Facebook Steps Up Its 'Civic Products,' Remains Committed to Video

At the Government Social Media Conference and Expo in Dallas, Facebook executives said that video and civic outreach continue to be a focus for the social media network.

DALLAS, Texas — When it comes to social media platforms, Facebook is becoming increasingly engaged in the government space. Aside from the speculation that founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg might make a run for the presidency in the near future (a claim he denies), the platform has been undeniably stepping up what it aptly calls its “civic products.”

The media company’s efforts were on display on April 11 during the Government Social Media Conference and Expo (GSMCON), where Katie Harbath, leader of the platform’s government team, spoke to attendees about some of the recent changes and using them to drive better constituent engagement.

It was during the 2008 presidential elections that Facebook kicked off its voter registration reminders, which Harbath said were responsible for as many as 2 million registrations. In a similar vein, a major focus for Harbath and her team has been on developing and implementing Town Hall, a new civic-focused tool announced March 27 that seeks to bolster engagement between citizens and their elected officials.  

Harbath also spoke to how governments of all sizes are — or should be — embracing the social network to reach their respective constituents to the greatest effect, and using video- and mobile-readiness in the interactive process. 

At last year’s GSMCON, the Facebook official formally announced the company’s plan to focus resources on expanding the role of video within the platform’s footprint. And this year, Harbath said, that commitment has not changed. In fact, it likely will grow as technologies like virtual reality and 360-degree video formats grow in popularity and capability.

Facebook Live has also proven to be a valuable tool for government social media managers and the organizations they serve.

“People are much more likely to pay attention to your content if they know there is somebody on the other side listening and actually caring about what they have to say,” Harbath said, adding that on average, the live mobile broadcasts outperform pre-recorded videos by three times. 

For agencies already aboard the video bandwagon, Harbath said simple adjustments to content can make it much more attractive to viewers. She suggested adding captions to video media to accommodate the large number of viewers watching from their mobile devices without sound. 

“You are more likely to watch video 12 percent longer because it has those captions," she told attendees, "because you are able to read along with what is happening."

When it comes to measuring the impact of social campaigns, however — a point Harbath admits is a challenge facing many managers trying to justify the effort to their supervisors — she said the focus shouldn’t be only on likes or followers. 

“I bet a lot of your bosses are still concerned with the number of Facebook fans or followers you have, and that’s okay," she said. "But … the number that I really recommend you look at when thinking about measuring success is reach, because that is the number of unique people in the last seven days that have seen your content.”

Harbath also noted that the platform’s complex news feed algorithm measures a combination of engagement, the type of post, the number of interactions and trending topics.

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.