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Municipal Social Media ROI 3 Talking Points for City Leaders

The return on investment for governmental social media outreach operates quite different than it does for businesses. An old adage says that governments can operate like businesses. The truth is that it can do that only to an extent. Business success has a series of metrics that lead to one ultimate metric: profits. Government success has no social media metric to increase profits. It has metrics that lead to one road: better governance.

This presentation will reveal how elected officials can align social media ROI to their roles as governmental statesmen and stateswomen. Social media metrics change as cities, states and entities grow and change. In that sense, it can have metrics that measure stakeholder satisfaction but elected officials do well to remember that this satisfaction can be expressed different from a customer who has purchased a product or service from a for-profit business.

1) START SMART A quick review of the standard SMART Goals provides a good plan for elected officials to create goals and objectives for a government’s social media programs and strategies. Metrics need to take into account the state of the city or entity and what are the overall goals of it. If the city is growing exponentially, it may want to simply listen to the residents in order to learn who is moving into the city. An active listening program can help elected officials learn what homeowners’ experience. These revelations can help councils and committees govern better. These metrics could include engagement but they might also include topic reports on social media groups. These metrics might look like for-profit market comparison metrics, but they are used differently. Elected officials may create policies, change direction or develop a more robust park program as a result of an “active listening” campaign.

2) VANITY METRICS AND GOVERNMENTS So-called vanity metrics are the pantry of social media stars. These are follows, likes, comments and shares. The metrics are called vanity because mainstream people are impressed by them. In recent years these metrics have been scrutinized because services, known as bots, now exist that can manipulate them. However, vanity metrics still have a place, although they are not as prominent as they once were. Elected officials can still use them to study two distinct areas, reach and resonance.

While vanity metrics should no longer be measured individually, they should be measured in relationship to each other, with other metrics and in concert with events that are happening in the real world. Individually, these are vanity stats but as part of a package, they paint a holistic picture of how city information resonates with constituents. A single like may not seem like much, but it can signal resonance with an entire homeowner association or chamber, depending on who liked it.

3) ROI THAT DRIVES CONVERSATIONS Social media has a distinct advantage as an immediate feedback loop. Elected officials can post and within one day they have knowledge they can use.

Depending on the size of the government in question, elected officials can have staffs that handle constituent needs. These staff help guide people through the government, keep them engaged and explain issues or policies. Smaller cities have one or two executive staff members who might do this but the majority of this work lands squarely on the elected official themselves.

This constant and ongoing conversation with different constituents can become tiring. A city or entity driven social media plan can help elected officials push city information out to their stakeholders just by sharing it. To determine how social media helps elected officials and city staff learn how stakeholder digest their information, they can measure reach, impressions and shares, specifically the shares by elected officials, social media groups and across platforms.

By counting the signups for a city newsletter, elected officials can also dive deeper to learn how many residents want to continue a larger conversation with them. Studies and social media insiders now consider the traditional inbox e-newsletter as the new standard for those who want to be engaged.

METRICS AS A ROADMAP NOT A DESTINATION It can seem like society never lived without social media today but really it is still a new phenomenon. Consider that Mark Zuckerberg was still launching Facebook as a college chat tool just 10 years ago.

This means that our world grapples everyday with what social media needs to be for society. Metrics can be a way to determine if the platform meets a government’s goal to converse with constituents but they should not be an end into itself.

In other words, in the rapidly rising technological world governments do well to constantly adapt, experiment and update the way they talk to constituents. They should also remember that one metric that met a goal this year may be outdated in the next.

Simply put, social media becomes a journey of conversation methods. Elected officials do well to remember it cannot be the only way they have constituent conversations if they intend to govern well.

Lora-Marie Bernard is the principal consultant of She helps municipalities and governments navigate new technologies to engage residents, taxpayers and stakeholders.

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