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

Social media and the 2012 election: Class syllabus online

My new class “Social media and the 2012 election” starts next week and I wanted to post my syllabus for public comment.

This is a class that I taught for the first time in 2008 during the Obama campaign. After the election the president was praised for his Internet strategy that complemented his traditional campaigning and many scholars have pointed out that he was able to motivate non-voters via social media to go to the polling booths.

Between 2009 and 2012 I spent a lot of time trying to understand how the lessons learned during the successful presidential campaign can be used for day-to-day governing activities. While the Open Government mandate pushed a lot of efforts in the U.S. federal agencies forward to invest time and resources into harnessing new technologies, government agencies are also facing many challenges when using social media. For that purpose, I observed and interview social media directors in the U.S. federal government to understand their strategic, managerial, and administrative decision making and the resulting social media tactics.

This class is therefore based on my research on social media in the public sector. It observes in real-time who the public, news organizations and the candidates are using social media until election day. It grounds the observations in theoretical sociological and information management concepts. The goal is to teach the underlying concepts and managerial skills future social media managers need – not only in government, but also in the nonprofit and corporate world. Guest speakers will complement lectures and class discussions.

Here is the syllabus. I would love to hear your comments and suggestions for improvements!

The social media dance around the VP pick

On Friday night the news broke, that the Romney campaign was planning to reveal the vice-president in a live TV covered event at 9:05am the next day. Within a few hours however, all major news-outlets stated “Mitt Romney picks Paul Ryan”. There was no question mark, no speculation. Only these plain statements – quoting sources close to the campaign.

Online, there was however very little indication on 8/9/12 that the information was leaked: The USA Today/Twitter Election meter showed negative sentiments towards both candidates at an all time low (since #Twindex data was revealed to the public): Obama 20; Romney 12. This number was stable until late Saturday evening when the Twitter index was finally updated – which seems to happen only once per day: Obama 32; Romney 39.

As a result, people were buying shares for their favorite veep pick, Paul Ryan on the Intrade prediction market. Ryan was favorited by 95% of the buyers:

On Saturday morning social media came into play. Romney’s Twitter account officially confirmed his pick – even before he went on stage in Norfolk, VA:

An hour later, Paul Ryan’s newly established Twitter account confirmed the news as well:

The account name “@PaulRyanVP” was initially not verified by Twitter and it took the company a few hours to add the blue checkmark to the account. As a result the followers jumped up from a handful to several thousands. Controversy around the account’s name eluded people to the fact that Paul Ryan already labels himself (or let’s say his campaign team labels him) VP = Vice-president. People are asking legitimate questions, as the following tweet by Chris Geidner shows:

Romney campaign aide Beth Myers confirmed in a statement to the press, that Romney had already made his pick earlier in August, after he returned from his first visit abroad. She presented the campaign’s strategy on how they kept the decision under wraps right after the announcement to the press.

@140Elect reports that the @PaulRyanVP Twitter account was created on August 2, 2012 which confirms that the VP decision has already been made weeks ago. It is unclear however why the campaign chose to reveal the candidate two weeks later, on a war ship at a time when only half of the country can watch the news at 9:00am on a Saturday morning.

During the exciting events of the day, other social media tools were ignored by the campaign.  As an example, the iPhone app “America’s Comeback Team” did not inform its users as advertised. Instead, the screen stayed blank even after the world heard the announcement, as this screenshot from Anthony De Rosa shows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twitter was also the first place where the campaign’s logo was revealed – on @PaulRyanVP’s account:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romney campaign clearly had their sight set on Twitter and ignored Facebook – the Paul Ryan Vice-President Facebook account was established just an hour before the official announcement.

At the end of the day, the futures markets weren’t impressed by the Vice-President pick. As an example, the Iowa Electronic Market for the 2012 US Presidential Election Vote Share Market still lists a win by the democratic candidate at 60%:

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.

New Pew study on Twitter use statistics in 2012

Pew Internet & American Life Project released a new study on the use of Twitter in 2012.

Here is the summary directly from their website:

As of February 2012, some 15% of online adults use Twitter, and 8% do so on a typical day. Overall Twitter adoption remains steady, as the 15% of online adults who use Twitter is similar to the 13% of such adults who did so in May 2011. At the same time, the proportion of online adults who use Twitter on a typical day has doubled since May 2011 and has quadrupled since late 2010—at that point just 2% of online adults used Twitter on a typical day. The rise of smartphones might account for some of the uptick in usage because smartphone users are particularly likely to be using Twitter.

What is surprising to me is that Twitter is far from being a mainstream social networking service. 15% of online adults use Twitter and only 8% on a daily basis. In comparison, 65% of online adults use social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. It shows that Twitter is still a niche service and I can report that most of my students – current and future government leaders – have a very difficult time to get on Twitter, to be part of the conversation, or to find valuable information.

Another surprising fact from the Pew studies is that there does not seem to be an increase in the use of Twitter over the years: A 2010 study reported the same number – 8% of online adults were using Twitter two years ago. This is the same number as in 2012. Interesting!

Answers via GovFresh: What happened to Manor?

Luke Fretwell over at GovFresh has picked up the question I asked in my recent blog post about the disappearing social media presence of the City of Manor, TX. He has allowed me to repost here on my blog. Thank you, Luke!

What happened to Manor?

Ines Mergel asks a great question about a government 2.0 icon emblematic of the potential local open government had in its nascent heyday way back two years ago:

What happened, Manor?

For those unfamiliar with Manor and its young gun superstar and former CIO Dustin Haisler, Manor was symbolic of the “small town startup” that could strategically leverage modern technology to better serve citizens and run more efficiently while still keeping IT costs to a minimum. Haisler leveraged QR codes, WordPress, Google Apps, engagement platforms and other experimental technologies that brought Manor into the digital 21st century.

Today, that Manor is gone.

Haisler eventually left for the real startup world, and it appears the baton was either not properly handed off or just dropped altogether.

I asked Haisler about this, and here’s his reply via email:

I think this shows the need for a few things:

(1) Forming a social norm around innovation and experimentation in government, which requires significant measurement and reporting in order to combat the risk that comes along with a change in administration.

(2) Government innovation programs should not be run solely from within City Hall. There should be controlling interests from community stakeholders (businesses, non-profits, academia, etc.)

(3) The need for education. Current and future leaders of government agencies need to be educated on the business value that comes from using participatory technologies within government.

This presents a unique opportunity to reinvent civic innovation within Manor (where I still live) from a truly grassroots perspective driven from the community.

Design is inherently subjective, so it’s difficult to argue whether the new site is prettier than the previous version, however, there are several non-aesthetic components now missing from Manor’s previous “beta city” vision that should be standard in all new government websites:

  • no integrated content management system (it appears they’re now using Google Blogspot to post site updates, but these are separate from the site’s primary pages)
  • less prominent social media accounts (previously, Manor had a Facebook, Twitter and Flickr presence, but now only Facebook is accessible, albeit hidden)
  • no commitment to open source (previous WordPress theme was developed and made freely available to any government)
  • no site search
  • no accessible email or online contact form
  • no open data portal
  • no open 311 reporting
  • URLs no longer mapped to cityofmanor.org domain
  • basic disregard of 508 compliance

I’m not familiar with Manor’s current operations and technological leadership but, judging by its new website, I concur with Mergel that “they apparently went back in time and put up a horrific website in a design that reminds me of the early days of the Internet.” (disclaimer: I helped set up and design the previous version)

Whatever the reason for the set-back, there’s a lesson to be learned in how to better transition an IT environment developed by a tech-savvy CIO to leadership that appears to be less informed on today’s technological standards.

Most importantly, it’s seems there’s an opportunity here for the Gov 2.0 community to come together and address how small towns manage IT sustainability and help those that are less tech-savvy better understand and implement strategic, experimental and open technologies.

How can we do this?

 

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About Luke Fretwell:

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. Contact him at luke@govfresh.com or connect on LinkedIn or Twitter at@govfresh or @lukefretwell.

Government 2.0 class – students commenting on their own learning process

I am teaching PPA730 Government 2.0 for the fourth year with the challenge that the topic is truly a moving target. The course schedule organically evolves each semester - basically in parallel to the developments in the public sector. Four or five times throughout the semester guest speakers from government organizations join us to talk about their experiences either with specific tools or sharing their insights about their local implementation and then management processes. The first two guest speakers this semester were Rachel Flagg, GSA – HowTo.gov, and Bill Greeves, CIO Roanoake County and my co-author of the forthcoming “Social Media Fieldguide”.

One of my current students wrote up a fantastic blog post over on our class blog and I would like to share her insights and her own learning process here:

Social Media – INEVITABLE ? So jump right in and ride the wave!!?

Our objective in this class is to understand how social media can be successfully used, especially in government and non-profits. An important aspect for me in being able to do this is to find a way to believe that this can indeed be accomplished given my limited experience, skepticism and a weariness regarding information overload. For me, what I was looking for was an overriding value statement and/or mindset that would set me on the path with a positive outlook. The 2 guest speakers we have had in class have helped make this happen.  Rachel Flagg of GSA and her amazing websiteHowTo.Gov  provided much information about the specifics of how to implement social media applications in Government. In addition, she answered one of our questions about how you deal with all the details, the instability, the beta factor, barriers, constraints with the advice to “just jump in”. Don’t let the uncertainties hold you back – have faith that you will make it work and “go for it”.  I plan to take this advice.  I watched the way young people were using all these tools all the time and simultaneously. They were crowdsourcing their decisions, making deals and creating networks at a breathtaking seemingly effortless pace. I started seeing ‘join us onFacebook,  ‘join us on Twitter’  everywhere online and in print media. Bill Greeves , the IT Director of Roanoke County , Virginia commented on the inevitability of the use of social media to become a dominant force in our communications both inside and outside government. “Inevitable” is defined as “impossible to avoid or prevent” and that sums up how I was feeling. His obvious determination and careful planning to harness the coming surge and, in fact, become a pioneer in the embracing of this technology was inspiring. So, thanks to Rachel and Bill, my resolve has been strengthened and I will adopt a surfing metaphor – “ride the wave” and if you “wipe-out”, get back on and wait for the next one.