How House Oversight Conquered YouTube and What It Means

Dedication and tech savvy help, but content is still king.

So what does it take to rise to the top in federal social media? Well, dedication and tech savvy help, but content is still king.

This lesson is borne out by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which recently crossed a milestone: 2 million video views on its YouTube page. That blows away any other dedicated committee page in the House or Senate.

Those viewers aren’t flocking to dry hearing videos, though.

The most viewed video by far -- responsible for nearly 300,000 of the 2 million views -- is the one that beggars belief of General Services Administration staffer and rising Reggae star Hank Terlaje at the agency’s now infamous Western District conference singing about spending building operations funds “all on fun” and evading inspector general investigations.

An extended cut of the video, including more footage from the GSA awards show is the second most viewed video on the site, responsible for another 140,000 views, according to a list provided by Justin LoFranco, deputy director of digital strategies for Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The top five list is rounded out by largely partisan videos created by the committee’s Republican majority -- with titles like POTUS Wants a Press Event, accusing President Obama of wasting taxpayer dollars, and Signs of a Failed Stimulus: Be a Citizen Watchdog.

The next five videos, though, include some vegetables along with the red meat, including a full hearing on cybersecurity that was viewed a whopping 35,000 times.

A hearing on the Operation Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal was the 13th most viewed video on the site.

The most important lesson to draw from the Oversight Committee’s success is that committee-level YouTube pages are capable of drawing a crowd.

Only a handful of congressional committees have dedicated pages now and most of them, such as the House Ways and Means and Homeland Security pages, hover under 100,000 views.

Committee pages, if properly managed, could offer a broader array of content to the public than individual member pages and YouTube would offer a more versatile platform and broader audience to committees than the dot-gov pages where most of them store their hearing videos.

Most member pages also have less than 100,000 views, with the exception of some heavy hitters, such as House Speaker John Boehner, who has more than 4 million views and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who tops 6 million views.

YouTube doesn’t index committee pages as it does for the pages of individual members of Congress.

A second lesson is that committee YouTube pages can do more than one thing.

It’s likely no mistake that the page of one of the most partisan committees is also the most popular. YouTube is largely a medium for entertainment, after all, and partisanship is more entertaining than straight policy. And, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a committee tasked with exposing government waste and abuse making its case to the public in an engaging way.

But Oversight leaders have also made an admirable attempt to use their page for bipartisan ends when appropriate. Chairman Issa and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., for example, appeared together in a video supporting the bipartisan Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which increases the transparency of federal agency spending.

And at least a few YouTubers likely went to the Oversight page for partisanship and ended up picking up a little cyber policy.

One final lesson: A snappy title that piques curiosity means a lot in the Internet age. Even the difference between Meehan Getting Answers on Fast & Furious [21,000 views] and Senator Menendez at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing [154 views] can mean a lot.

Speaking of that video from the page of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., if you have a special guest star, why not mention it up top?

And a note to webmasters at the Senate YouTube hub: Time to update your "featured content." Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., retired after the 2010 midterms.