GSA using StumbleUpon to bring visitors to federal websites

Twenty million Web users prefer to randomly stumble upon interesting content online than to search for it—and now government agencies including the General Services Administration are targeting them.

The GSA recently expanded its presence on the popular StumbleUpon social media platform to distribute federal agency content within the StumbleUpon ecosystem and generate more traffic to federal websites.

StumbleUpon, with about 20 million users, has become the largest generator of referrals on the Web in recent months, making it an increasingly important source of Web traffic.

In the last six months of 2011, StumbleUpon was the source of 50 percent of all Web referrals from major social networks; followed by Facebook, with 36 percent. Twitter, Reddit, Digg and Google+ were not major contributors, accounting for 13 percent of referrals between them, Jack Krawczyk, senior product marketing manager, said in a webinar on Feb. 28 presented by the GSA and the Federal Web Managers Council.

Similar to Tumblr, another popular social media service, StumbleUpon was designed for people hoping to discover new and exciting Web content. The users generally do not know exactly what they are looking for. They press a “Stumbleupon” button on the site to randomly generate content on the site that matches their pre-selected interests.

Stumbleupon users spend an average of 7 hours a month on the site—in comparison to 5.3 hours a month on Facebook and 1.5 hours a month on Google, Krawczyk said.

“When you know exactly what you want, you spend less time. Finding exactly what you are looking for can be boring,” Krawczyk said. The StumbleUpon users, by contrast, are hoping that serendipity will work in their favor to discover compelling content, he added.

Users can provide content and links to StumbleUpon, which become part of the StumbleUpon ecosystem. Or they can establish channels to become regular distributors of content.

In December 2011 the GSA created a USA.gov channel on StumbleUpon that distributes general interest content from other federal websites.

Each day, the USA.gov channel on StumbleUpon posts two new pieces of content originating from other federal agencies. The publishing is done automatically.

For example, the USA.gov channel recently published an article from the Treasury Department on volunteers to help with tax preparation, which has received about 20 views, and an article from the Health and Human Services Department on eating disorders, which has been viewed 20,000 times. An unspecified portion of the views can be attributed to USA.gov referrals from StumbleUpon.

To date, the GSA channel has published 201 Web pages on the StumbleUpon site and has drawn 500 followers, said Michelle Chronister, program analyst with GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, who also spoke in the webinar.

The updating of the StumbleUpon site has been configured to occur automatically, and the content is repurposed from USA.gov.

“One of the advantages of StumbleUpon is that it does not take a lot of work on our part,” Chronister said. The goal is to generate traffic for federal websites, and while the results are not always easy to measure, there have been some noticeable traffic increases reported by agencies as a result of StumbleUpon referrals, she said.

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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