Measuring government impact in a social media world

Arthur Mickoleit & Ryan Androsoff at OECD Insights: “There is hardly a government around the world that has not yet felt the impact of social media on how it communicates and engages with citizens. And while the most prominent early adopters in the public sector have tended to be politicians (think of US President Barack Obama’s impressive use of social media during his 2008 campaign), government offices are also increasingly jumping on the bandwagon. Yes, we are talking about those – mostly bricks-and-mortar – institutions that often toil away from the public gaze, managing the public administration in our countries. As the world changes, they too are increasingly engaging in a very public way through social media.
Research from our recent OECD working paper “Social Media Use by Governments” shows that as of November 2014, out of 34 OECD countries, 28 have a Twitter account for the office representing the top executive institution (head of state, head of government, or government as a whole), and 21 have a Facebook account….
But what is the impact governments can or should expect from social media? Is it all just vanity and peer pressure? Surely not.
Take the Spanish national police force (e.g. on Twitter, Facebook & YouTube), a great example of using social media to build long-term engagement, trust and a better public service. The thing so many governments yearn for, in this case the Spanish police seem to have managed well.
Or take the Danish “tax daddy” on Twitter – @Skattefar. It started out as the national tax administration’s quest to make it easier for everyone to submit correct tax filings; it is now one of the best examples around of a tax agency gone social.
Government administrations can use social media for internal purposes too. The Government of Canada used public platforms like Twitter and internal platforms like GCpedia and GCconnex to conduct a major employee engagement exercise (Blueprint 2020) to develop a vision for the future of the Canadian federal public service.
And when it comes to raising efficiency in the public sector, read this account of a Dutch research facility’s Director who decided to stop email. Not reduce it, but stop it altogether and replace it with social media.
There are so many other examples that could be cited. But the major question is how can we even begin to appraise the impact of these different initiatives? Because as we’ve known since the 19th century, “if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it” (quote usually attributed to Lord Kelvin). Some aspects of impact measurement for social media can be borrowed from the private sector with regards to presence, popularity, penetration, and perception. But it’s around purpose that impact measurement agendas will split between the private sector and government. Virtually all companies will want to calculate the return on social media investments based on whether it helps them improve their financial returns. That’s different in the public sector where purpose is rarely defined in commercial terms.
A good impact assessment for social media in the public sector therefore needs to be built around its unique purpose-orientation. This is much more difficult to measure and it will involve a mix of quantitative data (e.g. reach of target audience) and qualitative data (e.g. case studies describing tangible impact). Social Media Use by Governments proposes a framework to start looking at social media measurement in gradual steps – from measuring presence, to popularity, to penetration, to perception, and finally, to purpose-orientation. The aim of this framework is to help governments develop truly relevant metrics and start treating social media activity by governments with the same public management rigour that is applied to other government activities. You can see a table summarising the framework by clicking on the thumbnail below.
This is far from an exact science, but we are beginning the work collaborating with member and partner governments to develop a toolkit that will help decision-makers implement the OECD Recommendation on Digital Government Strategies, including on the issue of social media metrics…(More)”.