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New Media Challenge Aims to Engage Voters

House Republican Conference Members Compete In March Madness-esque Social Media Contest

It could come down to one page “like.” One video view.

Or maybe it will be one tweet. One tweet to rule them all.

The House Republican Conference kicks off its second annual New Media Challenge this week. The rules are simple. For the next six weeks, Members will face off in a March Madness-esque bracket. Each week, they compete with a different medium (Facebook, YouTube or Twitter) and receive points for the number of likes, views or followers they receive.

If you get more points than your opponent, you move on to the next round. And if you don’t, better luck next year.

The competition has nearly doubled its numbers, from 56 participating last year to 106 as of Monday. This week marks the preliminary round with YouTube. On Friday, the Members with the highest scores will be placed in the 64-participant championship bracket; those with lower scores will be placed in the 32-participant bronze bracket.

The outreach has been steady so far. Several tweets went out Monday from Members’ accounts to get more YouTube views, but they each came with different approaches.

Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas) , who came in third last year and has 5,114 followers, tweeted, “GOP new media challenge starts today! Visit my YouTube page and see latest video Judiciary Oversight Hearing.”

Rep. Larry Bucshon (Ind.) asked his 827 Twitter followers to subscribe to his YouTube channel and included video links with the tweets he sent.

And reigning champ Rep. John Fleming (La.), who has 3,531 followers, has only posted one YouTube link to an interview he did with Fox Business.

But there’s more to the challenge than pushing information to constituents. When the challenge was created by GOP Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) last year, she emphasized that Republicans needed to expand their online presence with the 2010 midterm elections just months away.

And indeed, they did. During the course of last year’s challenge, more than 50,000 connections were made, whether through Facebook pages, Twitter accounts or YouTube videos, according to Patrick Bell, the GOP Conference’s new media director.

“Our inaugural New Media Challenge helped focus Members’ attention on the value of tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube,” McMorris Rodgers said in an email. “The results definitely helped position Members for success in communicating our positive agenda last fall. … At the end of the day, I think constituents appreciate having their Member accessible online, and the importance of simply listening and engaging cannot be understated.”

Andrew Noyes, Facebook’s public policy communications manager, said Facebook’s team is pleased to know that the social network is viewed as a valuable tool on Capitol Hill.

“We’re heartened that lawmakers at all levels and across the political spectrum are using Facebook to reach people in a direct, personal and simple way that was unimaginable a decade ago,” Noyes said in an email.

For Rep. Renee Ellmers (N.C.), the challenge comes down to one thing: relationships. This is the freshman legislator’s first time participating in the challenge, but she’s no new media novice, said Lorie Byrd, Ellmers’ communications director. While campaigning against ex-Rep. Bob Etheridge (D), Ellmers built a base by blogging and recording podcasts.

“They support her very strongly, and she’s very aware of the community that she’s built,” Byrd said. “It’s all about interacting and reaching out. That will help in the challenge.”

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