LIANE HANSEN, host:
Democrats cheered the passage of the Senate health care bill this past week, but not one Senate Republican voted for it. In the weekly Republican radio address, Congressman Duncan Hunter of California made it clear Republicans aren't happy about the direction Congress is taking.
Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California): So, let's resolve in the new year to end misguided efforts to create new laws that will cost even more jobs, whether it's a cap-and-trade national energy tax, the government takeover of health care, card check or even more tax increases. Working together, we can make the next holiday season even brighter for all Americans.
HANSEN: You could've watched that message on YouTube, which is becoming a very popular social media tool for Republicans these days. So are Facebook and Twitter, where Republicans are taking their message directly to the American people.
Representative BUCK MCKEON (Republican, California): Hi, I'm Congressman Buck McKeon. Here I plan to share video footage of my work in Washington, and I'm home in California. Thanks for visiting. Do you hear those buzzers? It means I'm being called to a vote, so I'm going to have to run. But I hope this page can be a resource for you.
Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia): Hi, I'm Eric Cantor. We've got a lot of cutting edge things that we're putting in place. We want to engage the online community.
Representative MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): Hello, I'm Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of the United States Senate. And for the past few years I've found YouTube to be an extremely useful way of communicating with the American people.
HANSEN: We wanted to know how Republicans are using new forms of media and social networking and whether it's paying off. Republican strategist Mindy Finn helped Virginia Governor-elect Bob McDonnell find his voice online. Finn is a partner and blogger for the political consulting firm Engage.
Ms. MINDY FINN (Partner and Blogger, Engage): Well, for Republicans who don't have any power necessarily in Congress right now, they're turning to social media in droves, even faster than Democrats, because it's a place where every individual can have a voice.
Members who don't have a lot of say or don't have much of a voice in Congress can use social media to talk directly to their constituents, to voters and to activists. Twitter especially. In the early half of this year, it continues to be dominated by conservatives. And they're finding that in a way that they haven't been able to, even in other parts of the decade, they can become high touch again - it's high tech and high touch, where constituents can hear directly from them. Through social media they're creating a window, opening a door, providing a gateway to their work in Congress.
HANSEN: I've noticed that in job postings for congressional communications directors, they require the candidates to have new media experience. So, you think this is indicative of a larger trend?
Ms. FINN: It's absolutely indicative of a larger trend. You know, I've even heard chiefs of staff to members of Congress, or the members themselves say, you know, my new media person is just as busy, if not more sometimes, than my traditional press person.
And for a member of the House of Representatives particularly, it's very difficult for them to get a lot of press. But when it comes to new media, the opportunities are limitless for them to put out information. You know, in the past, they might put out a press release and nobody picks it up. But now if they build up a network of blogger support, if they have a presence on Facebook or on Twitter and they put out that same information, it can go virally across the Internet.
HANSEN: Earlier this year YouTube actually launched official congressional video channels for the House and the Senate. It appears that Republican members of Congress are uploading videos at a faster rate than Democrats. Can you explain why?
Ms. FINN: I think 2008 was a big wake-up call to Republican members of Congress. You know, not only was it obvious that Republicans were behind when it came to using new media and technology, but the voters were in an uprising. The polls showed that the American people just did not like the Republican Party. And so, that provided an incentive to try a little bit harder - to try new ways to get the message out. Clearly, the old ways weren't working.
And that incentive has now translated into members of Congress taking the time to sit down and produce a YouTube video, valuing that type of communication. And especially when they see the results and they see the comments from people in their district who say, I saw you on YouTube, you know, thank you for appearing on a platform that is one that I use anyway for getting all types of information. The incentive has turned into action. And for someone like me, I can only be pleased by that type of activity.
HANSEN: Blogger and political consultant Mindy Finn.
YouTube news and politics manager Olivia Ma has also been monitoring the rise in GOP presence on the site this past year. She says in 2009, 430 members of Congress signed up to use YouTube channels.
Ms. OLIVIA MA (News and Politics Manager, YouTube): That's about 80 percent of Congress, which is just an enormous number. And the Republicans, it's been really interesting, they have been extremely eager since January. Eighty-nine percent of Republicans in Congress have now set up YouTube channels.
And we're seeing that they're using it in a lot of different ways. Some are sort of more structured, formal programs. We've done a Senator of the Week program. YouTube will work with one senator and highlight them for the week. And we saw that Senator John Cornyn, the Republican senator from Texas, used that as an opportunity to engage the community in their thoughts on the stimulus package.
And he invited users and citizens to react to it, you know, share their ideas for how the stimulus money should be used and talk about what it would mean for their community. And then he responded to the questions that were submitted and created a video, which he hosted on his channel.
HANSEN: Are there other examples?
Ms. MA: Absolutely. I mean, that's an example of a sort of more formalized program on YouTube. But we're seeing the Republican Whip, Congressman Eric Cantor, for example, when the health care debate was really kind of getting hot - it's been a big topic of discussion on YouTube this year - he created a mash-up video, where he took all of these different sort of testimonials from Republican doctors and put it into a video. These were all, sort of, expressing why they disagreed with Obama's health care plan. And this, you know, this video did really well on YouTube.
HANSEN: YouTube's Olivia Ma.
Republican strategists say it's imperative for politicians to create virtual relationships with their constituents. But Mindy Finn points out that House ethics rules aren't keeping up with the new ways politicians are using social media.
Ms. FINN: Right now it is somewhat unchartered territory. In fact, I think that's one of the reasons that members have taken to it so kindly is that it is more open and it is more free. You know, there's some restrictions in that some members have two Facebook accounts - they have their official account, they have their campaign account. That can be confusing at times because it's one individual who seems to have personas on the Internet, which is a little bit artificial. But it will certainly be interesting to see how it evolves over time.
HANSEN: Mindy Finn of the political consulting firm Engage.
We decided to check some Twitter feeds from members of Congress. This past Thursday, Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, tweeted: Disappointed the Senate just passed Obama care. I voted no. Battle is not over.
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