Martha Coakley, Attorney General in Massachusetts, talks about Social Media

Martha Coakley continues to look for ways to innovate, to find better ways of achieving the goals associated with her role as Attorney General of Massachusetts. I was fortunate enough to get her insights on a number of questions, I hope you learn as much as I have.

Q. What are your thoughts on government 2.0, the open government directive/initiative?
A. Government leaders and agencies that are open to adapting new practices will see benefit from doing so. The opportunities new technologies afford government and the people we serve are important.

Transparency in government is essential – not just for efficiency and access to information- but to maximize participation by all individuals and groups and to build confidence in how our government works. President Obama’s willingness to explore new uses in government for web-based technologies is an encouraging step forward and represents an opportunity to build public trust.

Q. Have you seen the Open GovTracker at http://www.opengovtracker.com/? Would something like this add value, in your opinion to the AGs office? Would you consider leveraging an ideation platform like this?
A. I was not familiar with the OpenGov Tracker – it is a very new tool, but I’m always open to looking at new ways for the work of the AG’s office to be accessible and transparent.

Q. How does social media and other collaboration strategies and technologies (blogs, wikis, twitter, etc) it fit into your overall communication strategy?
A. Social media has become an integral part of the education and prevention work that we do in the Attorney General’s Office. In our view, social media tools are channels to provide information to our constituents. We engage through our own Twitter account and office blog, as well as constantly working to make sure important consumer information makes into the online discussion.

In 2007, we took on a massive website redesign to create what we hope is a very robust tool with useful information. Our mission was to create a tool to better empower citizens and provide direct, easy guidance to the often complex questions asked of us. Our social media tools have been a way to increase traffic and help assure that people have access to timely, helpful information. They have not, and may not, replace other traditional means of communicating with our office, but they have certainly supplemented our efforts in this respect.

Q. How return on investment are you seeing from your efforts?
A. We are continuing to see an increase in the number of people who are accessing information from our office through new media. We’re also able to receive constituents’ feedback through blog comments, Twitter @replies, and website traffic, to help us not only enhance communication but identify trends and be more efficient in our information dissemination.

There are also some ‘intangibles’ in our social media outreach that can be difficult to quantify, such as public confidence and trust in our work, and enhanced access to accurate and timely consumer information.

Q. Has social media played a part in any convictions?
A. Our abilities to investigate and prosecute crime with a cyber component greatly increased this past September, when our office opened a state-of-the-art Computer Forensics Lab in Boston. The lab is designed to help the Commonwealth develop a statewide capacity to prevent, investigate, and prosecute cyber crime. The lab has expanded the office’s forensic capabilities, allowing us to conduct exams on a variety of digital media such as computers, cell phones, laptops, PDAs and GPS devices.

Without addressing specific cases, I can say that law enforcement officials are always mindful of the public nature of social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter.

Q. Are their laws that Massachusetts residents should be aware for social media and collaborative technologies?
A. Criminals are constantly finding new ways to exploit technological advances. Social networks can be another means for criminals to access personal or identifying information, so you should always be cautious about what you are posting about yourself online.

On the state level, I filed An Act to Combat Economic Crime with a coalition of legislators, District Attorneys, and law enforcement organizations, designed to give law enforcement the necessary tools to investigate and prosecute sophisticated criminal enterprises in the 21st century.

When I took office, we created a Cyber Crime team right away, and they can be a resource to you. Please contact us anytime with questions about illegal online activity or internet safety!

Q. What social media usage policies/guidelines do you have in place for the AGs office?
A. Governor Patrick and the Information Technology Division have established guidelines and best practices for social media use by state agencies. They have researched and compiled ways for government to use online tools responsibly to enhance civic engagement and increase transparency and access in government. In my office, we follow these guidelines, and we work to ensure that our constituents and users know how we use these tools and why. You can find our usage policies on our website.

Q. Are you using a CRM system? If yes, how is it being used?
A. In my office, we’ve been transitioning to a comprehensive database system to work seamlessly with as many divisions as possible, and with web-based applications like complaint forms. Given the legal work we do and the broad scope of the office, we must also prioritize compliance with public records law and protecting sensitive information. We have prioritized finding ways to more efficiently track consumer complaints, case filings, fair labor intake, charities filings, and we are also working towards systems that allow for seamless online complaint filing and municipal law research.

Q. Have you seen results from social media that you could not have replicated using other communication channels?
A. The benefit we have seen unique to social media has been the two-way flow of information. While we have always taken calls and received emails and letters, social media allows for a conversation with constituents that is more immediate and more viral. For example, we are able to watch @replies on Twitter, identify a trend in a particular area, and use this information to craft an appropriate response such as a blog post, a new brochure, or an investigation if appropriate.

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