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Massachusetts State Treasury is getting social

I recently exchanged e-mails with Catherine Gropp who is the Assistant Director of Communications and the Social Media Coordinator at the Office of the Treasury for Massachusetts. Here are some of Catherine’s thoughts on open government (government 2.0) and on th use of collaboration strategies and technologies.

Q. What are your thoughts on government 2.0, the open government initiative?
A. The open government initiative is a great way to not only keep citizens informed on their local and federal government but a way to keep the elected officials honest. Working in the public sector and in communications, it is strikingly apparent that there is a constant struggle with getting the right information to constituents. With the open government initiative you are bypassing the scrutiny that can come using strictly media outlets to disperse information.

With open government, you are empowering people to learn more about what goes on in government and to get engaged. With the increased use of social media in the past few years it has become even simpler for people to stay informed and involved. It is fascinating to see the increased interest in our public leaders just on Twitter alone. President Obama, an innovator in using Twitter to connect with people, has over 3 million followers. Since President Obama took office, and even on his campaign trail, there has been a significant shift towards a more honest and helpful government. Social media has been a passageway for many people who may not have been actively involved in politics or the general happenings of their local and federal governments.

Q. Why do you use social media? What are you looking to accomplish? How does it fit into your overall communication strategy?
A. The Treasury uses social media as a tool to disperse information and inform constituents on the divisions of the Treasury and events. We find it as a useful tool to promote press releases, upcoming appearances for the Treasurer, road shows for the Abandoned Property Department, and board meetings from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Another way we use it is to promote events from our Financial Education Department. This in depth department has monthly brown bag lunch financial seminars and bi annual free Money Conferences that we push registration through twitter and our website. We also use it to congratulate winners of contests that not only the Financial Education Department runs but our Veteran of the Month initiative and sometimes even highlighting lottery winners.

Essentially what we try to accomplish is an outlet of communication direct from the Treasury to our constituents. We try to link back to our website or our agency websites as much as possible so that people are driven to mass.gov/treasury to not only learn more about Treasurer Cahill but the Treasury in general. There are many departments of the Treasury that do not get a lot of publicity and we like to use our social media and Twitter to highlight their efforts.

Q. Do the efforts at Treasury fit into an overall strategic plan for the state or are the efforts at each agency separate?
A. Jess Weiss Project and Social Media Coordinator, for Mass.Gov and Brad Blake Director of New Media and Online Strategy for the Governor’s office have done a great job integrating the social media practitioners of state agencies. Earlier this month they arranged a meet up for those state employees that work on social media accounts for their agencies to share ideas, strategies, problems etc. It was here they introduced the tool kits for social media outlets and they also discussed drafting policies for all agencies and using the Mass.Gov sites as a starting point.
Along with many of the other agencies, the Treasury sees the opportunity for Massachusetts to become an electronically savvy state. The congregation of Massachusetts state agency social media users is more than helpful in realizing that goal. For such a new niche in state government, it is a helpful advantage for all state agencies to be able to compare thoughts and suggestions for each other.

Q. What results are you seeing? Return on investment?
A. We recently added a “Share” button to our Treasury website. The analytics track the amount of traffic going to our website and what people are doing with the information. Our three highest share features are Print, Email and Facebook. In the past few months, since we enabled the share feature, we have had a significant increase in “Veteran of the Month” nominees, which is our most shared part of our website. The runner up is retirement information and our online pension calculator.

During our last eBay Auction there was a significant increase in “Twitter Buzz” with people tweeting about the auction and the goods available. It was one of the most successful auctions with the items nearly doubling in value. At its conclusion, it yielded approximately $102,000 and the appraised value of the items was $56,000.

Q. What social media usage policies/guidelines do you have in place for State employees?
A. Our Twitter policy for the MASSTreasury account is available on our website. At the time it was drafted after looking at the MASSGovernor, MASSGov, and MASSAGO accounts. Now there is a specific website: Mass.Gov/SocialMedia dedicated to helping state agencies draft their policies and use social media outlets with their tool kits. The tool kits give definitions on common words, policy suggestions, and ways to differentiate between agency and individual.

Treasury wide, we do not promote the use of social media during the workday, however many of our employees do “follow” the MASSTreasury account. It is useful for the employees to learn more about different departments by using our tweets as a guide. Also with promoting registration for different programs for all State Employees and constituents, we hope they get the information from our website and our tweets, so it is expected to be used in moderation.

Q. Are you using a CRM system?
A. We currently have a section of our website called “Ask the Treasury” where constituents can email us with thoughts, concerns, issues etc. Those are handled by a constituent liaison the same way calls, letters or any other forms of communication come into our office. We have not had a lot of interaction with our followers on twitter for customer/constituent relations. However if the opportunity did arise, the person monitoring the comments would be expected to get their contact information and contact them directly.

We do monitor our followers on Twitter, we follow back those who follow us, send them a direct message thanking them for following, and directing them to our website for more information.

Q. Have you seen results from social media that you could not have replicated using other communication channels?
A. The most successful results in using social media, especially with Twitter and our Flickr account, is showing what the Treasury does on a daily and operations basis. It is nearly impossible to get a story in the newspaper everyday or on TV so social media, Twitter in particular, helps us get out word of things that are going on in the Treasury.

We often put up photos of events the Treasury holds or Check Presentations from the School Building Authority, and it serves as a backup form of communication when you are not featured in the local news. Often with the Check Presentations we will link right to the press release from the photos on Flickr. That way, people not only see the photos, but they can read up on the amount of money the school received and learn a bit more about how the School Building Authority operates.

The best and maybe worst part of the internet and social media revolution is that all the information is viral. Tweeting and retweeting has proven to be an effective way to get your message out to as many people (followers) as possible. A great way you can see this happen is through the Massachusetts Agencies, MASSGov does a tremendous job at retweeting as many agencies as possible. It helps not only get our information out to our followers, and the followers of other agencies, but to those are following MassGov alone. The social media usage of the Massachusetts Government agencies is, in my opinion, very impressive and above all effective. We’re glad at the Massachusetts Treasury to have a hand in it.

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