'Social media as an applied science'

Two-year-old SocialGov is seeking a broader impact on the relationship between government and citizen.

Social Media Tree

In the two years since its launch, the SocialGov community has grown from a gathering of 100 people talking about an idea to a vibrant collective of 700 leading a movement in the federal space.

As SocialGov celebrated its two-year anniversary July 1, it also announced three new tools for agencies and the public. The federal social media accessibility, policy development and performance analytics toolkits are shared resources that provide a platform for collaborating and measuring program performance.

Justin Herman, SocialGov program lead at the General Services Administration, said his office is working to improve the program's infrastructure and ensure that all the information created is being shared. One way to do that is by making the toolkits accessible and able to be updated anytime for everyone to see.

"As we get larger and get more support, we're redoubling our efforts to create knowledge management systems to make sure we're providing the best value we can," Herman said.

He added that the next target is the Internet of Things, whose potential for government was evident at last month's SmartAmerica Expo, where real-world applications using government data and resources were demonstrated. GSA's DigitalGov office has been working with many players on that front, including its own 18F program, the application programming interface community and the Small Business Administration.

"We're not building the devices, but if we can be at the table making sure those devices are making citizens' lives easier, that's where we need to be," Herman said.

The SocialGov team, together with 18F and Data.gov, is also seeking to open data as a new frontier. In its own way, social media is a data community -- and one that is trying to break down the barriers than can separate people in the technology field, Herman said.

Officials also plan to work on the digital engagement side of the regulatory environment by evaluating processes and exploring easier ways to get responses and feedback from the public.

The skills of the people in the SocialGov office translate to much more than social media, Herman said. "Digital engagement people are really good experts at building, maintaining and getting value [out] of partnerships and communities," he said. "That's what makes us a great addition and supporter of programs."

It's one thing to open up datasets and put regulation information online, but it is another to have citizens engage with it, which is where Herman believes the SocialGov team can make an impact by building a citizen-centric experience.

"So many people sometimes think government social media is just marketing and PR," Herman said. "We're contributing to the infrastructure; working on how digital engagement can improve the regulatory process and accessibility of open data. We're treating social media as an applied science."

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