Your username.
  • Follow: Following a user allows you to see their tweets in your feed. Click on a username or navigate to a user's profile. (Trying to find a particular user? Visit Twitter.com for detailed instructions on how to find them.) Click the follow button when you see it next to a user's profile photo or on a user's profile page.
  • Mention (@): A way to reference another user in a tweet (e.g. @FASEBopa) and conduct discussions with other users in a public realm. Type your Tweet as you normally would, but replace any names you include with that person's @username. Make sure there are no spaces between the user’s handle and the @ symbol. Users are notified when they are @mentioned.
  • Reply: Click the @reply icon to start a conversation with someone by replying to their Tweet.
  • Narrowcasting: To mention a @username at the very start of a Tweet but ensure that all your followers see the message, place a period (.) or other symbol (>) before the @reply. (e.g.  .@FASEBopa Factsheets Provide District-Specific Data on Investment in Research http://buff.ly/1OCEw5O  #PhD)
  • Direct Message (DM): A private, 140-character message between two people. You can decide whether to accept a direct message from any Twitter user, or only from users you are following. You may only DM a user who follows you.
  • Hashtag (#): A hashtag is a discovery tool that allows others to find your tweets based on topics. You can also click on a hashtag to see all the tweets that mention it in real time—even from people you don't follow.

Customize Your Efforts  

  • Find lawmakers’ Twitter handles (ex. @SenatorBarb) by visiting their website and clicking on the Twitter icon. You may also find their Twitter handles by checking C-Span’s list of Representatives and Senators. Familiarize yourself with the issues a particular legislator tweets about by scrolling down her/his timeline.
  • Whenever appropriate, tag your lawmakers in your tweets, particularly in tweets that thank them for visiting with you. This increases the chances legislators will see your advocacy messages. If a colleague or legislator shares a link to an article or announcement, you can also retweet it.
  • Denote a topic of conversation or participate in a larger linked discussion by using specific hashtags (e.g. #RaiseTheCaps, #FundScience).
  • Consider including FASEB resources (listed below) in your tweet. Use a hashtag (#) to highlight a special issue. For example:
    • [Insert Twitter handle]: You can jump start the restoration of biomedical research in the U.S. http://buff.ly/1FmaQsa  #FundScience
    • [Insert Twitter handle] Federal funding for biomedical research improves health and strengthens the economy. http://bit.ly/1unMvv9 #FundScience 
    • [Insert Twitter handle] Research funded by @NIH has improved treatment & prevention for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease. #NIHNow
    • [Insert Twitter handle] A broad-based program of basic research supports a robust economy and improves quality of life. Support @NIH & @NSF.
    • @NSF funded research advances science and engineering which stimulates innovation and attracts private investments. #tech #science 
    • What's at stake for @NIH if [Insert Twitter handle] fails to act: http://buff.ly/1LABBtN #NIHNow
 

Harnessing the Power of Facebook

Compared to other social networking sites, Facebook has the largest audience–an average of 968 million people used the platform daily as of June 2015, according to the site. Facebook content also has a longer lifespan than Tweets (hours versus seconds), but posts still must be relevant and engaging in order to rank higher in newsfeeds.

Nonprofits, legislators and government institutions use Facebook to engage with and seek feedback from the public. Lawmakers are likely to respond when constituents interact with content posted on their page, according to the CMF poll, however, most engagement happens within the first few hours of posting content.

Get Started with Facebook

  • Timelines: A digital document of wall posts, photos, announcements and events.
  • The “Like” button:  Lives on nearly every piece of Facebook content: status updates, photos, comments, brand timelines, apps, and ads. It communicates your support of activities, brands, articles, and products to fellow users, Facebook, and third parties.
  • Take stock of the groups or legislators you’d like to follow, search for their timelines and like them on Facebook. You’ll start seeing their updates appear in your newsfeed alongside those of your friends.
  • Like FASEB’s Facebook page and interact with posted content. When sharing on your wall, tag your lawmakers and FASEB in the post. If you feel comfortable doing so, change your privacy settings to “public” for these posts so other advocates can find and share them.
  • FASEB encourages those with smartphones or digital cameras to take photos or videos when participating in advocacy events. Post photos and videos to your Facebook wall and those of your lawmakers. Get permission from your lawmaker before posting any photos of them.

Resources

Share FASEB’s resources on biomedical research policy. These publications are updated annually:

To find social media information about your Representative or Senator, visit CQ Roll Call.