The why of social media

By now you know that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is heavily involved with social media. We tweet, blog, friend and follow. We have 10 blogs that received over 58,000 hits in the month of May. We have 26 agencies on Twitter, 10 agencies on YouTube and 7 on Flickr. We have toolkits that help agencies jump right in and get started.

Still, some ask why are we focusing on social media. The short answer: because it works.

Some of our biggest social media successes are in the area of emergency messaging. During the catastrophic flooding in March, the Commonwealth Conversations: Transportation blog received over 79,000 hits.That is five times their normal traffic! Citizens were turning to social media – the DOT blog and Twitter – to learn about road and transportation outages. MassDOT created an integrated communications strategy by sending tweets about blog updates – and even more tweets about conditions as they changed.

MassDOT wasn’t the only agency that leveraged social media to inform citizens during the March floods. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) used Facebook to provide regular updates to residents during the flooding. Governor Deval Patrick’s office used Twitter to dispel rumored requests for volunteers. The Department of Revenue used its blog to help people navigate tax-filing extensions. During the month of April, Commonwealth Conversations: Revenue saw its traffic spike from an average of 2,000 – 3,000 hits per month to over 16,500 hits. Social media use by the agencies and secretariats of the Commonwealth helped inform our residents during extraordinarily difficult and confusing times.
We saw similar communications opportunities and synergies during the boil water order in May.

Of course, social media isn’t only about emergency messaging. It’s about sharing information about our farmers’ markets and fun summer events. It’s about discussing real and interesting and sometimes confusing changes in our educational and health care systems. It’s about new bike paths and exercise regimens. In short, it’s about conversations. Conversations between people who might not otherwise connect, as well as between government and residents.

How do you make the conversation happen? Who are we trying to reach? What are we trying to say?

It all goes back to that original question: “why.” Not every social media platform or social community works in every situation. By asking “why” we take that first step towards creating a communications strategy. Strategies that will help us use the best tools available to reach our intended constituents.

I would love to hear your opinions about the value of “why” and how you answer that question. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Paul Day

I argue that the only measure that matters for social media is conversions. Getting people visiting your site is step 1. Getting people to talk about your content is step 2. Getting people to act on it is step 3.

Conversations are easier than conversions. Conversion-driven Government is step 3.

Laurel Ruma

Excellent post Jess. Setting aside my Gov 2.0 evangelist hat, and speaking as a citizen of Massachusetts, I’ll single out the @MassDOT account for updates to traffic, subway, and a certain major infrastructure project that’s coming to my town. I find that I even read the weekly newsletter with updates. I think it’s critical for government to reach out to citizens in various ways, and this is the one that works for me. The photos from MassDOT’s Flickr account during a flood were amazing, first-hand reporting of the situation. I appreciate all the work that has to go into maintaining this level of communication.