Engaging with citizens, unifying strategy, improving customer service — sound familiar? Every agency strives toward these goals each day, and social media could be another tool to meet those missions.
Most agencies are on at least Facebook and Twitter, and many are dipping their toes into Instagram, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube and even Snapchat.
But it’s not enough to just throw out information on social media — it has to be a two-way street, said Kristy Dalton founder and CEO of Government Social Media LLC. She spoke during the “Social Media in Government: Success Stories & Strategies” webinar, hosted by Hootsuite Thursday.
Kyle Livingston, social media specialist at the Peace Corps, set up Google alerts for “Peace Corps,” which are delivered to his inbox.
“I just go through them and see what people are saying about Peace Corps. I had a whole lot when the Nepal earthquake happened,” he said. “We started tweeting. We wanted to make sure all of our followers knew that our volunteers and our staff were safe and accounted for. We didn’t want to leave anyone in the dark.”
All social media sites have built-in analytics to measure engagement, such as likes and shares on Facebook, and retweets and favorites on Twitter. Twitter cards allow an agency to see how many times a link in a Tweet was clicked. Facebook insights and Google analytics are other tools agencies can use to measure engagement.
Dalton said agencies can measure results in a quantifiable way if an event is promoted through social media. The number of people who attend the event can be compared to the time, effort and cost of advertising it on social media.
Know your audience
Targeting a niche group on social media is more effective than reaching a broad general audience, Livingston said. The Peace Corps’ top priority is recruiting new volunteers, most of whom are between 18 and 24 years of age.
The agency has several overseas accounts, which can interact with volunteers interested in serving that country.
The State Department has 1,000 staff members worldwide managing a total of 400 Facebook pages, 350 Twitter accounts and 150 YouTube channels, said Mrudula Venigalla, new media strategist at the agency. No matter what the platform or country, Venigalla said it’s important to make the post something that draws attention and that people are interested in sharing.
On a recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya, Secretary of State John Kerry posted to his Twitter account a selfie with a baby elephant.
“I saw this got shared much more a link to a transcript or speech would have been shared,” Venigalla said.
Set the tone
Dalton said agencies shouldn’t be afraid to use humor in a Facebook post or Tweet, when it’s appropriate.
The Transportation Security Administration’s Instagram account has gained steam, with posts of contraband discovered in checked luggage. In one post, TSA showed a a checked bag that contained a chihuahua.
The CIA also took the humor approach when it started its Twitter account last June. In its first-ever Tweet, it wrote “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.”
That post was retweeted nearly 300,000 times, and favorited nearly 200,000 times.
“It’s because they were embracing things that everyone thinks about their agency. The assumption is that they’re the most likely agency to have a reason to be secretive, and so they played off of that,” Dalton said.
Getting executives to adopt a conversational or funny tone might take some persuading. Dalton said the best way to do that is through facts and data.
“Find 10 examples of your social posts that are in a more formal tone, and find 10 examples where there’s a little bit more lightheartedness,” she said. “Look at how many likes, shares, comments and the number of interactions [in each example], and show them that data.”
Ben Cathers, Senior Strategic Solutions Consultant at Hootsuite, said some employees are skeptical about using social media at all.
“They don’t understand the value proposition of [social media]. It’s about integrating social into their daily process,” Cathers said