Five Steps to More Effective Government 2.0 Initiatives

By investing in a strategy of goal-setting, measurement, and adjustment, government agencies can turn social media from a random, trendy exercise into an accurate, effective initiative that can support their larger organizational strategies and goals.

By Mark Madsen, Founder, Third Nature

Editor’s Note: Mark Madsen will be presenting a session on “Social Media, Web 2.0, and BI: Extending the BI Portfolio” at the TDWI 2011 Government Summit on April 5, 2011 in Crystal City, Virginia.

Nearly all large federal agencies are now using social media tools, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and many have had great success. These include NASA (which has effectively used Twitter, Facebook, and other channels to keep the public extensively informed about its various missions), the State Department (which has 145,000 followers on its Facebook fan page), and the Department of Defense (which has thousands of Facebook pages available and relies on blogs, Twitter and other social media tools to drive traffic to its Web sites and boost its reputation and recruiting efforts).

The use of social media clearly promises many benefits to government agencies, but unfortunately too many organizations -- in both the public and private sectors -- have jumped into this brave new world without knowing what they want to achieve.

This type of technology exuberance, as I like to call it, is akin to having no strategy at all -- and can be costly. Organizations that open Twitter accounts and Facebook pages without an upfront plan are likely to waste time and financial resources. They also may end up sending messages that run counter to their policies with no way of knowing what damage they may be doing to their organizations. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to quantify any real ROI or benefits realized from social media endeavors and investments.

Therefore, it is essential to keep in mind that social media, for all its glitter, is first and foremost a tool -- a means to an end -- and it needs to be treated like any other strategy or investment that is monitored, measured, and analyzed.

To maximize social media value for an organization, the following five-step approach is required:

Set a goal. Agencies must first determine what they want to achieve with the different social media applications. Is the goal to more effectively inform the public about specific aspects of agency performance? Increase traffic to the agency Web site or to specific pages? Bolster the reputation of the government organization or change public opinion about a certain service or program? Increase citizen engagement or improve citizen service? There even can be sub-goals that are highly specific. For example, one might decide that the agency will use Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail blasts to ensure that at least half of the target audience is aware of a program and its eligibility requirements.

Determine metrics. Once an agency sets a goal and determines its social media objectives, it can select which metrics will verify that these tools are achieving its goals. If a social media application is intended to promote the agency or increase awareness of a certain program, for example, metrics might include the number of positive mentions within the various channels (such as the total number of Twitter and Facebook followers) or the number of re-tweets or recommendations members make.

Measure. It is difficult for any single organization to keep track of social media, but there are several services that will track channels (including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and the blogosphere) or monitor the Web and e-mail. Once reports and raw numbers arrive, the agency needs to plug the data into a spreadsheet or database, integrate the data, and perform individualized analytics to determine whether the social media tools are meeting objectives or if the approach needs to be adjusted.

Baseline. Measuring takes place over time, but first, it is critical to get a baseline measure of what is deemed to be “normal” or average performance. Without that reference point, there is no way to know what the number of people commenting on the agency Facebook page truly means and whether it brings the organization any closer to the stated goals. It could be that there is an expected spike in activity on Mondays, or it could be a real response to something posted over the weekend. Measuring against the baseline will enable government professionals to accurately analyze their experience online.

Cycle Forward. Eventually, each agency will need to continuously measure against its evolving baseline, determine the outcomes and effects, and modify programs to be most responsive to user requirements. With each step, it is expected that social media managers will have to take new actions (such as publishing new content) and expect new outcomes (for example, getting a new round of feedback from citizens). Subsequently, agency goals may change as a result and may require updates to the performance indicators and measurement criteria. To be most effective in aligning agency mission with these new forms of communication and feedback, an ongoing implementation, review, and refreshment cycle is required.

Measuring social media outcomes is not an accurate business because much of what organizations try to measure -- reputation or citizen mood, for example -- can be subjective. By investing in a strategy of goal-setting, measurement, and adjustment, agencies can turn social media from a random, trendy exercise into an accurate, effective initiative that can support their larger organizational strategies and goals.

Mark Madsen has spent the past two decades working on analysis and decision support projects in many industries. He is the founder of Third Nature, a research and consulting firm focused on emerging technology and practices in analytics, BI and information management. You can reach Mark via http://ThirdNature.net or on Twitter @markmadsen.