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Monitoring and Measuring the FCC

Here is a recent interview with Dan McSwain, New Media Fellow @ the FCC. I asked him questions pertaining to how the FCC monitors social media.

1. What social media channels (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) do you use in your outreach?
“First, let me preface this by saying that other FCC employees than myself deserve credit for setting up the agency’s social networking presence. In particular, George Krebs ([email protected]) is in charge with updating these networks.

Starting with the Genachowski administration, the FCC has moved aggressively to establish a responsive and dynamic social media presence. The agency actively updates accounts on Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and Twitter — the FCC Twitter account is the 3rd most-followed in the federal government with nearly 400,000 followers.

The FCC maintains 3 blogs — Reboot, Blogband, and the Open Internet blog. The blogs are the central repository for all agency blogging efforts from across the FCC’s 17 bureaus and offices. The FCC blogs are the front line of the agency’s efforts to speak increasingly with “one voice,”; its our belief that balkanizing the perspective audiences according to the agency’s org chart is inefficient and puts too high a burden on potential users searching for information and updates.

At times, this has been challenging. One look at the FCC.gov home page will show you a peek into how the agency — like most federal agencies — has approached online communications: focused primarily on pushing out mountains of content without much consideration for what presentation would help maximize viewership. The natural tendency within the building is to focus simply on publishing, and not focusing on optimizing how users digest that content. By having centralized blogs and resisting the tendency to balkanize, and in the process obscure, agency content, we’ve been able to build out a more rounded picture of what the agency does and how it serves Americans.”

2. What monitoring and measuring tools (both free and fee-based) do you use to monitor activity across those social media channels
“One of the first things I was tasked with on joining the FCC was to start wrapping my head around the activity FCC.gov visitors were taking. At first, I tried to gather website analytics using the tools the agency had been working with during previous administrations. After a long, surprisingly-grueling effort, we mounted enough evidence to show that setup to be inadequate; after 5 months of trying, we brought Google Analytics into the building.

The launch of Google Analytics at the FCC represents a fact-based, empirical watershed in the way we understand who our audience is and what they need from our site. We launched an Analytics Working Group — now over 60 employees strong — that meets monthly to get training on using Google Analytics, discuss interesting data trends, and to collaborate on ways we can improve our own data collection and analysis to help promote our goals.

Obstacles remain. We’re rebuilding FCC.gov in Drupal because we feel that the robust, open source platform gives us the maximum amount of control not just on the presentation layer, but on the back-end of our redesigned site. A lot of the legacy publishing systems make analytics gathering tough to do for a variety of mundane, mechanical reasons. We’re very much looking forward to a new day.

While Google Analytics has the ability to track referrals and visits coming from social networks, we’re not using it much towards those ends just yet. Now that FCC Managing Director Steven VanRoekel (@stevenvfcc) has joined Twitter to be the face of the FCC.gov redesign, we’re able to engage in conversation more directly than through the official FCC.gov handle. With that change, we’ve started using Tweetdeck to monitor his conversations and identify opportunities to reach out to different communities interested in the issues we deal with.”

3. How often do you monitor activity – hourly, daily, weekly, monthly?
“For launches of new initiatives or parts of the site, I’ll check analytics daily. For most other, regularly-occurring reports, weekly. Monthly tracking is really useful for talking about trends with stakeholders that don’t necessarily watch the analytics themselves or maybe don’t have a huge amount of awareness around how their content is viewed and understood online.”

4. How do you coalesce all of that data/info to provide a snapshot of what key stakeholders can view easily?
“Google Analytics reports. Sometimes I have to export into database files to mash up some of the information to illustrate a particular point. But typically just simple exported reports.”

5. If you had to sum up for colleagues successful monitoring and measuring activities, what would be your 4-5 tips?
i. Put analytics tools and reports into as many hands in your organization as possible. We’re currently pushing a concerted, building-wide effort to tag as much legacy content as possible using a tool called Developer View (made by whizkid FCC intern Benjamin Balter). Developer View lets anyone on the FCC intranet look at FCC.gov content through this new “lens” that allows to leave comments on that page, tag the content as a particular type or having a particular focus, and also imports real-time Google Analytics data into the same view. Now, anyone who views FCC.gov content can see info on pageviews, relevant search key words, etc. in-line with their navigation experience — whether or not they have a Google Analytics log-in, or even if they have no familiarity with the tool whatsoever.

ii. Use quantitative measures to track intangibles, like your organization’s brand. Direct type-in visits and branded key word search (e.g. “fcc broadband plan” or “fcc fee”) show you which visitors are searching for you by name. This isn’t the total brand awareness picture, but its a start.

iii. Segregate your pages into “task-oriented” and “browsable” to get a clearer picture for what your time-on-page metrics really mean. This runs counter to what many dot gov webmasters see as the role of agency sites — to get in, get done, and get out — but needs to be re-examined in the new content environment.

iv. Test everything. Combining analytics with page optimization tools will help maximize the value users get from your content. This is something the FCC is just dipping its’ toes into, and I’ll be happy to update this once optimization gets underway.

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