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Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions

People talk inside JP Morgan headquarters near a Twitter banner, before the firm's IPO in New York, October 25, 2013. Seeking to avoid a repeat of Facebook Inc's much-maligned public debut, Twitter Inc revealed more modest ambitions, saying its initial offering would raise up to $1.6 billion (987.8 million pounds) and value the company at up to about $11 billion.

Social media data – as part of the big data landscape – can serve an important signaling function for government organizations. Policy makers can quickly assess public opinion on draft policies to better gauge the potential impact on citizens, actively pull the ideas of citizens into the government innovation process, or use social media to provide citizens with lifesaving information during emergencies.

Big data collection and analysis are for many government organizations still unchartered waters. It is important to understand how to make sense of the massive amount of data that is produced on social media every day, especially in response to formal government updates. Before government organizations dive into measuring their social media interactions it is important to know how social media can support an agency’s mission. Governments should design a social media strategy and clear policies defining acceptable online behavior – both directing interactions originating from government, but also how citizens interact with government.

Public Sector Social Media Metrics

Only after these initial steps are done, government organizations can design metrics that help them monitor and evaluate their online interactions with citizens. I suggest the following core metrics:

  • Breadth- Assessing who interacts with the government
  • Depth- Measuring the superficiality of conversations
  • Loyalty- A return rate measure
  • Sentiments through qualitative insights- Evaluating the quality of citizen engagement
  • Combining offline and online data- Appending social media and traditional data sources

Social Media Innovation at the Interior Department

As a result of the monitoring efforts, agencies can adjust their social media behavior, abandon ineffective tactics, or increase successful interactions. A great example of continuously increasing online engagement is the Department of Interior’s Twitter account (@interior). Here the social media director, Tim Fullerton, noticed that a specific type of online content attracted a large number of followers who were directly interacting with government content through retweets, responses, and shares. In response the account now almost exclusively tweets amazing pictures from around the country, which triggers emotional responses from citizens. In addition, the account sends out timely information that citizens care about and want to receive, such as park openings, etc.

The insight public managers gain from social media metrics can help them make a business case to help top managers understand the organization’s social media impact. The business case can serve as a basis for management decisions to build and allocate organizational capacity or initiate changes in social media strategies as well as daily tactics.

You can find more details about these topics in a new report from IBM’s Center for the Business of Government in which I offer a survey of the social media measurement landscape showing what free tools are used and the type of insights they can quickly provide through constant monitoring and for reporting purposes. The report includes a review of the White House’s digital services measurement framework, which is part of the overall Digital Government Strategy. Next, I discuss the design steps for a social media strategy, which could serve as the basis for all social media efforts and should include the mission and goals, which the government could then operationalize and measure. Finally, I show how policy makers can align social media metrics with the strategic goals of an agency and how they can report these numbers and other qualitative insights to make a business case for the impact of social media interactions in government.

Access the full report here.

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