Thanks to the popularity of social media—particularly Facebook and Twitter—it’s easier than ever to reach out to your elected officials about topics that matter to you and your loved ones.
Every elected official in Congress has a Facebook and a Twitter account that allows for public messages, replies and comments. These accounts are usually managed by staff, but some are run by the member themselves (most often on Twitter). No matter what, use the platform in which you’re most comfortable.
To advocate through social media, you will need to create your own account on the platform(s) of your choice. For each platform, you will be asked to provide your name, email or phone number, and date of birth (which is not shown publicly unless you choose to display it). You’ll then need to create a password, which you can write down on a piece of paper or in a notebook. (Believe it or not, this is the safest way to keep track of your passwords!)
Facebook vs. Twitter
While Facebook and Twitter are both very popular social media platforms, they are quite different. To help you decide which platform is right for you, here’s a quick overview on each. For a more in-depth overview on social media, visit this resource.
With over 2.5 billion users, it is likely that your family, friends and neighbors are already active on Facebook. That makes it a wonderful place to start.
On Facebook, you can connect with people that you know to share stories and photos about your everyday life and interests. Your account can be fully public or semi-private, based on the privacy settings or restrictions that you elect. (For example, you may allow only the friends and family that you’ve officially connected with on Facebook to view your posts.) You can also “follow” and “like” official pages for elected officials, businesses, nonprofits and charities, celebrities, and news and media outlets.
You’re probably familiar with Twitter because it is often used by presidents and elected officials from around the world, along with journalists, researchers and experts. Twitter is best known for its character limit: just 280 characters. While you can add a photo, link, or video to your posts or “tweets,” each tweet must be brief.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter is meant to be a public forum to discuss current events, share opinions, and learn about “trending” topics. While you can make a private account, most people use Twitter publicly to share their ideas, opinions, and work. Think of it as a discussion forum or bulletin board for quick, public messages and exchanges; not a place to share personal photos or information.
Take it easy
Whether you are sharing a personal experience managing a chronic disease, posting a selfie wearing an “I Voted” sticker, or asking an elected official to enact a new policy, remember that social media advocacy is meant to be engaging and fun—not stressful. Social media can connect you to people you know personally and others who care about the same things you do, like managing your Parkinson’s symptoms. And, just as in polite conversation, it’s best to be kind, curious, and authentic.
If you are posting about a specific topic, like PAN’s advocacy campaign to ask Congress to lower out-of-pocket medication costs, remember to “tag” the official pages of individuals or organizations mentioned or directly related to your message.
For example, if you are writing a Facebook post about managing your asthma with the help of financial assistance from the PAN Foundation, tag us by using the @ symbol, followed by the name of the organization (or its account handle, if you know it). After you type the @ symbol, names of your friends and pages you follow will appear—you can “click” or hit “enter” on the name of the correct person or page you’d like to “tag” in your post.
Your “tagged” post will generate a notification so that the social media team at PAN can see and like your post too.
Here’s what a “tagged” post looks like:
Similarly, if you are writing about Medicare Part D and how high out-of-pocket costs have affected you, tag your state representative and senator because they will be alerted that this issue concerns you—which, in turn, helps them enact better policies and laws. Just remember to be selective and smart about who you tag and why. That way, if you get their attention, it will be because the topic is particularly relevant!
Try to limit your use of tagging to no more than two per post. Do not tag individuals or organizations unless your message appeals or relates to them directly. For example, tag your representatives in separate posts, instead of lumping them all into a single, shared post. (Which would you pay more attention to? A letter addressed solely to you, or a letter addressed “To Whom it May Concern”?)
Members of Congress respond well to photos of their constituents. However, you’re more likely to get their attention if your photo connects to your community, cause, or involves an interaction with the representative. In your photo, you might: hold a letter from your state representative, stand next to a campaign sign for your Senator, show off a takeout bag from your favorite local restaurant, or pose with the pharmacist who introduced you to PAN (with their permission, of course).
Think globally, act locally
When you’re advocating about an issue you care about, it might be tempting to reach out to representatives outside of where you reside—whether it’s a state, territory, or the District of Columbia. However, it’s best to only reach out to the elected officials for whom you are a constituent. If you are participating in an advocacy campaign with PAN, we will provide guidance if we recommend outreach beyond your elected officials.