Government finding a measured voice on social media

[originally posted on NextGov.com]

Social media is here to stay. There is no question about that, especially after Facebook reached 1 billion users and Twitter surpassed the 500 million-account mark. What is less clear, however, is how government organizations can respond to the changing communication demands of citizens who want government to use social media in a meaningful, interactive and engaging fashion.

Agencies face a tough challenge: Citizens demand participation and responsiveness via social media – otherwise they complain or even mock government. But organizational missions and standard operating procedures do not allow for the fast and furious back-and-forth conversations on social networking sites. Instead, they mostly see social media as an additional channel for providing information to an audience that prefers to receive news and updates in a newsfeed. After all, government organizations are not in the business of competing for followers, fans, or to create peaks and spikes in their online communication. They are also not looking for volunteers, donors, or new customers whose interest they must spark over and over again to keep them coming back and buying their products.

In general, government missions are much simpler and focus on providing a trustworthy public service upon which citizens can rely. The existing information and communication paradigm is highly hierarchical with standard operating procedures that don’t necessarily support the 140-character news cycle. Instead, blog posts, Facebook and Twitter updates have to be carefully crafted to avoid confusion, rumors, and misinformation. There is rarely an update that goes out without revisions and explicit approval after carefully considering the potential impact or consequences. In this risk-averse communication environment, social media constitutes a departure from the existing standards.

Agencies’ current approach to using social media focuses on broadcasting pre-existing information. They don’t use social media channels to replace traditional media, instead they add social media channels to the mix and to share content that is also available through other channels, such as websites or mailings. Rarely do agencies and departments venture out to actively interact and engage in a conversational style in their newsfeeds on social media. A colloquial tone, sarcasm or jokes — the Internet’s fuel — can be misinterpreted or may even lead to misunderstandings. Many social media innovations develop as government officials experiment with different tactics, gain more experience, learn what tactics work and what should be avoided in the future.

In this new problem space, in which regulations and rules follow the changes in observed online behavior of citizens, it is necessary to create functions and standard operating procedures that help government agencies interact online. GSA has taken a first step and provides guidance on HowTo.gov: The social media registry was launched earlier this year. The tool allows government users to register their official social media accounts, so that journalists and researchers can verify their authenticity. This increases confidence in the nature of the account.

Similarly, internal workflows for crafting, reviewing, revising, and scheduling social media messages need to be designed to reduce the risks associated with the professional use of social media. An example is the recently launched “Measured Voice” social media workflow tool. Jed Sundwall, who presented the tool at the “Code for America Summit” in San Francisco in October, describes measured voice:

Government needs to be thoughtful about their social media postings. Agencies can’t post in real time answers to Facebook’s ‘What is happening?’. Instead, they have to be measured, reliable and accessible. They don’t have to draw attention to themselves.

Sundwall, a contractor working on USA.gov and gobiernoUSA.gov, noticed early on that government agencies need a tool to organize their collaborative workflow in a distraction free environment to craft social media messages. The “Measured Voice” platform allows editorial teams to go back and forth during the editing process. Each team can define different roles: For example, writers craft the initial message, editors then rewrite and approve before the final messages are posted to an agency’s social media platform. The platform — kept simple outside of Facebook and Twitter to avoid distractions — helps to schedule updates: A feature that is especially important to avoid distractions from other important tasks government has to perform, for example emergency management situations or face-to-face interactions with citizens:

Source: Screenshot provided by Jed Sundwall, Measured Voice

Social media updates – fit into 140 characters on Twitter, or a few lines on Facebook — absorb more time than a press release that allows more space for longer explanations. Sundwall points to a recent FBI update on Twitter that was carefully crafted and provided all the necessary information to diffuse the rumor that computers were stolen:

As citizens and government experts become more social media savvy they will focus their activities more on networking opportunities that citizens demand and social media platforms support. Government organizations will also invest more in understanding if they are truly reaching the right audiences. Measuring the impact of social media interactions is therefore a core task that every agency should carefully consider. All social media interactions need to serve one purpose: to fulfill the mission of the organization. Only if online interactions are designed to support the mission will they provide both tangible and intangible benefits for government and its diverse audiences. Government agencies are just now starting to think about metrics that go beyond the quantitatively measurable insights, such as the number of retweets a Twitter update receives, or the number of Facebook comments citizens are willing to leave. There is, however, more: Social media engagement can be measured on different levels of an engagement scale.

  • The number of retweets a Twitter update receives is an important indicator of short-term attention paid to a specific update or event and are mostly context-relevant.
  • The number of followers and “likes” can indicate long-term community building and the degree to which citizens will actively follow updates — an indication of continuing interest in government updates.
  • Leaving comments or actively asking questions shows even more engagement – and at times even concern for mission-related issues.

Attracting too much attention, however, is not in the interest of most agencies (except emergency management agencies that are involved in ongoing disaster relief and prevention). Instead, for most agencies a continuous attention curve without many spikes and peaks is the best indicator that they are providing a reliable information flow to their audiences.

As Sundwall notes “Government agencies are not out to advertise for ‘The best driver’s license in town’-attraction and don’t need to draw attention to their operations.” Measured Voice therefore looks at the 100-message average in attention and provides feedback to its users in the form of smileys. But don’t make them smile too much; there might be too much good or bad press waiting for you!

Metrics have become an invaluable source of real-time information for government — when they measure the right type of engagement. Moreover, measuring for the sake of data accumulation will not help social media managers make their case. Instead, data needs to be carefully interpreted. Based on the insights government agencies should adjust their social media tactics.

Government users can sign up for the private beta of Measured Voice at http://measuredvoice.com/govbeta

New book published: “Social Media in the Public Sector”

I am excited to announce the release of my first sole-authored book: “Social media in the public sector“. It will be officially introduced to the public at the annual NASPAA conference in Austin, TX, on October 18, 2012.

The book is based on my research that started about three years ago. My initial interest started with the success of  Obama’s Internet strategy to reach audiences via social media who are unlikely to interact with politicians or government in general. As the open government initiative developed in the U.S. federal government, I started to interview public managers to understand how they are (re)organizing their standard operating procedures to use social media for regular governing operations in support of the mission of their organizations. The book provides insights into the strategic, managerial, and administrative aspects of social media adoption in the public sector.

The publisher’s book page includes resources for professors who would like to use the book in their e-government classes, including week-by-week Powerpoint slides and an article published in the Journal of Public Affairs Education that outlines my teaching approach and learning experiences.

The book went through a thorough double-blind peer-review process and I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their invaluable feedback.

Next month an accompanying field guide will be released.

Here is a link to the instructor resources on Jossey-Bass/Wiley’s website.

Blurb:

In today’s networked world, the public sector is tapping into new media applications to increase government organizations’ participation, transparency and collaboration. The book contains a review of the current state of the public administration literature and shows how Government 2.0 activities can potentially challenge or change the existing paradigms. It includes an overview of each of the tools used to increase participation, transparency and collaboration. The book also highlights case examples at the local, state, federal and international levels. The author offers recommendations for the implementation processes at the end of each chapter and includes suggested readings and references.

Endorsements

Comprehensive and compelling, Social Media in the Public Sector makes the case that to achieve Government 2.0, agencies must first adopt Web 2.0 social technologies. Ines Mergel explains both how and why in this contemporary study of traditional institutions adopting and adapting to new technologies.
Beth Simone Noveck, United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer (2009-2011)

Ines Mergel moves beyond the hype with detailed, comprehensive research on social media technologies, use, management and policies in government. This book should be required reading for researchers and public managers alike.
Jane Fountain, Professor and Director, National Center for Digital Government, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Professor Mergel has produced a foundational work that combines the best kind of scholarship with shoe-leather reporting and anthropology that highlights the debates that government agencies are struggling to resolve and the fruits of their efforts as they embrace the social media revolution. Social Media in the Public Sector is a first and sets a high standard against which subsequent analysis will be measured.
Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

Dr. Mergel is an award-winning author who again wields her story skills in this book. She excels in explaining in concrete, practical terms how government managers can use social media to serve the public. Her book puts years of research into one handy guide. It’s practical. It’s readable. And it’s an essential read.
John M. Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of Government

#SocialCongress: Brad Fitch, CEO, Congressional Management Foundation reviews social media use by Members of Congress

Bradford Fitch, CEO and President of the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), joined the “Social media and the 2012 election” class earlier this semester to share insights from a new report on the use of social media by Members of Congress.

Mr. Bradford talked about the many different channels offices are using to respond to their constituents in their home districts. A remarkable take-away from the talk: about 80% of the communication volume is generated by what Mr. Fitch calls “roaring lions”, large professional organizations that are interacting with Members of Congress.

Here are the two videos of Mr. Fitch’s presentation and conversation with the students:

Chinese Translation of my PA Times article “Government 2.0 Revisited”

My friends Ya Li, Professor at School of Management and Economics, Beijing Institute of Technology, China, and Sisi Zheng, former EMPA student at the Maxwell School have translated my 2010 PA Times article “Government 2.0 Revisited: Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector” into Chinese.

The article is available online. Here is the full reference:

Ines Mergel. 2012. Gov 2.0 Revisited: Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector. Journal of Chinese Public Administration. Vol.28, Issue 7(July), Page 128. (in Chinese).

 

Twitter transparency report released

Twitter released its first Transparency Report highlighting the number of times they received:

The report shows that the U.S. government has asked Twitter 679 times to reveal user information since January 2012, followed by Japan with 98 and Canada and the United Kingdom with 11 requests each. All other countries listed in the report asked <10 times to reveal user information. In response to government requests to remove tweeted content, Twitter removed content 0% of the time.

Following Google’s transparency report, Twitter submits all requests to @ChillingEffects in order to keep the tweets flowing and ultimately protect freedom of expression online:

A Manager’s Guide to Designing a Social Media Strategy – IBM Center for the Business of Government

IBM’s Center for the Business of Government has just released a special report titled “A Manager’s Guide to Designing a Social Media Strategy“. The report is based on my research and ongoing conversations with social media directors in the U.S. federal government.

From the report:

The 2009 White House Open Government Directive requires all federal government agencies in the U.S. federal government to “open new forms of communication between government and the people.” In response, agencies quickly adopted a wide range of social media platforms, such as blogs, wikis, webcasts, and social networking sites that have become popular channels to increase participation, transparency and collaboration of government agencies with the public. However, there were few government-wide standards. In June 2011 the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) therefore released a report urging federal agencies to set up policies and procedures for managing and protecting information they access and disseminate on social media platforms (GAO-11-605).

Social media encourages widespread spontaneous use and the platform providers frequently change the technological features. Government agencies therefore need to develop clear guidelines so that social media administrators, lawyers, public affairs officials, etc. are all on the same page to avoid violations of and compliance with existing laws and regulations.

This Manager’s Guide is designed to provide a quick overview of issues agency managers need to address as they engage in the social media world. It is organized into three parts. The first part outlines the main components of a social media strategy. The questions posed in this section can be used to help design an organization’s social media strategy. The second part presents tactics that government organizations can use so that social media can help fulfill the mission of their organization. The final part presents support available from the General Services Administration (GSA) to assist agencies in their social media activities.

Facebook lessons tweeted from GSA’s #SocialGov event

I couldn’t keep my eyes off the #socialgov Twitter stream today: GSA was hosting a government-only social media day with great guest speakers from Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The participants were very generous and tweeted soundbites from the speakers. I am linking to a few tweets here to share them with others outside Twitter and the federal government. Btw – follow all of them – always great insights and interesting social media innovations:

Facebook’s Katie Harbarth provided the following insights for community pages:

Book announcement: Social media in the public sector

Jossey-Bass/Wiley will be publishing my first book titled “Social Media in the Public Sector: A Guide to Participation, Collaboration, and Transparency in the Networked World” this fall. The book is available for preorder on Amazon.com or directly on the publisher’s website:

In today’s networked world, the public sector is tapping into new media applications to increase government organizations’ participation, transparency and collaboration. The book contains a review of the current state of the public administration literature and shows how Government 2.0 activities can potentially challenge or change the existing paradigms. It includes an overview of each of the tools used to increase participation, transparency and collaboration. The book also highlights case examples at the local, state, federal and international levels. The author offers recommendations for the implementation processes at the end of each chapter and includes suggested readings and references.

A compendium field guide for practitioners will be published a month later. I co-authored the field guide with Bill Greeves and it is also available for preorder on Amazon.com.

This hands-on practical guide (and companion to the Social Media in the Public Sector) offers a ready-to-use reference to help readers move smoothly through the development and deployment of effective new media strategies and policies within their own organizations. The book is filled with illustrative examples, screenshots, diagrams and graphics. Written to be engaging and accessible, the guide has minimal technical jargon, acronyms or “govspeak”. The guidebook includes case studies in the words of those who have implemented new media strategies and an accompanying community-driven website with links to the authors’ blogs and practitioner social networks.

Obama campaign’s “Holy Grail”: Dashboard

A recent article in the Guardian pointed to the Obama campaign’s “Holy Grail” of campaign technology: the so-called “Dashboard“. The “data acquired by volunteers from voters canvassing in Ohio will immediately be synced with that gathered by those running phonebanks in New Hampshire and with the outreach efforts of volunteers at myBarackObama.com, giving campaign bosses a real-time master view of the president’s re-election efforts throughout the country.” According to the article, “more than 100 statisticians, predictive modellers, data mining experts, mathematicians, software engineers, bloggers, internet advertising experts and online organizers” are still working on verifying that the tool is working according to plan before more details are released.

The idea is to provide local campaigners a tool that allows them to tap into their own local social networks and collaboratively conduct all the tasks online. The article talks about a collaborative building experience similar to Zynga’s Farmville, where players are using the support of their online social

Right now there is not much to see – only a sign up screen, but in the following YouTube video, Jeremy Bird –  Obama’s director of field organizing – explains the idea behind the dashboard:

Jeremy Bird defines the Dashboard in the video as :

  • the organizing network working to reelect President Obama,
  • an online nation-wide field office,
  • connecting supporters and bringing them the best tools to build the campaign in their community;
  • after signing up, supporters are connected to the grassroots network;
  • stay up to date on upcoming local events;
  • join a neighborhood team to register, persuade voters (a group of local volunteers);
  • build relationships with volunteers in the neighborhood;
  • Dashboard helps local volunteers to bring the national campaign office to their own desktop;
  • Call voters, report progress, see photos, updates from local team members, helps to organize day-to-day tasks

Facebook’s new roles for pages

Facebook has introduced new roles for pages (see graphic). The manager of a page can assign the following roles:

  • Content Creator
  • Moderator
  • Advertiser
  • Insight Analyst

What is unclear to me is that the manager of the page does not have the same rights as the other roles and is not able to create content, edits the page, add apps, respond to and delete comments, send message, create ads, or view insights. It’s probably a typo or formatting issue of the table and does not reflect the actual functions those different roles can perform. Moreover, why shouldn’t manager know exactly what the impact of the site is? This is where top management needs to be informed: Help people understand that the organization’s social media efforts are making an impact and in case they don’t, initiate changes in the organizational social media tactics.

Especially for local government agencies defining 5-6 different roles might not be necessary. In my experience, even in larger federal agencies, there is usually only a small group of people who are responsible for updating the organizational page.