Immigration in the Age of #Social: Do Not Risk Becoming Obsolete

Today is the third anniversary of my retirement from CIA. I’ve learned a lot in these 3 years. One particular plus has been getting to observe how this generation of knowledge workers is incorporating new tools to think and do differently.

At Deloitte Consulting we’ve become advocates for the transformational impact of social and work networks, even or perhaps particularly for the Public Sector. A group of consultants decided to explore how social tools could be used to better engage immigration stakeholders and improve customer service.

So what follows is their first blog post on the topic.Stay tuned for their additional thoughts.Three of the authors are on Twitter: @tiffany_wan @abedsali @NickFlorek

Immigration in the Age of #Social: Do Not Risk Becoming Obsolete

The benefits of social business in the government are already here, and the results are becoming more tangible as the technology evolves. Agencies may be distancing themselves from their audiences, which can result in a one-way flow of content. Social media is re-shifting this balance and revolutionizing the communication between government agencies and their customers — the citizens and stakeholders. Social media can be viewed as a form of democratic coproduction of ideas with the public, yielding a sense of transparency and accountability.

Audiences are no longer willing to sit back and passively receive information. Many citizens are now contributors of ideas and publishers of thoughts. Empowering these people with simple technology is an easy and effective way to accomplish public outreach and crowdsourcing. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was an early adopter establishing a base of communication with veterans through Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter to spark discussion and involvement in the community. The VA now has one of the largest and most interactive followings in the public sector, with active social media involvement in all of its 152 medical centers. The VA currently has over 345,000 combined Facebook subscribers, 40% of which are over 45 and only 9% under 25.[1]

The interest in veterans’ health care is directed towards older vets, and the statistics point to the fact that this consumer segment is now a force in driving communication. The immigration community is no different. There are regional groups that support, challenge, and influence U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and ICE, as well as current immigrants and undocumented citizens themselves. It is essential that agencies begin to identify constituents related to the causes they support and how they are affected by an organization. A broad social media presence can begin to help agencies capture unique discussions around the country and essentially enable these different groups to drive the debate.

With an agency like USCIS, a solitary headquarter-based social media presence is used, which is expected as they are just starting to fully embrace the technology. However, opportunities already exist to start shifting focus on different channels of communication based on segments like family-based petitions, employment-based requests, refugee processing, and naturalization. Taking these groups into consideration allows information to be more relevant and focused, allowing discussions to evolve more organically. Agency officials who specialize in certain business operations or geographic regions are capable of driving the intimacy and information sharing similar to the Veterans Administration.

There are also agencies that are currently using other, more direct undertakings, like IdeaScale (used by Social Security and the Department of Health and Human Services), Google Moderator, and UserVoice. These tools allow people to submit ideas, vote, and comment on contributions submitted by others.[2] These applications are also entirely cloud based and allow for quick implementation. Whether it is a simple blog to an advanced mobile application such as MyTSA[3], the earlier a social media plan is put in place, the sooner you can begin to amass the benefits of business intelligence and branding that comes with the presence. An important opportunity exists for Customs and Border Protection (CBP); there are hundreds of industrial, agricultural, and trade entities that are directly affected by customs enforcement. Opening the floor and soliciting ideas from those who deal with these regulations everyday (allowing them to directly communicate with each other and the government) on social, Web-based platforms can be a highly effective method for creating transparency and crowdsourcing at the same time.

It should be noted that there are several challenges to building a social media infrastructure, but the benefits outweigh the costs. Bureaucracy can make collaboration between outside interests difficult, and the security issues around information and system infrastructure are delaying agencies from dropping their legacy systems and adopting more flexible applications. Postponing adaptation, however, can mean missing out on entire outside conversations already taking place. There is a passionate, creative, and collaborative generation that has already engrained themselves with social media. Social media usage among 18-25 year olds jumped to 74% in 2011.[4] Immigration agencies may also be surprised to know 66% of Latino Internet users are using social media, with Spanish being the fastest growing language on Facebook.[5] Most government agencies have already begun to understand the importance of social media; it is those who lack a true understanding of their constituents and how to engage them that could be at risk of falling behind.

[1] VA Launches Facebook Pages for All 152 Medical Centers. http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2238

[4] 2011 Cisco Connected World Technology Report. http://www.cisco.com/en/US/netsol/ns1120/index.html

[5] Su, Susan. “Among Facebook’s Top Languages, Portuguese, Arabic, and Spanish Lead Growth.” Facebook Global Language Report. http://www.insidefacebook.com/2010/07/28/among-facebooks-top-languages-portuguese-arabic-and-spanish-lead-growth/

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Tiffany Wan

Given the attention and interest in comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) this series should also be useful for developing a truly #social user-driven approach to reforming our immigration system.