Using social media metrics and big data analytics for actionable insights

Generate actionable insights from social media and big data

Oftentimes social media use is seen as fundamentally different from other forms of formal organizational communication because of its speed, dynamic, egalitarian nature, but also its informal form. It’s important to align the use of social media with the organizational mission. Citizens can passively absorb the information and government can abandon other forms of publication and save taxpayer dollars. Public affairs can design campaigns to gain attention for certain issues, highlight deadlines in all phases of the policy life cycle (Lasswell 1951), or increase participation in offline behavior and online votes (increase turnout). The result might be an increased acceptance of public policy, increased inclusion and reduction of inequality of access (Thomas 1993, Bingham, Nabatchi, O’Leary 2005). Government organizations have the opportunity to diffuse misinformation and rumors, lower the costs of negative campaigning by quickly injecting correct, formal information, and bring in innovative knowledge about and from stakeholders.

Suggestions for practitioners aiming to measure the impact of their social media activities:

  1. Understand what you are trying to accomplish (increase attention, target certain constituencies, and what it looks like if you succeed with your communication) (DiStaso, McCorkindale, and Wright 2011). How are your social media activities supporting the organizational mission and to which extent do they serve you for example to become more innovative?
  2. Define a social media strategy and insights that optimize approaches to achieve the goals (Mergel 2012).
  3. Develop measures that are focusing on behavioral outcomes and not just reach. Have your posts and online interactions helped citizens change their behavior? Did they go out and participate in an initiative for which you need citizen input? Did they change their behavior by applying for a program?
  4. Display the information on dashboards that are accessible and understandable for decision makers (like the CDC’s social media dashboard) to see immediately how citizens are perceiving the information that is sent out by your organization (DiStaso, McCorkindale, and Wright 2011).
  5. Use the insights to optimize your tactics and identify actionable opportunities for program adjustments (Murdough 2009).

The following flowchart summarizes the steps outlined above:

measurementframework

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About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

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