By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Facebook for government, part two

In my last blog post, I discussed a great newly issued document called The Government’s Guide to Using Facebook, produced by a collaboration between Facebook and GovLoop.

The end of the guide features five agency success stories. Of them, only one (Veterans Affairs) is a federal agency; most are local governments.

Here are some of the things I found helpful in the discussion of the VA:

-- “We like to call our approach ‘sugar in medicine,’” said Reynaldo Leal, a VA public affairs specialist. “A little bit of a sugar, a little bit of medicine. You have to give them the information, because that’s what you’re there for, but you can also give them daily content that your audience looks forward to.”  (Wow, old government-style thinking here! God forbid that providing content the audience enjoys is a goal in itself.)

-- “Keep experimenting with what makes a successful post and what reaches your audience,” said Megan Moloney, VA’s director of digital media engagement. “We’ve taken a lot of metrics and insights, and we’ve sort of just put it into a big equation and sort of tried to do the best we can around it and experiment.” The VA has found, through trial and error, that humanizing posts and making content personal make a successful combination. About a year ago their page started carrying a daily post called #VeteranOfTheDay. They feature a photo of a veteran and a paragraph telling the story of how, where, and why that veteran served. “That feature is content that people look forward to and are also engaged with,” Leal said. “And in fact, it’s content that’s often audience-generated from people who are submitting veterans to be a part of the feature.”

-- The page deletes bad language or racist remarks. “But anything else — negative sentiments, or things we disagree with — we keep up. That’s important to keep up there because in a way, that’s your customer feedback, and even if it is negative, you need to display it.”

-- Just as smart members of Congress learned long ago to look for patterns in constituent mail about problems with government agencies as a source of information that could be useful in determining where there were more general problems that needed the member’s attention, the VA social media people take information from concerns or negative thoughts and send it to the relevant parts of the organization.

One of the big benefits of Facebook for government – like hackathons, which I discussed in a recent blog post – is the very fact that they represent a different way for the government to do its business, and thus mix things up inside an agency in what I think is a generally very positive way. 

They exemplify and model a more informal, more accessible, more – dare I say it – normal way for human beings who are government officials and human beings who are just human beings to interact with each other. That’s good to help government change for the better.

And using the information coming into social media, over the boundary between the agency inside and the public outside, represents a low-tech version of data mining and data analytics that makes valuable use of the folks in the organization working on social media to help their organization more broadly.

Posted by Steve Kelman on May 21, 2015 at 1:12 PM


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