Agencies learning to measure social media impact

Nearly every agency has embraced at least one of the 60 federally approved social-media platforms, and many have joined several. Now, agencies are turning to analytics to glean meaningful insights, improve their social media outreach and monitor the effectiveness of their platforms.

computer and network

The government has millions of public connections through social networks that grow daily with each agency’s new Facebook friend or Twitter follower. Yet although social media has been around for more than a decade, agencies are only now able to turn those services into an effective listening, sharing and communication tool.

Nearly every agency has embraced at least one of the 60 federally approved platforms, and many have joined several. But social government is about more than connectedness, and agencies are increasingly turning to analytics to glean meaningful insights, improve their social media outreach and monitor the effectiveness of their platforms.

To do that, they are using policies developed in the public sector, led by the General Services Administration, and new tools provided by private firms.

“Social media analytics [is] a trend that is gaining traction right now,” said Lauren Keates, a social intelligence analyst at Topsy Labs, a company that bills itself as having the only full-scale index of the public social web. “Some agencies have been using it for a little while, but there have been a lot of efforts to pick up and gain momentum over the past year.”

The company runs complex big-data analytics against millions of websites and hundreds of billions of tweets — it has stored every tweet since July 2010 — to create an amalgamation of insights that helps federal agencies improve their social media outreach.

Topsy screenshot

Topsy, one of several social media analytics tools, provides easy access to data about the effectivemess of an agency's efforts on networks such as Facebook and Twitter. (Click here for larger image)

Keates was unable to talk explicitly about all the company’s federal efforts, but she offered a few examples of how agencies can put those insights to use.

  •  One agency began using Topsy’s platform in August 2012 to improve its disaster relief and response efforts. The agency is taking advantage of Topsy’s geo-inferencing capability to zoom in on social media chatter in a specific region based on information contained within tweets. That approach helped the agency monitor hospital activity and point first responders toward survivors after Hurricane Sandy.
  •  Social media analytics is useful in helping to detect disease outbreaks by correlating searches for symptoms of a specific illness, such as the flu. Similarly, such insights could prove vital in responding to natural disasters — for example, by monitoring shock waves from earthquakes.
  •  Some agencies have turned to social media analytics to glean their constituents’ attitudes toward specific policies and decisions.

Deciphering the customer experience is one of the most important benefits of social media interaction, said Justin Herman, new media manager at GSA’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government.

“Measuring customer experience and satisfaction through social data includes sentiment analysis, which allows agencies to understand the effectiveness of programs through feedback and response,” Herman said. He added that agencies gathering this kind of data must adhere to the requirements of the Privacy Act of 1974, which regulates the collection and reporting of personally identifiable information.

“This data can be used to enhance programs and customer service on the spot,” Herman said.

GSA leads the way in helping structure how federal agencies measure the effectiveness of their social media campaigns and is currently one of 12 agencies in the governmentwide Social Media Community of Practice, which is developing performance metrics under the Digital Analytics Program that supports President Barack Obama’s Digital Government Strategy.

“The focus is on applying the right tools and the right strategies with the right data analysis to improve services,” Herman said. “Collaboration and standardization across government are enabling agencies to learn from each other and develop shared solutions to achieve common objectives.”

Herman said social government is not only here to stay, it’s going to continue evolving “to further enhance citizen services and lower costs” long into the future, and it will be up to agencies to stay ahead of the curve.

“Even after the term ‘social media’ itself becomes outdated, the potential of social data to help us better understand trends, influencers, emerging situations, and customer experience will continue evolving as new technologies and capabilities become available,” Herman said.

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