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Social Media: Taking Stock in Your Government

Much of the hand-wringing in government social media practice – or more so, the decision-making behind whether to have a government social media practice – centers on return on investment, or even “return on engagement.” Does it work, and how do we measure whether it works?

From measuring retweets, to numbers of fans, unique blog hits, to overall influence within sites like Twitter to Facebook, there is a whole industry around measuring social media engagement. The next phase of growth in social media-for-gov best practices is likely to come from the realm of analytics.

For the past couple of months, and particularly over a recent vacation, I’ve been experimenting with a new startup that merges social media and a fantasy stock market with the goal of measure engagement and influence across Web 2.0 communications channels. Edmonton CIO Chris J. Moore first introduced me to Empire Avenue this spring, while it was still in a closed “family and friends” beta. When it launched as an invite-beta soon after, he sent me one and after a week or so (who has time for another site, right?), I signed up. I’ve found the game mechanics of the site to be extremely engaging, and, it is also very interesting to watch what happens when folks sign up, integrate their various social media feeds and then basically ignore the gaming aspects of the site.

Empire Avenue centers around buying and selling stock in people and businesses. But it also functions as a social media aggregator, with overnight “market makers” that analyze a broad range of social media metrics, including engagement with followers and growth in connections. Folks who sign up for the site continue to see swings in their share prices even if they never log back in, and even if no one is buying and selling them, all based on measurements of their broader social media activity. Guessing the strength of a profile immediately after someone signs up – by looking at their Twitter account for example – is a popular way of making sound stock picks on Empire Avenue.

Eventually, the EA founders plan to have a real-word advertising function on the platform, with members able to run ads and do profit sharing. Some may be playing with this end game in mind, while others enjoy the networking opportunities of a smaller social media site, some are pure gamers, and others just want to get another measure of their social media influence.

What does this mean for government social media? Well, it’s still a bit early to make many judgments about the site, it’s market-based system and analytical chops. However, it sure is interesting to watch. Today I took a look at three official government accounts that have set up EA profiles, each with at least a few weeks of maturity on the site: City of Manor, TX; Oklahoma City; and the Washington State Department of Transportation. Manor has linked a Twitter account to its EA profile, while OKC has Twitter, Flickr and a blog, and WSDOT has a blog, Twitter, Flickr and a news feed.

Right away, from EA, I can follow these agencies there or on Twitter, can see how many followers they have, and view a simple report on their activity. I see that Manor has 492 Twitter followers, up two in the last week, and sent one tweet in the past week, down 4. I find that OKC has 3,582 Twitter followers and added 7. WSDOT’s Twitter account has 9,047 followers after adding 47 in the past week. Facebook pages are not yet supported, but for personal profiles, the same kind of stats are included. Even more interesting is the stock price for these accounts. Each has been almost inactive on EA for the past few weeks, but their feeds keep pushing new content for their site followers and those analytical market makers. With 7 being the floor price for any stock, Manor is at 8.271, OKC at 9.409, and WSDOT, with it’s very robust social media activity across several platforms, at 22.476.

EA goes public beta (no invites required) on July 28, and it will be interesting to see how its market system plays out in the larger social media community, and in government engagement efforts.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Fascinating…I wonder when the real stock market will start to fluctuate based on this kind of data? I’ll give it 18 months.

Ryan Link

As a owner of your stock I must say – interesting post Adriel. Something I was just thinking about myself. Along those lines I was just reading the a blog summarizing the results of a recent report (http://gigaom.com/2010/06/11/how-much-is-a-facebook-fan-really-worth/) that found the average Facebook Fan to be worth about $136.38. I then came across an earlier study that identified the value as $3.60 – obviously different research methods. This was obviously done for the private sector.

I don’t think there is a clear parallel to the public sector, and i’m not sure there should be/needs to be. I think you stated it well – analytics need to start defining the ‘value’ of an organization or community – and that is a hard one to put a price tag on, and coming up with a measure wouldn’t be controversial at all………..