GOT POWER? LAWMAKERS USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO GAIN NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

It used to be that a freshman congressman or senator had to wait years—maybe decades—to advance to a key post where he or she could attract national attention.

Stuck on the back bench, junior lawmakers’ chances to make a name for themselves usually were few and far between while they worked themselves up the seniority ladder and waited for a chairman or series of chairmen to die or retire.

Prior to the rise of electronic communications, the only way to grow a national audience was to appear on television or do something newsworthy—typically the territory of a senior lawmaker commanding a committee gavel.

But a recent analysis of congressional operations shows that electronic communications have rearranged this playing field. Even rank-and-file members can gather a national following to advance their policy objectives with relative ease—and at virtually no financial cost, the Congressional Research Service said.

CRS said that while regular postal communications with constituents and others have declined by large numbers, both members of the House and Senate have dramatically increased their use of new electronic communications technology. Besides seeing a huge increase in e-mail use, CRS reported that both House and Senate members have fully embraced social media.

Sen. Rand Paul is a frequent user of Twitter and Facebook.

Among things, it said today all 100 senators and almost all representatives have Twitter and Facebook accounts. YouTube, Instagram, and Flickr are also popular with congressional offices, it said.

“Member official websites, blogs, YouTube channels and Facebook pages—all nonexistent 20 years ago—all receive significant traffic,” it said. “In less than 20 years, the entire nature of member-constituent communications has been transformed, perhaps more than any other period in American history.”