The General Services Administration released new guidelines for how to measure federal agencies’ social media engagement Tuesday that aim to move beyond raw counts of Twitter followers and Facebook likes.
The agency also released a new application programming interface, or API, that will allow people to create customized social media streams using GSA’s Federal Social Media Registry, a compilation of more than 2,000 verified government social media accounts across nearly two dozen different platforms.
The guidelines include metrics such as “agency responsiveness,” which measures how quickly an agency responds to questions posed on social media; “sentiment,” a measure of whether people post positive, negative or neutral things about the agency on social media; and “loyalty,” a measure of how often particular people return to an agency’s social media platforms.
Other metrics focus on how many people complete transactions with government agencies using social media, how long those transactions take and how quickly the agency responds to transaction-related questions.
By applying more rigorous metrics, officials hope to show that social media programs can save the government money and get important information to a broader swath of citizens, GSA social media lead Justin Herman said during a Google Hangout with reporters following the presentation.
Answering more questions publicly on social media could cut down on the money and work hours agencies devote to answering the same or similar questions one-on-one through call centers and emails, Herman said.
The way officials use the metrics should vary agency by agency, said Sheila Campbell, director of GSA’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government, during the hangout. The goal for some agencies may be broadening their outreach in a particular community, such as military families or scientists in a specific field, while other agencies may be focused on improving their response time for citizen questions.
“What these metrics are really doing is allowing agencies to have a more consistent way of measuring impact and value that goes way beyond superficial measures like Facebook friends and Twitter followers,” Campbell said. “It ties social media activities to program objectives and agency mission.”
The metrics were developed by a team of officials from 12 agencies and will likely develop over time as more agencies offer input and as the social media landscape matures, Herman said.
Agencies can track many of the metrics using free, public tools offered by various social media platforms, he said. GSA is planning a series of training sessions on how to use the metrics through its Digital Government University.
The Federal Social Media Registry API will allow users to collect government social media information within broad categories such as veterans’ services, endangered species or aging, regardless of which agency produced the information, Herman said.
The idea is similar to Business USA, a government website designed to pull important small businesses information from multiple agencies into a single interface that obscures the complicated bureaucracy underneath. In this case, however, the aggregation would be done by developers outside of government rather than inside.
News agencies also could use the API to aggregate social information about developing emergencies such as Superstorm Sandy, Herman said, which is often released rapid fire from multiple agencies at once.
“In one sentence, what these two programs are doing,” he said, “is unlocking social data so citizens and agencies can realize the full potential of social media and the impact it’s having on government.”