Summit stresses value of metrics in social media

Justin Herman

'We are unlocking next generation of government data for you to use and embed in your services.' -- Justin Herman, new media manager at the GSA’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government. (FCW photo by Frank Konkel)

Nearly every agency makes use of social media nowadays, but the next step in social government is for feds to evaluate the impact and value of their social media efforts.

That step may have come Feb. 19 at the Social Government Summit in Washington, D.C., at which a General Services Administration-led interagency working group unveiled two new initiatives that could help agencies unlock the full power of their social data.

All about metrics

The first initiative is a new baseline for social media metrics in federal agencies, providing agencies a sort of "how-to" for metrics consisting of four parts: Why metrics matter; how to use them; baseline social media metrics by category; and resources, training and feedback options.

Designed under the White House’s Digital Government Strategy, the metrics initiative focuses on 10 total metrics under seven major social media categories for analysis: Breadth, depth, direct engagement, loyalty, customer experience, campaigns and strategic outcomes.

"We are unlocking next generation of government data for you to use and embed in your services," said Justin Herman, new media manager at the GSA’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government, speaking to an audience composed largely of federal employees and social media experts.

Herman noted that the while recommendations in the metrics initiative put forth by the Federal Social Media Community of Practice are not mandatory for agencies to follow, the techniques, insights, guidance and tools outlined or provided within it are all free. That means using them comes with no cost, an attractive point for agencies that don’t have extra cash in their budgets, Herman said. Others, such as the National Institutes of Health, are actively shopping for data analytics tools to maximize their social media outreach.

A more detailed look at deeper social media measurements allowed under the metrics initiative can be found on a blog post outlining the initiative. A few examples from the post include:

• Percentage growth of target communities: Not just how big your community is, but how much is it growing?

• Conversions: Are people clicking the link in your tweet and consuming more content?

• Loyalty: Are people coming back to your content after the first visit?

• Sentiment analysis: Are people saying generally positive, negative, or neutral things about your program?

• Customer service: Do you have benchmarks for responding to your customers in a timely way?

A new API

GSA unveiled an application programming interface (API) from the Federal Social Media Registry. According to the blog post, the Registry "is a shared service that allows agencies to maintain an official inventory of all their social media accounts from over 20 different platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube."

The API allows users to open up content from government social media accounts, searchable by agency, topic or language, and that content can be "mashed up," Herman said, across an agency, topic or by keyword tags. The customizable feature here is particularly important, Herman said, and it applies not only to getting the word out about an agency’s latest announcement, but also to areas like disaster relief, where social media is rapidly playing an integral role.

"Imagine a world where if a storm hits, you (as a citizen) receive instant, verified information from public services," Herman said. "You can engage directly with its source, and it is customizable based on needs, without having to navigate bureaucracy, embedded where you are."

A "rock-star" group of innovators

The social media initiatives were delivered amongst presentations from some of the most innovative federal agencies in social media.

According to Sheila Campbell, director of GSA’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government, it was a "rock-star" group, composed of speakers from NASA, NIH, the United States Geological Survey, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, U.S. National Archives and the Departments of Education and Defense.

Among the highlights: USGS’ Tweet Earthquake Detection (TED) program, which uses social media to get a "heads up" on earthquakes; NASA’s 480 social media accounts, including those of 43 astronauts and one particularly famous Mars rover; and the Education Department using Twitter to answer college-bound student’s questions.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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Reader comments

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 Michael Crabtree Honolulu, HI

The Gov exhibits their misguided priorities by not understanding the limits of metrics. Especially by not being able to validate or test results against comparative measures. You can get trends from anything, but does it really provide an accurate response or assessment to what you are looking for? You need to appreciate the misinformation of metrics before you can utilize any given data. Reliance upon a metric without verification, validation of data, and comparative findings often results in the appearance of ignorance or incompetence. Take FEMA and Katrina.

Sat, Feb 23, 2013 Sam Ok

I would like not to see a metric on how much someone uses social media but what is their productivity. We seem to assume that using social media makes people more productive but I agree with the person above until you can develop a metric that shows otherwise

Wed, Feb 20, 2013

Just looking at folks I know, I see a skewed metric here. Many of my daughter's friends (15-22 years old) who are unemployed or on welfare of one form or another spend a lot of time on face book and have several different identities. A lot of grandparents who are in the "upper" income areas spend a lot of time just looking at the grandkid's pictures. Some of my co-workers have a life and only use face book because others in the extended family do instead of snail-mail, phone or email and that is the only way to get information on family happenings. A lot of people I know do not use it at all, some are like the kids and are on it all the time, and some of them also have multiple identities (helps to stir the pot with controversy).

I see a consensus being formed that is based on those who are less productive and more of takers, while those who are productive are ignored because they are not "in" with social media, but are out "doing" and paying.

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