Is your agency getting the most out of its social media efforts?

Tuesday - 6/24/2014, 2:41pm EDT

Ines Mergel, Associate Professor, Syracuse University

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By Stephanie Wasko
Special to Federal News Radio

Government agencies have hopped on the social media bandwagon, but they can be doing more to evaluate and leverage their posts, comments and tweets, according to a new report.

Ines Mergel, Associate Professor, Syracuse University

"It is necessary to create a strategic vision of social media's implementation in the form of a social media strategy that focuses on mission and fits into the existing e-government processes and communication strategy," said Ines Mergel, an associate professor at Syracuse University and author of the IBM Center for the Business of Government report released this month. "Social media policies then regulate both employee and citizen behavior when they are interacting online with government."

The report offers agencies ideas on how to better collect, analyze and interpret social media data to understand citizens' responses to their actions.

"One social media director told me, 'What we do is, we are testing, with social media, some of the policies that are in the draft state,'" Mergel said in an interview on Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp. "They are saying, 'We are thinking about these changes. What do you think?' Actively pulling in what citizens might be thinking, what the impact might be, and that goes far beyond the policy analyst's research that is contributing to the final policy document."

The report explores five measures that could help managers make better business decisions: breadth, depth, loyalty, deriving sentiments through qualitative insights and combining offline and online data.

  • Breadth: Mergel tells Federal News Radio, breadth involves understanding who agencies reach with their social media. The report highlights the importance for the government to understand who its audience is in order to effectively communicate with it. In other words, "Are you speaking the language of the people you're serving?" Mergel said.

  • Depth: Depth refers to how the information is used by readers or the media. The report highlights tracing conversations and following citizen responses as examples of measuring depth.

  • Loyalty: The readers who return to an agency's social media outlets on a regular basis make up the "loyalty" measurement. The report said this group of loyal followers can be tracked and can provide helpful insight to agencies.

  • Sentiment Analysis: The numerical data brought in by social media such as followers, retweets and comments is helpful for evaluating if people are paying attention, IBM stated. The report found it is also important for agencies to read the responses to their published material to gain a more qualitative understanding.

    "I believe sentiment analysis is one of the most critical points," Mergel said, "You still need that human aspect, a human component, to go through and get anecdotes of the data that go beyond the numerical data you receive."

  • Combining online and offline data: IBM found that social media data is more informative when evaluated with other data sources either offline or online. According to the report, combining data sources can provide agencies with tangible results regarding time or money values or intangible results which can indicate mood or behavior change.

As agencies begin better evaluating their social media data, Mergel said it is important for them to use social media to build trust with citizens. She said this trust would be crucial in emergency situations when citizens need to be alerted and to act.

"An open government, a government that communicates with its constituents, is going to be a more effective government," one agency social media director quoted in the report said. "I think our government recognizes that and this is how people communicate now. If we want to communicate with people, this is where we have to be."

Stephanie Wasko is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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