Embracing Gov2.0: Social media case studies and tools in Congress

Understanding how Congress could approach social media can be usefully grounded in how Congressional offices are already leveraging the medium. After Saturday’s sessions at Congress Camp, digging deeper into case studies of social software use by Congressional offices was a natural evolution. The second session of the day, on tools and case studies, grew from that need, focusing in on the questions posed by a member of Senator Sanders (D-VT) office:

How do we keep up with all these tools and identify the useful ones?

He asked for ways that Congressional offices could:

  1. Listen to constituents
  2. Develop and build upon trusted relationships with constituents
  3. Filter conversations, given the massive amount of communications
  4. Manage a two-way dialogue

The session looked at many different examples of Congressional use of social software, starting first with Senate or House pages and then moving to the digital outposts themselves.

Case Studies

The pages chosen were by no means comprehensive or representative of the makeup of either of the two chambers. Each was simply suggested by the participants in the Congress Camp audience and then discussed in the context of how external social media platforms and digital tools were being employed and displayed.

Congressman Latta, for instance, used mobile technology in an innovative way by setting up his own SMS shortcode.

Cory Booker enabled visitors to translate the content of his page using Google Translate.

Congressman Culberson had his Qik feed embedded on his page, presenting a livestream to visitors if he chose to broadcast from his phone.

Metrics for success

As the discussion ranged far and wide, substantial questions emerged about measuring success – what are the metrics? And what are the risks? Noel Dickover pointed out that creating mashups or data feeds for agencies and offices can create legitimate concerns grounded in security and privacy.

If revenue follows engagement in business use of Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0, what’s the parallel for Government 2.0? A vote? Passing a bill? Registering new voters? Location-aware technologies may matter in this context, in the future. The goals of the social media efforts of the Center for American Progress, for instance, is measured in terms of extending reach, policy and expertise.

Metrics include:

  • Successful delivery of services
  • Signatures or delivery of petitions
  • Usage of platforms by constituents
  • Engagement, as measured by @mentions, retweets, reshares, likes or video replies
  • Raw numbers, as expressed by followers, fans, friends, clicks or viewsOne example of the latter is video of Michigan Representative Mike Rogers’ opening statement on the healthcare debate. The video went viral and has registered more than 3 million views on YouTube.
  • Tools

    The list is long, particularly when it came to Twitter, but one clear suggestion preceded the discussion:

    “Don’t focus on one – try many to see what works.”

    Choosing tools to integrate into a Congressional office or campaign should also, ideally, be directly tied to the desired outcome. (See “Metrics” above. ) Some platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, are now so big that any public entity is well-served to be represented. Others, like YouTube, are worth considering against smaller options like Blip.tv, Viddler, Veoh or livecasting services like uStream or Qik.

    Choosing tools from amongst the many “Web 2.0″ options also shouldn’t ignore “Web 1.0″ options like email, text messaging and HTML-based websites. All of these technologies are familiar to constituents, are lightweight and are not as hindered by issues of accessibility or access to broadband Internet connections.

    Acquiring a SMS shortcode for mobile – like txt “LATTA” – is a lightweight way, for instance, to engage constituents who do not own PCs or have Net access. For rich discussion of some of these issues, read this post on discussion of the digital divide at CongressCamp.

    Digital strategies involve more than just social media too: Keyword research for search engine optimization (SEO) is important for getting Congressional efforts online to rank high for searches. Google offers a free keyword research tool that helps with that effort. Search engine marketing (SEM) can also help to target constituents looking for specific information. For those who are new to the blogosphere, mapping out influence using blogrolls can help create a list of influencers for targeted social media outreach.

    Twitter came up again and again in the discussion of tools. The ecosystem of applications and services that make use of Twitter much effective is substantial and constantly growing, as documented by social media blogging powerhouse Mashable.

    The Twitter tools that were brought up included basics, like using Bit.ly for shortening and tracking links, establishing #hashtags for aggregating conversations and leveraging #FollowFriday to find people and build community.

    J.mp now offers an even shorter option than bit.ly, with the same advantages.

    More advanced options include using TwitVid for adding video to the microblogging network.

    Act.ly is now integrated with GovTrack.us for easy bill tracking. For instance, just plug in http://act.ly/HR2221 to an address bar or share it on Twitter for easy tracking of the cybersecurity bill.

    TweetCongress is useful to those looking for ways to track the tweets of Congress.

    A growing directory of government accounts can be found at GovTwit.com or followed on Twitter at @GovTwit.

    TweetProgress tracks progressives on Twitter. The True Conservatives on Twitter social network on Ning.com tracks #TCOT.

    If you have more tools, case studies or metrics to suggest, please add them in the comments!

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