Social media provides new ways for agencies to listen

The way an agency perceives itself is often different than what the public really thinks, experts say

LAS VEGAS -- The use of social media is changing the way government agencies and companies deliver information, but the emerging technology should also change the way organizations listen, according to social media expert Jeffrey Sass.

Through listening, organizations can discover what people's real opinions are, Sass said Jan. 6 at a social media event at the Consumer Electronics Show.

In the same way word processing changed the way people write, social media will change the way organizations interact with the public, he said.

Essentially, social media provides us with the tools to listen much more effectively, with a much broader reach than we've ever been able to do before," Sass said. "Social media amplifies your ability to listen and engage, it is like listening on steroids. Literally with social media we can climb a wall to be apart of thousands of conversations."

For example, by researching social media conversations, Starbucks learned that its customers care about the taste of the coffee far more than anything else, such as the music played in stores, according Eric Weaver, an account director and strategist at Tribal DDB, a marketing firm.

Although the use of social media provides new ways to listen to the public, organizations should be prepared to hear a lot of criticism, Sass said. Inevitably, the gap between how organizations see themselves, and how the public views organizations is wide, he said.

"Social media gives each one of us the tools to be much more transparent than we ever could be before, but, by the same token, the public is extremely transparent," Sass said. "If they think your product or service sucks, you're going to hear about it. And, more importantly, everyone else is going to hear about it, too, via social media."

Sass recommended that organizations either pay for a service to track what people write about them on social networks, or do the tracking in-house.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 Jack Holt Arlington, VA

If you listen to whispers, you will not hear screams. - Cherokee proverb

Fri, Jan 8, 2010 Ken Washington, DC

Social media facilitates interaction, but it also provides a platform for investigation, which may lead to increased involvement, imagination and innovation. These are people attributes fostered by technology, however for all of this to make for better Government there must be an insistence upon integrity. Openness is a by product of social media, and because of this there will be some challenges that if we are not prepared to address and repair it could lead to the doom of social media.

Fri, Jan 8, 2010 Owen Ambur

Used in combination with the Strategy Markup Language (StratML) standard (ANSI/AIIM 21:2009), social media services can help to make much more efficient and effective the process by which agencies gather feedback on the goals and objectives set forth in the plans they are required to compile and maintain under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). For more information, see http://www.aiim.org/pressrelease/new-industry-standard-StratML.aspx & http://xml.gov/stratml/index.htm

Fri, Jan 8, 2010 edmond hennessy united states

This article puts things into perspective from the Government Agency standpoint and it is quite blunt in its message. Sounds like, the time has come for Agencies to apply fundamental market feedback to their regimen. On the flip-side, social media, as prolific as it is, can distort the key inputs needed to improve effectiveness. There is a lot of noise, self-interest and idle chatter that needs to be discriminated from the real, valuable market pulse. Hope Government Agencies do not go overboard on this and become narcissist or suffer from a "walking on eggshells" mentality, due to market feedback from social networks. Also, as always, believe the value and payback is on the interpretation/translation and action taken, not simply the collection of broad-based, feedback. Overall, social media networks can be a strong agent, though. Good to see that the technology and the user community have advanced to this level.

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