Social Media Metrics for Government: A Manager's Handbook

How to make sure online efforts advance strategic goals.

One of the most important questions to ask during a job interview or when preparing for an annual review is: "What constitutes success?" or "What does success look like?" For private sector organizations, there are often very easily quantifiable metrics: number and size of sales, or year-to-year growth. Even in the nonprofit sector, there can be widely understood metrics: rate of growth for membership lists, the volume of participants at events, or the number of calls made or postcards sent during an awareness campaign.

Unfortunately, in the public sector, there aren't always hard-and-fast metrics. Unlike many private sector companies, it's not as simple for public sector organizations simply to report that they sold more widgets than in the previous year, or that they kept sales constant while bringing down the cost of operations. Agency missions change and evolve, and while some agencies have predictable, stable workloads that are roughly the same one year to the next, others—say, disaster relief organizations—may literally have their activities dictated to them by the caprices of the weather.

For people who plan or execute social media activities, this question—"What does success look like?"—has a special piquancy. On the one hand, there are already many tools to measure many aspects of social media engagement, and many more coming online all the time. But the risk, as ever, is that agencies can look at the wrong metric and begin to tailor their social media practices in the wrong ways, distracting themselves from, rather than advancing, their goals.

A new report, "A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions" aims to help managers understand the tools that agencies are using to determine whether their social media efforts are advancing their strategic goals. The report is grounded in the Obama administration’s Open Government initiative and provides insights into how social media interactions can increase collaboration, participation and transparency by harnessing the use of new technologies. The insights derive from in-depth interviews with social media managers in the federal government, reviews of existing social media strategies and policies, and academic literature.

Written by Maxwell School professor Ines Mergel and released by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, the report is designed to be a manager’s guide to social media metrics, helping government agencies assess the impact of social media interactions. The first requirement is a well-designed social media strategy that supports the core mission as the basis for all online interactions. Second, government organizations should create online tactics to support their mission requirements and monitor and evaluate online interactions with citizens.

The report presents the most common measurement practices used in government:

  • Breadth
  • Depth
  • Loyalty
  • Sentiments through qualitative insights
  • Combining offline and online data

As a result of the monitoring efforts, agencies can adjust their social media behavior and abandon ineffective tactics or increase successful interactions.

The report provides a guide on how to make a business case with data to help top managers understand social media impact. The business case can serve as a basis for management decisions to build and allocate organizational capacity or initiate changes in social media strategies as well as daily tactics. The report includes a section with the most common and currently free social media measurement tools.

Though success will be measured differently from one agency to the next, chances are the tools to evaluate the effectiveness of an agency's social media activities are already in use. This report will help managers determine the right analytical lens to bring that picture—what does success look like—into sharper focus.

(Image via Quka / Shutterstock.com)