Citizen Engagement

From social media to social metrics

Sheila Campbell

Social media platforms are increasingly used to better understand what people are doing and saying, says GSA's Sheila Campbell.

Remember when social media was new and different, and agencies scrambled to get a presence on Facebook and Twitter?

That time has passed, and now most federal agencies, with guidance from the General Services Administration, have a presence on one or more of some 60 social media platforms.

As the technology has become an integral part of how agencies communicate with the public and share information, a new trend has emerged, one that puts a data-driven onus on agencies to make use of their social connections.

"We’re seeing a real trend and emergence in using these platforms to better understand what people are doing [and] saying, and how they’re engaging," said Sheila Campbell, director of GSA’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government.

Campbell was one of several panelists who talked about social media analytics at the Feb. 12 Adobe Government Assembly in Washington. "It’s really a shift from social media to social data," she said. "We want to know what is being clicked on, sharing information -- those are the kinds of metrics we’re looking at."

Melanie Solomon, a solutions consultant on Adobe Systems’ public-sector team, said social metrics are the future of social media for federal agencies. Generating content is great, but discovering how it is consumed and shared will help agencies build strategies for a better return on their investment.

"Bringing together all the data -- connecting it and taking measurements -- allows us to come back and look at what has worked and what hasn’t, and we can make tweaks and continue forward down that path," Solomon said.

Campbell said agencies that want senior management support for social government initiatives will have to demonstrate impact, which will be a big change for agencies.

It is not enough, she said, for agencies to distribute a press release via Facebook or promote a certain agency hashtag on Twitter. There are many programs -- some costly, some free -- that can help users track where their shared content ends up, but Campbell said agencies can begin improving their social efforts by improving the content they share.

For example, formal press statements that toe the agency line are unlikely to connect with a typical public audience, Campbell said.

"You may be blasting a ton of information out there, but if it is not authentic, you may be static," she added. "You’re missing opportunities to engage, and it comes across as agencies not being interested in conversation."

Agencies have a place to turn for help. The GSA-led Social Media Performance Metrics Working Group provides guidance to agencies on social media metrics, analysis, performance and other activities. It promotes many low-cost tools that help agencies make sense of their social media data.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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