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I had lunch today with Bill Greeves, CIO of Wake County, North Carolina, and author of "Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide." As we were talking about the use of social media in government, we could not think of any really clear examples where a public sector organization has cited specific, demonstrable results from the use of social media (other than maybe CDC, who puts their metrics out there for all to see - and even then, it's just pageviews, followers, fans, etc. and not directly connected to mission impact).

For instance, do you know of any organizations that have:

- Run a strategic social media campaign that aimed at hitting a specific number of pageviews, document downloads, or some other clear metric that would indicate successful, increased dissemination of information to the public?

- Achieved cost savings from the conversion of print or some other communication mode to social media?

- Tracked the number of people reached via social media and did some analysis to show an overall increase in web traffic, improved SEO or some other indicator of increased awareness?

- Increased access to services by numbers of people served that cited social media as the referral source?

- Decreased time to answer for citizens seeking information?

- Improved a service or process based on citizen feedback that led to substantial cost savings?

I am sure you can think of more...but you see what I am getting at: real, demonstrable impact from social media use by government (vs. increase in followers or fans, number of comments / RTs / @ replies, etc.)

Thanks for sharing what you know from your agency or others!

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I just noticed that, generally speaking, CDC stopped revealing their numbers as of December 2011- clear climbs to that point, but wondering if / why something changed and they stopped reporting. 

Responses on Twitter from @kim26stephens:

Answer=Yes. See: #smem@krazykriz: Have Any Gov SM Activities Led to Really Obvious Results?

@Kim26stephens Got the 1st link. Good increase in traffic, likes, etc. Big thing I'm noodling: Does that mean more / new people got that...?

@krazykriz Big impact is people being able to access content on mobile devices. SM does that better than standard website, which = increase

One example of an agency trying to do something more sophisticated:


One of the best examples I have in my own experience was using Twitter in 2008 to post daily construction updates for one of our sewer projects @golfview2008. I know it made a significant difference because the project impacted resident access to a long cul de sac. So it was hugely disruptive, and normally on these types of projects we would field many regular calls from residents with questions about garbage and mail pickup, school bus pickup, access, schedule, etc. But I don't remember getting one call for this - we gave out one letter at the start of the project and referred people to the Twitter account. It was such a simple use of social media, and I sometimes think people are looking for some big, flashy use of social media with earth shattering results. But the things that make a huge difference for what we do, at least in cities, are not usually the complex, sexy implementations. It's things like the simple posting each day of what is going on for a sewer project that saves residents the time of having to call, particularly at inconvenient times, and staff the time of answering questions over the phone.

A side benefit of that project is the time it saved on determining and agreeing to quantities with the contractor - another task that can be very time-consuming and frustrating. Because we posted each day what was installed, the contractor could keep up with what we had measured on a daily basis. He also told me at the end of the project how easy it was to confirm the quantities - he just went to the Twitter account and pulled the information from there. Going back today I can see how this archived documentation of construction could help cities and residents in the future to get dates for specific tasks that were completed.

Unfortunately I left that city before the next construction season and was told by an elected official there that the incoming mayor believed social media was a waste of time so I don't think they've tried using social media since then. And it's not really something I was able to implement in my current position. So I haven't been able to test this approach again to see if the results would be the same.

Great example, Pam! Hopefully, we will have others chime in with similar reports.

An excellent question, Andrew.

There have clearly been returns on investment for making use of web-sites, and electronically available information and forms.  Has social media added value above and beyond that?  Personally, I haven't seen it, but that may be more a matter of the visible impact paling in comparison to simple use of websites, rather than having NO impact at all.

I think it is also fair to suggest that the line between government social media, or government use of social media services, and general use of social media, is fairly blurry.  For instance, if one simply wants to get some information "out there" in a hurry, it wouldn't take long, or too many steps in transmission, before what government has put out simply becomes part of the broader grapevine.

The bigger challenge is whether what comes into government via social media (as opposed to what they send out, which isn't really all that different from a simple website with more push) is used, or even could be used.

Or have I misunderstood the question?

Thanks, Mark. I think the getting information out there and the receipt of incoming information quickly has been most evident in emergency situations - inclement weather, natural disasters, etc.

Another way that social media has been used for incoming impact is by the US Geological Survey, where they have asked citizens to report their experiences.

I also know of crowd-sourced budget activities that have a social element where citizen input is considered when it comes to a city's budget prepar....

CDC tracked flu cases using social media.

But on the federal level, I'm not sure how citizen input has changed things - maybe over at TSA based on feedback they are receiving on their blog?

Andrew - here is a story that I came across today. It seemed as if social media made a big impact on govt. emergency communications with Sandy.

Justin Herman, social media lead at GSA's Digital Services Innovation Center, unveiled yesterday a new metrics methodology over on

Five of the six suggested metrics are measures of social media used to push from organizations to people/citizens. Only the last mentions feedback. Social media by definition is about interactions among people and within virtual communities and networks. You can use social media in a uni-directional fashion and measure results (or try to) as though you were advertising or direct mailing but what sets social media apart is multi-directional communication, not just to people/citizens but from people/citizens to organizations and within people/citizens and organizations. The real and unique benefits will come from collaboration/crowdsourcing/community . . . and the fact that all of us know more than any of us. These benefits are not easy to measure but there are likely at least some anecdotal stories out there. I am involved primarily with online association communities and here are some of the benefits that we have seen for busy people.

Andrew, for the online citizen engagement projects that I've managed lately for local governments, we create a project blog site (using WordPress) as the central platform and then use a variety of other online tools and services (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, CoverItLive, GoToWebinar, Survey Monkey, Mailchimp, Basecamp, etc) in complementary fashion.

I can point to 'really obvious results' but this may not be what you're looking for.


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