My Communications Tools

As a legislator, I work hard to communicate with my constituents. I communicate with two goals – to get the feedback that I need to represent my constituents effectively and to give my constituents information that they want.

I thought I’d explain the key communications tools that I use and solicit your feedback on any ways that my approach can be improved.

WillBrownsberger.com is the hub of all my communication with constituents. Anyone can browse WillBrownsberger.com to get an understanding of current state legislative issues and my views on them. Anyone can give me feedback through WillBrownsberger.com, either by posting a new subject, or by commenting on an existing post, or by using a contact form to send my office a private note of concern.

When I am seeking feedback on a new issue, I go wide – posting at WillBrownsberger.com, notifying my entire my news list of the post, submitting op-eds to the paper, posting to community email lists and social media, and seeking every in-person opportunity I can to put my thoughts in front of my constituents so that they can react.

When I am trying to provide useful updates or information, I communicate in a more targeted way to people that I believe have an interest in the particular issue. On the email list, people express their interests by choosing to open or click emails on a subject. For example, if I’m sending notice of a second meeting about an issue, I may only send it to people who opened the notice for the first meeting.

I also get indicators of people’s interests through emails that they send me. The majority of my incoming constituent correspondence comes from bulk emails – those links you click that say “Tell your legislators to vote for X”. My office uses a piece of open source software that I have created called WP Issues CRM. It is a published plugin for the popular blogging software, WordPress, that powers WillBrownsberger.com. WP Issues CRM scans my Senate office inbox and groups incoming bulk messages so that I can reply to them in bulk. It also keeps a record of the subjects that people have contacted me about so that I can notify them of later developments of interest to them. Good automation of the bulk correspondence allows me to spend more time on replying to personal emails.

I make relatively limited use of facebook and twitter and those are not reliable ways to reach me. When I do post on social media, it is usually with the goal of encouraging participation in a discussion at WillBrownsberger.com.

If you want to make sure you are notified when I’m seeking feedback, please subscribe to my news list at WillBrownsberger.com/subscribe.

If you feel that you used to be on my news list, but are not any more, that is quite possible. I never want to send messages to addresses at which they are not opened – for two reasons: First, I do not want to be that irritating person in your inbox who for some reason keeps sending email. Second, I want to preserve my reputation with the email vendors like Gmail, Comcast and Verizon – they track open activity and if people are not opening messages from me, they are likely to classify me as a spammer and then no one will see my messages.

My news list service, Mailchimp, gives me statistics on whether messages we send are being opened. Our policy is to periodically run programs to unsubscribe email addresses at which messages are not being opened. Anyone can subscribe or resubscribe at any time at WillBrownsberger.com/subscribe.

I’d be really grateful for any suggestions at all about how I can communicate better.

Thank you!

Thank you for all the kind words below. We’ll keep at it. I did get some suggestions here and by email which we will work on:

  • A couple of folks suggested briefer pieces.  I probably don’t want to get much briefer  — writing is how I work through some of the issues and some people like the completeness — but I’ll work on making it easier to get the drift from the lead or a summary box.
  • One person encouraged me to continue to keep up our (limited) facebook/twitter communications.   We’ll work on trying to at least get notices of posts out in those media.  We will also look at another suggestion — the inclusion of like buttons on posts.  We stopped doing that several years ago because they tend to interfere with a smooth page load and they weren’t used that much.  But we’ll revisit it as a technology issue — it would certainly help our facebook presence to have like buttons.
  • One person encouraged me to speak more to national issues — I’m tempted to do that, but on national issues, I’m less qualified to speak.  I have feelings (strong ones), like everyone right now, but I’m not sure my state-government vantage point privileges me to much national insight.
  • A couple of people made the technical point that email open statistics are unreliable and tend to understate open rates, so that in my zeal to not to annoy people and to maintain an active list, I might be dropping people who are actually active.  This is true and something I worry about and will continue to struggle with — it’s a balance to strike.
  • Perhaps the most important challenge, which one person highlighted, is to reach beyond the universe of people that are already on my list or reading my local papers. I know that there are many different groups of people that aren’t hearing from me and we will continue to look for ways to be in touch with new people in all walks of life — in person and in new media.

Thanks again for the positive feedback.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

85 replies on “My Communications Tools”

  1. I believe your communication is outstanding. You go far beyond any other legislator (local or national) with whom I am acquainted. Your opinions, queries, and positions are always informative, logical, and well written. I am older than most of your constituents, they might prefer spoken communications or videos.

  2. Thank you Senator Brownsberger,
    Even though we do not always see eye to eye on every issue I feel that communications from your office are excellent and very helpful as it can be difficult for citizens without specialized training to understand the complex processes and legal language used at the State House. I feel that perhaps your office is the best at communicating.
    Thank You. It means a lot. I also feel that you are a good listener. Even if people have opposite opinions there is often a kernel of truth to their views if one tries to understand them. There is a saying that I like, “Even a broken watch is right twice a day”. A little humor for today.

  3. Will,
    You let people know what is going on all the time. I feel free to agree and disagree with you and feel respected either way.

    I love this forum.

  4. As usual you are to be applauded for your thoughtful and effective ways in which you communicate. Thanks so much. I wouldn’t want you to do anything different in these communication channels.

  5. Sen. Brownsberger: I appreciate all you do to communicate. Please don’t be offended by my observation, but many of your messages need to be more concise to have the impact you want. Even this one ,for instance, is so long that I stopped reading after awhile. You want to avoid that effect. For the work at the State House I know much detail is required, but for your messages to have impact I suggest they are too filled with detail and lengthy. In my opinion, a concise message with the essential details will have more impact. Respectfully, John Millea

    1. To each, his own. I see the point made by Mr. Millea but I do appreciate the details. I often don’t have time to click and read the emails when they come in but usually I flag and go back to them later on.

      I also have concerns about FB and Twitter, etc but would love to hear your thoughts on why it is that you’ve settled on WordPress and mail chimp instead.

      Thanks for the good discussion today in Watertown, by the way.

      1. Thanks, John and Aaron. I think what I need to try to do is always offer people the short version and the long version — I know that at any given time people may have more less desire to get the detailed scoop.

        I think that, in my role, I should have fully developed views (or at least good discussions) on many issues and for that, there is no alternative to a good website — Facebook and Twitter don’t allow you to really organize much material.

        But Facebook and Twitter have other legitimate roles. On Facebook, sharing images can be meaningful and Twitter is a great broadcast medium which is easy for the press to monitor. If I had more hours in the day, I’d be more present in those channels as well — nothing against them, just time limits.

  6. Actually, your persistent effort to keep us updated on the issues facing the state government, including pros and cons, and being very open to our input strikes me as exactly what an elected “public servant” should do. Thank you very much for what you do. I would not change anything in your approach. But then I am email based and use neither facebook nor twitter.

  7. Will, I really like your e-mail reports. They allow me to keep up with significant tissues and their development,. thank you for doing this, Lotte

  8. +1 to all who replied that you are superb in communicating to constituents. I think this article should be publicized to office holders high and low across the land, most of whom appear to be afraid to dialog with constituents and others online. They may have good reasons (fear of being spammed by haters, not enough time to thoughtfully engage, not proud of what they’re doing, …) for keeping a low profile. But you demonstrate that it can be done (at what cost, I don’t know, but it must be a stretch). We need more dialogs like this site provides for democracy to flourish nationwide, definitely. So thanks for explaining and truly listening.

  9. Your communications model should be a model for all elected officials. However, I do wonder what the reach of your responses is in regards to economic standing in our society and district. I do not know if there is even a way to measure that, but I wonder if the low income/immigrant/refugee members of our district have knowledge and even ability to access the methods you utilize to receive feedback. If there is evidence that the aforementioned communities in the district can do this well within your system, even more power to you to keep it up. However, if not, I would recommend trying to find ways outside of the web to create engagement with the aforementioned communities and hopefully deepen the opportunity for those communities to provide feedback to your robust policy making process, and even educate people about how you disseminate info on a regular basis and increase your feedback pool in your phenomenal online public forum.

    I would agree with some comments that sometimes it may be too long, great, but long. So maybe add a TLDNR section at the bottom so that folks who just want to get a summary of your thought process can get that quick perspective as well.

    1. Thanks, Felipe.

      I think you are right that there are folks in lot of different groups that I’m not reaching either online or in the papers.

      That’s perhaps the greatest challenge I have. I do want to be listening broadly.

  10. You already communicate more, and more substantively, than any other elected representative I know. I don’t know what you could do better.

  11. I’m very impressed with the time and energy (and intelligence) you put into this 2-way communication. Thanks for the interesting information on the technical assistance you make use of. I’m not a techie and I don’t know what arrow you are referring to…..

  12. !!!! A friend and I were just this afternoon commenting on your extraordinary communicating skills. They are greatly appreciated.

  13. Thank you for asking. You’re doing fine and I appreciate it.
    There’s an interesting article in this week’s New Yorker (March 6) called Call and Response about communication the other direction—constituents to DC.

  14. I much appreciate your outreach/communication with your constituents. As several people have commented, what you do should be a model for other legislators. I also appreciate your conscientious explanations of issues that require more than a handful of characters (aka Twitter). Leave Twitter to White House residents and continue to provide thoughtful and insightful detailed information. Thank you.

  15. I applaud your diligence in balancing very well all the competing factors involved in good constituent communications.

    No complaints, just praise.

    Here’s hoping all lawmakers do as well.

  16. The website is a great source for both learning about bills and voicing opinions on them. Thank you for all you do on this front!

  17. I always enjoy your mail. There are things I agree with and some I don’t.
    I like to keep up with what is going on in the state and you do a good jog putting out information

  18. Will ,of all the communications I have received from elected officials throughout the years, yours are by far the most comprehensive and informative.
    There is no one who is close to you in your openess and willingness to explain your position on issues.
    Seems like you have made a extensive effort to really be the best, and you are!
    John

  19. I think it’s great that you solicit feedback publicly. Whether state government has been your friend or not it is helpful to have a way to communicate with it.

  20. Frankly, I think you do a better job now than any other legislative incumbent I’ve ever had. So thank you for that.

  21. I echo the others who commend you for your communications and wish other legislators were as thorough and transparent.

  22. I have extolled your amazing mind, diligence, compassion and fairness both in communications with you and others. The only thing I worry constantly about is that you will burn out and disintegrate in service to others.

  23. I think you do a great job of reaching out to people, soliciting feedback and responding in a thoughtful manner whether you agree with someone or not. I too would agree that Facebook and Twitter are not as reliable and as we have seen all too often, they do not always contain well thought out comments and responses.
    Thank You
    Jim

  24. We hugely appreciated that you came to our MassCann board meeting (open to the public), not only to see us in action, but to give attendees a chance to speak up. We’re showing everyone it is easy to speak to legislators. Thank you!

  25. I applaud your detailed communications and the opportunity to provide feedback. I am able to stay current on topical issues. Thank you.

  26. Will- this is great. I had no idea that your communication set up was so sophisticated. It is now wonder, I imagine it has to be given the amount of communication you receive and send.

    I think you do a great job!

    Caleb

  27. I am consistently impressed with what a thorough communicator you are and feel that as an active constituent I am kept well informed. Thanks!

  28. Will,

    You left out a face to face at a crowded Friendly’s on a Holiday long weekend.

    Tip O’Neil once said, all politics is local. I believe you embrace that be it by email, Internet or meetings.

    Hear, hear Will!

  29. I applaud your efforts at communication every time I send a post, but didn’t want to be left out of this specific request. I only have e-mail at my disposal, not wishing to become involved in any of the other social media routes, so your messages through e-mail and your website are perfect. Except for solicitations for money, no other legislator is as good communicating with constituents. Thanks so much for your efforts!

  30. Will, even though I no longer live in your district I find your communication clear, relevant & timely. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up. All the best.

  31. I enjoyed your discussion at BDTC last night. It’s nice to have a dialogue in person

  32. I’m always impressed — your communication is always very open and informative and I appreciate the transparency. These are good insights for anyone in the public or nonprofit sector about communicating thoughtfully with a wide audience.

  33. Any more communicative, and you’d be a Russian ambassador talking to our president’s staff! 😉

    In all seriousness, I have always been impressed by your communication, and especially by the two-way communication. It’s one of the reasons I still follow your emails and blog despite no longer being an official constituent!

    One suggestion: I did not know about followups only being sent if I clicked through from the original email. There are times that I’m interested in a subject, but for whatever reason (time constraints, just passively interested, etc) I won’t click through. So maybe the original email should just contain a message to the effect of “you will not receive further messages about this topic unless you click through the link above,” or something like that.

  34. Thank you! I have always been very impressed by the level of communication you achieve! Keep up the good work!

  35. You are defining a new standard for politics in America. Your robust two-way constituent communication is something I would like to export to other legislators once I have capacity to do so. We must evolve beyond the era of 5-page brochureware websites and periodic email blasts of ribbon-cuttings. We have hired our legislators to vote. But that is only the tail end of the process. Most of what we pay them for is to deliberate, discern, explore — in short, to think. This thinking should, as a general rule, be available for scrutiny and synthesis with your bosses — the people.

  36. I do not live in your district, but my business is there. I do feel you hear me and my concerns. I think that’s rare in MA politics. I appreciate your willingness to listen and the transparency in which you go about your job.

  37. As far as I’m concerned, you set the benchmark for open, thoughtful communication. It is not coincidental that on issues where I disagree with your positions, I most appreciate the reapectful dialogue you promote, and the candid explanations you provide. Thank you.

  38. I like the effort you make to communicate. Thanks for all of your thoughtful work. I also enjoy following you in the Watertown TAB.

  39. You do very well,sir. There are very few incumbents I ever vote for, from the WH down, but you are one of those. I appreciate all you do and how you do it.

  40. I love your communication style. You do a great job keeping us all informed about what Is going on in the legislature. What I especially appreciate is that you request our input. It is clear that you have a sincere desire to know how your constituents feel about issues. I agree with the comment that you set the benchmark for great communication. Please keep it up.

  41. Dear Will,
    I like very much your communication style and wish others would emulate it. Keep it up and don’t change an iota, I know it must take a lot of hard work and it appreciate it more than you think. Please keep it up. My heartfelt thanks.
    Nayla

  42. The fact that you have a site to communicate through, and we can read others ideas that may answer questions puts you at the top 10% of the legislature in constituent communications. The only other one I know is Ken Donnelly. The runners up just have static websites that get updated every… err 6 months. I think the rest of Beacon hill is still back in the 20th century. Does the State House still have rotary dial telephones?

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