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 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.