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Immigration in the Age of #Social: The Benefits of Managing Social Media Data

Quantity has a Quality all its own.

This famous and perceptive phrase has been variously attributed to the German philosopher Hagel, Engels, Lenin, and finally Josef Stalin. Despite the largely shady cast of characters associated with it, the phrase captures an important truth: that large volumes often have characteristics far beyond the traits of a single instance.

This phenomenon is driving all types of private business to analyze the billions of social media comments now available to gain new insight about their operations, their performance, their outcomes, and their customers. In the last blog by Deloitte’s iCoin group of practitioners they make the case for immigration services analyzing social media content to improve their day-to-day operations. Social media comments may start out as anecdotes, but once they are aggregated they can become invaluable sources of data.

The entire Immigration in the Age of #Social paper is now available online here. You can follow the authors on Twitter: @tiffany_wan, @abedsali, and @NickFlorek.

USCIS, Department of State, ICE, and CBP all have thousands of followers on their blogs, Twitter handles, and Facebook pages. As more stakeholders engage immigration agencies in social media sites, these numbers are expected to increase. But an increased social media presence is a double-edged sword; if managed ineffectually, the benefits of engaging social media can become noisy and elusive. As the posting volume increases, it becomes harder to read, synthesize, manage and respond to individual comments directed at, or about, an agency. Analyzing data on social media sites can determine who is talking, what they are saying, and how to reach stakeholders and communities. These tools allow agencies to better capture the voice of hard-to-reach immigrant populations.

Who is talking? Better online listening involves understanding the demographics that agencies reach (and ones they do not reach) through social media. In 2011, the White House analyzed the demographic composition and preferences of White House social media followers. By asking followers on Twitter and Facebook to answer an online survey on age, how often they visited White House sites, and what content they wanted from social media sites, the White House was able to better tailor its social media strategy to its audience.[1] For example, the White House found that 50% of its Facebook followers were over age 50, while the majority of its Twitter followers were much younger — a finding that drives the type of content the White House now posts to each site.

Simple data gathering and analysis is especially crucial in the immigration space. For example, with 65% of Latinos surveyed who use Internet engaged in social media,[2] immigration agencies would benefit from noting how many of individuals in their target audience traffic their social media platforms. This knowledge informs immigration agencies on how to cater online content and attract target audiences. For example, it may not be effective for USCIS to disseminate important information through social media about application processes if simple analysis shows its target audience does not frequent The Beacon. USCIS can then use this data to discern where these target audiences engage and interact with social media.

Because of the sensitive nature of immigration, many immigrant populations may be uncomfortable directly answering or providing personal information to government agencies online. However, more sophisticated social analytic tools allow agencies to track and analyze demographic information without directly asking followers to participate in surveys. Social media users leave “digital exhaust”— creating a digital trail of publically available information by creating profiles on online sites, posting opinions, and visiting other websites.[3] This data helps quantify immigration agencies’ social media reach.

Who else is talking? Social media analytics can give a voice to individuals who do not participate on agency social media sites. This is especially relevant for immigrant populations potentially wary of formal interactions with agencies. Analytic tools allow agencies to capture comments that might not directly mention or address USCIS, CBP or ICE, but talk about policies and services that these immigration agencies provide.[4] Programs that can aggregate this data produce datasets containing millions of constituents, their demographics, opinions, preferences, and networks. Capturing these voices can provide a valuable pulse on trends and opinions. Many tools can map out behaviors, preferences, comments, and sentiments of a broader audience, cluing agencies into important trends that inform strategies and decisions. More advanced social media and Web analytic tools have predictive qualities, which could be useful to forecast trends and flows in immigration, visa demand and travel.

What are they saying? Sentiment analysis allows immigration agencies to parse out, analyze, and address the thousands of comments received via social media websites. For example, OhMyGov sentiment analysis services helped the Veteran’s Health Administration aggregate comments on its Facebook page.[5] Analyzing these comments in a methodological manner provided a breakdown of positive, negative or neutral comments, and broad categories of public posts (e.g., 60% of comments involved customer service issues, while only 5% involved quality of care). Further analysis broke down trends by demographic group (What did employees or nonemployees say? Which care centers received the most positive feedback and why?).

For heated online conversations about immigration issues, sentiment analysis is particularly useful in aggregating, sorting, and analyzing opinions. For example, social media efforts to monitor and document stories and conditions in detention centers have gained traction. Tracking and analyzing comments related to detention centers on the ICE Facebook page can help mitigate potential public relations situations. With over 17,000 followers on Facebook, taking a step back to break down comments on the ICE Facebook page can serve as a survey, cluing the agency into important trends and opinions on ICE’s services.

Who is the voice of the community? Social media data management can help agencies use social media to communicate with hard-to-reach constituents. Social network analysis, or influence reporting, allows agencies to identify the more influential voices in online communities by charting the connections between social media participants. USCIS and Department of State can target influential voices to relay important information and messages to isolated (and often times, non-English speaking) communities. While immigrant populations may be absent from an agency’s formal social media website, they are internally well-networked, facilitating communication between agencies and these communities.

As immigration agencies continue to establish their social media strategies, simple data management can inform strategic decisions about where and how to communicate with stakeholders, especially those in isolated immigration communities. To fully realize the listening potential of social, immigration agencies may consider utilizing methods and tools to better manage and manipulate data from social media sites. Without using these tools to better understand who is listening and what they are saying, immigration agencies may risk implementing less effective strategies for delivering services to stakeholders.

[1] Lindsay, Erin. “What Our Facebook Fans and Twitter Followers Told Us.” 10 Jun 2011. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/06/10/what-our-facebook-fans-and-twitter-followers-told-us

[2] Smith, Aaron. “Who’s on What: Social Media Trends Among Communities of Color.” http://pewinternet.org/Presentations/2011/Jan/Social-Media-Trends-Among-Communities-of-Color.aspx. 25 Jan 2011.

[3] Deloitte Touche Tomatsu. “Managing Digital Exhaust”. 25 Jul 11.

[4] OhMyGov. “Unlocking Social Business Session”. 8 Nov 2011.

[5] OhMyGov. “Social Media Analysis for Government.” http://www.slideshare.net/ohmygov. NAGC 2011.

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Tiffany Wan

Just a quick note — we’ve updated the link in the post to where you can read the entire Immigration in the Age of #Social paper. Apologies!