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Freshman rep: Social media is 21st century route to victory

By Jason Chaffetz, Special to CNN
  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz: Campaigns today are driven by use of social media
  • He says using social media is a great way to get a message out
  • He says constituents want to hear from their representatives, and they want to talk back

Editor's note: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, represents the 3rd District of Utah in Congress and is appearing in's "Freshman Year" series, along with Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado. Here, he talks about how his use of new media has helped him stand out among others in Congress and reach out to constituents.

Washington (CNN) -- At the House Republican strategy session in January, I stood before the Republican Conference and said, "I am your worst nightmare." It was a figure of speech, of course, but my point was that our campaign helped change the political equation for winning elections.

No longer is it enough to have big-name identification and big money to win. We demonstrated that principles and policy matter, and if you combine that with hard work and dynamic new media, young upstarts can beat incumbents in a big way. (I beat a 12-year incumbent in my own party, winning by 20 points.)

In order to survive in the current political climate, it's paramount to be on the cutting edge of technical trends. As a young freshman, it is challenging to distinguish myself among 434 other members. If I want to be relevant and productive, I have to work hard to get my message across. Using social media is a great way to do just that.

I stay in contact with people through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Other members of Congress have also jumped aboard the Online Express. These days, even John McCain is all-a-twitter over new social media.

See the latest episode of "Freshman Year"

Granted, my "tweets" will not replace town hall meetings or direct mail, but social media is an important outreach supplement. People like feeling connected to their elected officials. Residents of my district want their voices to be heard and want to be a part of the political process. It has been very important to me that my constituents don't have to wade through layers of bureaucracy to reach me.

Video: Freshman year in Congress

My Facebook page, for example, hosts hundreds of interactions each week from "supporters." I post frequently and engage in the comments. I never outsource this type of communication to staff. It's done entirely by me. That kind of attention builds trust with people. They know what I really think, and they develop a connection with me -- even if we disagree.

Twitter has become a particularly useful tool for me. I often tweet several times a day. Followers get an inside look at not only my job, but also my personality -- and sometimes my appetite.

When I came to Washington as a newly elected member of Congress, I got a few headlines for bringing a cot to sleep on in my office. Taking my inspiration from FDR's Fireside Chats in the 1930s and '40s, I began producing "Cotside Chats" that are featured on my Web site. These chats give me the opportunity to talk directly with my constituents about the issues I think are important.

Social media is a two-way street. It's a great way to deliver a message, and it's free. It also provides me with opportunities to listen to what is going on in the real world in real time.

With today's easy Internet access and the surging popularity of social networking, there's no excuse for politicians to remain in the 20th century. For me, embracing new media and increasing the accessibility for my constituents is a winning formula.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jason Chaffetz.