CDC, other agencies find social media an elixir for healthier public relations

CDC's social media efforts unexpectedly improved customer satisfaction

One unexpected benefit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention realized from its social media efforts is that they significantly improved how satisfied visitors were with the agency's Web site, according to a CDC official.

A recent survey found that visitors that used the CDC’s social media offerings were 5 percent more likely to be satisfied with the organization’s Web presence, Ann Aikin, the CDC’s social media team leader, said today at the Government Solutions Forum. Those who use the organization’s social media tools are more likely to return to the Web site and to recommend it to others, Aikin added.

“We also found that providing information in multiple formats, such as through widgets and Twitter, actually helps increase trust among our customers,” she said.

Aikin also recommended that federal agencies think beyond big social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube. The CDC is active in Sermo, a social networking site for physicians, and DailyStrength, a social network for people who need a support group, according to Aikin.

As the public comes to trust information coming from agencies’ social media outlets, federal organizations should be prepared for interest to grow quickly. For example, the CDC had about 2,500 followers on Twitter before the outbreak of H1N1 swine flu. Since then, CDC's Twitter following swelled to 1.25 million, Aikin said.

Crafting a successful social media strategy

One important way federal agencies can create successful social media tools is by understanding the users who will access it, according to Tina Cariola, the Transportation Security Administration’s program manager for IdeaFactory.

TSA’s IdeaFactory lets the organization’s employees submit ideas and vote and comment on other people’s ideas. One key to the program’s success was defining who the users of IdeaFactory would be, according to Cariola.

“We knew we had a large, geographically dispersed workforce,” Cariola said. “And we knew TSA agents are not sitting in front of a computer all day.” So IdeaFactory was designed to be simple and intuitive so employees could use it quickly and easily during the brief times they have access to a computer.

Another factor to IdeaFactory’s success is that its function is very focused, Cariola said. “Sometimes people will say, ‘Oh, you should allow people to post jokes on Idea Factory’ or ‘Can we post a question?’ she said. Those kinds of additions would likely hurt the tool, she added.

“We are IdeaFactory and our purpose is to collect ideas,” Cariola said. “It is not an e-Harmony [dating Web] site; we don’t share pictures or chat and interact with one another.”

As agencies build out social media tools, they should look at their entire workforce for help, according to Jim Wiedman, an enterprise architect with Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies.

Wiedman works at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and helped build the organization’s internal Spacebook application. A wide variety of NASA employees helped develop and build that social networking site, he said.

“NASA’s librarians were immensely helpful in designing Spacebook because they know how people look for research and they know how to organize information,” he said. “So by using them, we were able to better design our site.”

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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