Twitter value includes response

If an agency Tweets and nobody answers, did it matter?

Some federal agencies send out a question on Twitter and dozens of people tweet back. Many others get no response.

For example, NASA tweeted 13 questions and got 114 responses in the first week in March. The Commerce Department tweeted 18 questions the same week, and got no responses.

That new analytical data is coming from research by Expert Labs Federal Social Media Index that attempts to show federal agency engagement with the public on Twitter, defined as the agency’s ability to receive feedback from Twitter users to a specific question that the agency tweets.

The majority of the agencies appear to have a zero percent response rate. In the week that began March 26, nearly all agencies—121 out of 125 reviewed—had a zero response rate. For the previous week, all but two agencies had a zero response rate.

However, in the first week in March, several agency Twitter accounts reported success in stimulating responses to questions. The @USArmy account tweeted 16 questions and received 47 responses, for a 294 percent response rate. The @USDA tweeted 11 questions and got 13 responses, for a 118 percent response.

The Expert Lab analytics raise some questions. For example, the week of March 12 to 18 there were eight agencies with response rates of more than 100 percent. Anil Dash, director of Expert Labs, said the analytics are still being tweaked.

“This is a brand new idea,” Dash told Federal Computer Week. Rather than measuring how frequently agencies respond to questions, the goal was to capture how well the agencies are obtaining feedback from the public on Twitter.

Many of the agencies are broadcasting announcements and news releases on Twitter, which often are retweeted and rebroadcasted. But a higher level of engagement is when agencies ask “answerable questions.”

The answerable questions are questions for which answers are possible.

Asking people “How are we doing?” is less productive, Dash suggested. “Asking them, ‘what is your favorite national park?’ might get more response.”

He noted that President Barack Obama’s Twitter Town Hall in 2011 set a high standard for engagement. Expert Labs recorded more than 91,000 responses on Twitter to the president’s account.