Consultant Mark Madsen shows agencies how to turn social media into a powerful tool that can support larger organizational goals.
Mark Madsen is the founder of Third Nature, a research and consulting firm focused on emerging technology and practices in analytics, business intelligence and information management.
Nearly all large federal agencies are now using social media tools, according to a recent survey by the Government Accountability Office, and many have had great success. For instance, NASA has effectively used several channels to keep the public informed about its missions, and the State Department has 145,000 followers on its Facebook fan page.
Social media clearly promises many benefits to government agencies, but too many organizations — in the public and private sectors — have jumped into this brave new world without knowing what they want to achieve.
Such technology exuberance, as I like to call it, is akin to having no strategy at all, and it can be costly. Organizations without an upfront plan are likely to waste time and financial resources. They could even end up sending messages that run counter to their policies without knowing what damage they might be doing to their organizations. In those situations, it is impossible to quantify the benefits from using social media.
For all its glitter, social media is first and foremost a tool, and it needs to be treated like any other strategy or investment that is monitored, measured and analyzed.
Here are five steps to maximizing social media’s value for any organization.
- Set a goal. Agencies must first determine what they want to achieve with social media. Perhaps they want to more effectively inform the public about specific aspects of agency performance, increase website traffic or bolster the agency’s reputation. For example, an agency might use Facebook, Twitter and e-mail blasts to ensure that at least half the target audience is aware of a program and its eligibility requirements.
- Determine metrics. After an agency determines its social media objectives, it can select which metrics will verify that the tools are achieving the agency’s goals. A metric might be the number of positive mentions in the various channels, the number of Twitter and Facebook followers, or the number of recommendations members make.
- Measure results. Several services track channels, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the blogosphere, or monitor the Web and e-mail. Officials should put report results into a spreadsheet or database and integrate them with other data. And they should perform individualized analytics to determine whether the social media tools are meeting objectives or if adjustments are needed.
- Create a baseline. Measuring takes place over time, but it is critical to get a baseline measure of what is deemed to be normal or average performance so you can know what it means when a certain number of people comment on your agency’s Facebook page and whether it brings your agency closer to its goals. Measuring against the baseline will enable government officials to accurately analyze their experience online.
- Keep evolving. Each agency will need to continuously measure against its evolving baseline, determine the outcomes and effects, and modify programs to be most responsive to user requirements. Social media managers must take new actions, such as publishing new content, and expect new outcomes, such as getting another round of feedback from people. Or they might need to adjust their goals, which could require updating performance indicators and metrics.
Measuring social media outcomes aren’t always easy because much of what organizations try to measure — reputation or people's moods, for examples — can be subjective. But by investing in a strategy of goal setting, measurement and adjustment, agencies can turn social media from a random, trendy exercise into an accurate, effective initiative that can support their larger organizational strategies and goals.
Editor’s note: Mark Madsen will present a session on social media, Web 2.0 and business intelligence at the TDWI Government Summit April 5 in Arlington, Va.
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