Big things in store for GovLoop

New owner plans to add staff, boost services and give the networking site a much broader audience

When GovDelivery announced last month that it was acquiring GovLoop, it was testament to the growing popularity of the social-media site for government employees. In existence for about 15 months, GovLoop already boasts more than 20,000 members. As part of the deal, founder Steve Ressler has left his job at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run GovLoop as a GovDelivery employee.

GovDelivery’s chief executive officer, Scott Burns, recently spoke with Federal Computer Week reporter Alice Lipowicz about why the provider of government-to-citizen communication tools was interested in the GovLoop community, the company’s plans for the site and how users have reacted to the announcement.

GovDelivery is a growing company. What has your focus been?

We are a software company in St. Paul, Minn., in business since 2000. We have raised $5 million in capital during that time, including $2 million in the last year. Dolan Media Co., based in Minneapolis, is the largest shareholder in GovDelivery and has a noncontrolling interest. All other investors are private individuals.

We have had our biggest growth year ever by quite a margin this year. The volume of government messaging we handle is going up. It took us seven years to get to 1 billion e-mails and only seven months to get to 2 billion. We needed to bring in more investment because we opened an office in the U.K. and have been building up our IT infrastructure.

How did you hear about GovLoop, and what was your first impression of the site?

We work with most federal agencies on their government-to-citizen efforts, social media and Web 2.0. We’d been looking for partners who are active in those areas and good at creating communities. I heard from a client to check out GovLoop.

Government’s use of social media is generally low value: An agency might put out a Twitter feed or launch a Facebook site. Before GovLoop, I had not seen social media really helping to further the mission by being oriented to solving problems.

On my first visit to GovLoop, I saw blog entries and people addressing problems in acquisition, human resources and technology…at their agencies. Seeing that level of activity and a variety of people commenting, I was really impressed.

How did you meet GovLoop’s founder, Steve Ressler?

I had just joined GovLoop about a week before the Fed 100 award dinner March 25. Steve and I were both Fed 100 awardees. That was right before we both attended the Gov 2.0 conference March 27. I think I e-mailed him before those events to say, “Hey, let’s make sure we connect.” When I arrived at the Fed 100 dinner, I recognized Steve from his photo. I just went up to him and started talking.

At that point, I had not thought about purchasing GovLoop. We’ve never purchased another company. We are a really small organization.

When Steve started talking about options for the site, I thought we [could] add a lot more value and help grow it faster. It was exciting to me. GovDelivery has some resources that would be really useful to GovLoop.

What are GovDelivery’s plans for GovLoop?

Steve is definitely leading the effort of where we are going with GovLoop. I don’t have any unique insight that Steve doesn’t have.

We have over 50 people, and that automatically adds resources for support and technology that obviously one person, working part time, does not have. By the end of 2009, we will have three to five people working on GovLoop.

Also, every day, between 10,000 and 100,000 people sign up for government alerts using GovDelivery’s platform. Someone arrives on a Web site for the state of Minnesota or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the U.K. Parliament and signs up to receive updates. We are very good at raising awareness of government content, and about 10 percent to 20 percent of our subscribers are from government. We think there are opportunities to encourage them to move content to, and collaborate in, GovLoop.

We are very good at building audiences, and we have a broad reach. We don’t own the users, so it will take the step of agencies moving content into GovLoop, and we believe many of them will want to do that.

As for monetizing the GovLoop site, Steve has talked about premium group products. You can continue to set up a free group, but if you want help with promoting and audience, GovLoop will provide that service at a fee. Also, there are creative ways to bring in sponsors that add value to the community, such as setting up user communities for people using products or services from different companies or setting up groups around issues like acquisition or cloud computing. You should not expect to see banner ads tomorrow, but we will have places on the site to add content and support.

What has been the reaction to the purchase of GovLoop?

Membership in GovLoop has grown by 14 percent since we announced the change — from 17,700 members to 20,200. I think that is a good indication that people are seeing it as a positive thing. The announcement was an opportunity to tell GovLoop’s story.

What is Steve Ressler’s role? Is this deal mainly about obtaining his services, as one analyst has suggested?

We provided Steve with some ownership in GovDelivery and GovLoop going forward, as part of the deal. He is an important part of the puzzle. You wouldn’t want GovLoop without Mr. GovLoop. He is an incredibly talented guy, and this is a fast-moving space. He’s been good at building community.

Anyone who doesn’t think the deal makes sense doesn’t understand our business very well. We move information around the Internet. If you are in that business, this is going to add so much value to us to have an additional collaborative space where we can encourage people to go. It is an amazing fit, and getting Steve’s talent on top of that, and getting his input going forward, is an important part of the puzzle. If we had just wanted to hire Steve, that would have been easier than bringing GovLoop into GovDelivery.

What about the people who say GovLoop won’t be the same now that it is no longer run by a government employee?

There might be some misconception there. GovLoop has always been open to the government sector. Steve always has been running it on his own, not as part of the government.

At the end of the day, people want to make sure the magic of GovLoop isn’t going to be ruined. Actions speak louder than words. People should watch and see. I believe it will be a really positive change. Everyone should give it a chance and watch and see how it develops.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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