Government communicators who have already embraced social media get it. They know from experience how social media has revolutionized the way governments interact with their citizens. Unfortunately, there are those who still consider it to be a fad, a distraction or too much of a risk. Gaining the support of agency executives and others in your department who have doubts can be tough, and you need a strategy to help them understand the ROI of your social media efforts.
The first step is to take stock of how your agency is actually using social media. This helps you gain a deeper understanding of what’s working and what needs attention, and will give you the tools to make the case for government social media to the doubters in your organization.
In the early days of social media, many agencies and individual employees started setting up profiles, pages and accounts without giving much thought to strategy. Oftentimes they would just try to shoehorn their existing communications protocols into these new channels — using Facebook and Twitter simply to broadcast calendar items or issue press releases. Government social media accounts with original content were few and far between, and those who truly understood the medium often found themselves limited by risk-averse managers who were made nervous by the very idea that the public could respond and comment on these platforms.
These days, it isn’t enough to simply have a social media presence — you need to engage on social media for it to be worthwhile for your agency and your citizens. But what does engagement really mean? Is it the number of likes and shares? Is it retweets? Does what people say matter or is it enough that they are making comments at all? Can you engage without exposing your agency to undue risk? Understanding your social media presence enough to answer these questions makes gaining buy-in a lot easier. Here’s an action plan:
1. Map your social media footprint: Start by identifying all of the social media profiles owned by your agency and who is responsible for managing them. It is not necessary, nor always desirable, for social media content to originate from a single individual or office, but it is helpful to have centralized oversight over all agency accounts. This will aid with policy enforcement, and allows the PIO, communications director or other manager to ensure that each account supports the overarching communication strategy for the agency.
2. Pay attention to activity levels: Once you have a complete picture of your agency’s social media footprint, it’s time to look more closely at the overall activity levels on each account. Take a look at which profiles are actively posting new content and which are being neglected. An inactive social media profile may signal a wasted opportunity to engage, while a sudden spike in activity may signal an unusual event that warrants investigation.
Here is an example of Wake County, N.C.’s activity levels across a few of its social media channels for one month:
A table showing a summary of Wake County, NC’s social media activity across three accounts for one month.
Normally the animal shelter has the county’s most active Facebook page, so seeing that the library nearly doubling the animal shelter’s traffic prompted a closer look. When Wake County officials drilled down to the content, they discovered the post that had caused such a spike in traffic for the library:
Picture posted on Wake County Library’s Facebook page depicting a toddler parenting book defaced by a toddler
The photo of a book about parenting toddlers that had ironically been defaced by a toddler attracted a record number of comments. It demonstrates that the library’s followers appreciated the humorous and humanizing post, suggesting that empathy and even a little whimsy can do a lot to boost engagement.
3. Get serious about monitoring: Citizens are increasingly turning to Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to find information and to ask questions. Missing or ignoring these questions can lead to frustration or cause others to share misinformation. Responding quickly allows you to provide the correct information and increase the likelihood that citizens will engage again in the future.
Paying attention to your social media is also critical for enforcing your social media policy. Unfortunately it can be challenging to consistently keep tabs on all of your different social networking sites. Since it is not always possible to invest human resources in manually monitoring each site, and email notifications from the social network are notoriously unreliable, it’s worth evaluating automated technology that can deliver alerts when there are new questions or issues that arise on your social media pages.
Wake County utilizes alerting technology to become aware of new questions, postings containing personally identifiable information and other issues
4. Take the temperature of the crowd: The volume of engagement only gives you part of the picture. Is the content you post inspiring praise, outrage or indifference? Understanding the sentiment of those engaging with your agency on social media can go a long way toward improving service, shaping policy and improving communication between your agency and its constituents. For example, if you are trying to improve an agency’s negative perception, analyzing the ongoing sentiment of the agency’s social media activity can provide a quantitative measure of how well your efforts are working over time. It’s also worth, in general, paying attention to dips and spikes in sentiment.
The sentiment of comments made on Wake County Government’s Facebook page is fairly consistent, but on March 3, 2015, it experienced a big spike in positive comments as can be seen in the chart below:
Chart showing the sentiment trend of WakeGov’s Facebook page over a six-month period with a spike on March 3.
It turns out the county had announced the retirement of the EMS director, and there was an outpouring of support on the page. This demonstrates how social media helps citizens connect with people within an agency, and how those connections can help build trust and support between a government and its citizens.
5. Report to your stakeholders: Ultimately the above practices provide objective and quantitative data to help you make the case for why social media is a crucial component of your communications strategy. This data can be used to demonstrate increased activity, highlight situations in which your agency quickly helped citizens resolve their issues and correlate your efforts to positive changes in citizen sentiment. By recording and reporting these metrics, you will be able to provide key stakeholders in your organization with the hard facts on how social media enables your agency to better achieve its core mission: serving the citizens.
All images and reports accompanying this article were prepared by ArchiveSocial for Wake County Government based on the activity in its social media accounts and used with its permission.