Look, it’s always the same question. Is technology replacing the human?
Listening to the pundits, one could get the impression that social media has rendered the professional lobbying industry ineffective.
Yes, social media has given everyone everywhere the same ability to engage, monitor and influence government’s most important policy makers. But is it really the SAME influence that a lobbyist provides? Not really.
And yes, thanks to social media, the access to elected officials is no longer the barrier it once was, and the transparency of social media has created a changing landscape for all. But does everyone know which message BEST resonates with their Legislators? Not really.
Regardless, know this: the lobbying industry is far more complex than a simple information share. While it is true that social media is serving as a major catalyst for change in the industry since the 1980s, it is a welcome and much-needed change. In fact, social media has given lobbyists a shiny new set of tools that actually helps them do their jobs more quickly, more efficiently, and more effectively. However, while good tools are incredibly useful, the real power and talent lies in the true understanding of how to strategically use information gathered and dispersed. Long standing relationships matter – and it’s the experience and deep understanding of how policy leaders think, and the discovery of opportunities available, that affect change.
Seeding the Grassroots
Grassroots advocacy is the first obvious area where social media has improved lobbying efforts. Taking a policy fight to social media not only gives lobbyists the opportunity to find new and popular cause ambassadors, it can help turn the tide of an issue by making it go viral. Armchair advocates with little skin in the game can join the chorus of cheers or jeers and give lobbyists new allies and new discussion points. Grassroots initiatives have always been a boon and a boost to traditional lobbying efforts.
Historically, grassroots advocacy took days and weeks to pull off. From engaging the public through conventional media to finding unique and compelling stories to shift popular opinions, developing a grassroots plan and executing it have always been labor intensive. Social media has changed the game, allowing government relations professionals to frame or reframe a debate, develop campaigns and find allies within hours. Strategizing is still time consuming, but social media has made it easier to put grassroots plans into action to support other strategies and techniques.
Gauging and Engaging
Every policy objective has its share of opponents and supporters. Another way Social media plays an assist for government relations professionals is how it provides the ability to informally gauge public attitudes on a given subject more quickly. While certain industries may view social media as a repository for brand marketing and press releases, lobbyists tend to see it as an enormous town hall meeting. The highly personal and subjective nature of social media provides critical insights into all sides of an issue, allowing government relations experts the opportunity to plan for and address potential pushbacks.
Social media also allows lobbyists to peer into the mindset of the people they plan to lobby–they need to know the adversaries. For example, if a lobbyist is aware that a lawmaker has made public pronouncements on social media about a particular proposal or idea, and the public’s response is also on Social Media for all to see, a plan can be developed to engage the public official and find solutions.
A Comprehensive Approach
Influencing public policy has always been about relationships. While there is no question the public’s influence on policy is greater than it has ever been—thanks in large part to the advent of social media in politics—the sobering truth is lawmakers still rely on the trusted relationships they’ve cultivated with those who know the culture of the governmental body and those who are most educated about a particular policy proposal. More often than not, those people are lobbyists. As Pugliese Associates founder Rocco Pugliese has said on more than one occasion, “It’s not about who you know but how well you know them.”
Clearly, social media is changing the way policy is discussed in American politics. Information is immediate and opinions can change on a dime. However, social media cannot do it all. Lobbyists are still the people who have the greatest understanding of what will work and why, and they’re still the experts at predicting what will motivate an elected official on a certain issue.
Going Back to the Basic Question
Video didn’t kill the radio stars. The best radio stars started making videos and became that much greater. Social Media won’t kill the Lobbyist stars either. The best lobbying stars will use Social Media to do even more for their clients.
When you’re trying to decide whether to advocate on your own or hire a government relations professional, remember there’s a reason lobbyists are still in business.