The rise of Facebook has taken the political world by storm and transformed the way candidates, politicians and the nation’s leaders communicate. The halls of power –from Capitol Hill to the White House –a re leveraging these tools like never before to speak directly to constituents, none more so than the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner.
We spoke with Don Seymour, digital communications director for the Speaker’s office, to learn more about his role and how to obtain a position like his.
How does your position as chief Facebook page administrator for the Speaker differ from what the traditional webmaster used to do?
As the Speaker’s digital communications director, one of my jobs is to ensure we’re making effective use of all of the digital tools available to us — including Facebook — to connect the American people with Speaker Boehner. And as the Speaker’s press team, we fold digital media into everything we do.
In addition to making sure Speaker Boehner has a strong digital presence nationally and in his Ohio district, our team makes it a priority to communicate online ourselves. In fact, one of our first blog posts this year outlined where to find Speaker Boehner online and invited anyone to connect with us individually on Twitter: http://www.speaker.gov/Blog/default.aspx?postid=218863 (you can find me @DonSeymour).
How did you get your job, and what prior jobs led to this position?
I’ve worked in several different communications-related roles for Speaker Boehner since 2003, most recently for four years as his political communications director. There we did a lot of innovative work with online advertising — whether Facebook ads or search advertising on other platforms — and expanded Boehner’s online reach from a couple thousand people to several hundred thousand.
Before that I served in the office of the Republican leader, and prior to that I was Speaker Boehner’s press secretary in his congressional office where we were often among the first on the Hill to take advantage of emerging social media tools.
What specialized knowledge or training is required to obtain a position in social media on Capitol Hill?
Above all, a healthy interest in using technology to communicate and engage with others is most important. Beyond that, it depends on your interests. Among the digital communicators on the Hill, some are writers, some are programmers, some are photographers or videographers, some are graphic designers, and some have several different skills.
What’s your hiring strategy for social media in general and then specific to finding other page administrators? What specialized skills do you look for when hiring someone to work with Facebook or social media in general?
When we need to fill a role in our press shop, we look for talented individuals who are good communicators — plain and simple.
How many page administrators does the Speaker’s office have? How many are devoted to social media in general?
There are only two “administrators,” but everyone on our team plays a role in how we use Facebook — including the Speaker himself. Every morning, one of the first things Speaker Boehner does is check his Facebook page from his iPad to read the messages people leave for him, and to take the pulse of what people are posting and sharing.
What’s the workload like as a Facebook administrator for the Speaker? And how does it vary when Congress is in session or out of session?
Being a communicator on Capitol Hill these days means you’re on call 24/7/365 — the only real difference when Congress is out of session is that I wear jeans to the office instead of a suit and tie.
With so many different avenues for media consumption, the daily (almost hourly) challenge for communicators is not just in cutting through, but in reaching and engaging Americans on their own terms — or rather, providing content that people want in the way they want it.
This is as true for us on the Hill talking about something like The Path to Prosperity — our budget that will spur job growth and stop Washington from spending money it doesn’t have — as it is for an entertainment company pitching a summer blockbuster.
What strategies do you employ for driving traffic during slower periods?
What’s your secret for acquiring likes and getting fans to come back to the page?
The formula we use is straightforward: Provide fresh content, listen to and engage the fans with information they want, and take advantage of big moments.
For example, the morning The Path to Prosperity was rolled out we had a Facebook question up asking people to identify what they think is “most important to creating a better environment for private sector job growth.”
Another example is the American Energy Initiative, the ongoing effort by the House majority to address rising gas prices and create jobs by expanding energy production and stopping policies that drive up costs. There we built a Facebook page around the initiative where we post information from us as well as committees — such as Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources — that are producing legislation that meets our goals.
Do most Congressional offices have Facebook fan pages? What sort of interaction, if any, do you have with other offices?
Many do, and Facebook lists them here. And we work very closely with other congressional offices when it comes to digital communications.
One example of that close working relationship is the effort by Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and others to move the House toward developing and adopting more open legislative data standards. (You can read a letter from Boehner and Cantor to the Clerk of the House on this issue here.)
If someone wanted to find a job in digital media communications on the Hill, where do you suggest they look?
If you already work on the Hill, become the person in your office who uses these tools — and be able to demonstrate their impact. If you’re not here already, go out and pound the pavement — and don’t be afraid to contact offices directly or even ping them online.
A good press secretary or press shop uses every tool at its disposal, so generally speaking, I think someone who has in their arsenal the ability to craft and execute a sensible digital media strategy will have a leg up on those who can’t.
How have social media roles evolved on Capitol Hill?
Among the ongoing trends to watch is the continuing professionalization of digital media strategy — and with it, its growing integration with traditional press shops. Crafting a strategy for using digital media may require new ways of thinking — and may have slightly different goals when used on the Hill versus on a campaign — but ultimately these are powerful tools that can help any successful communicator build a larger and more engaged audience.