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Agencies should make social media easier to locate and concentrate efforts, finds study

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Social media can improve public participation in government, but in some ways, federal branch agencies and departments are going about social media the wrong way, according to an academic article published in the January 2013 issue of the Government Information Quarterly.

Social media information is difficult to locate on agency websites, finds the study. For example, 38 percent of the 25 executive agencies and departments reviewed in the study placed links to the media below the visible viewing screen area of homepages.

"Social media access links prominently displayed where users can readily locate them can potentially increase participation," writes Author John T. Snead, an assistant professor in the school of library and information studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Ideally, agencies should have a multi-media center that includes a site map of all social media links, says Snead.

Social media applications are used by 84 percent of agency and department sites reviewed. Eighty percent use three or more social applications, and State.gov, Army.mil and Whitehouse.gov use all seven platforms reviewed--Twitter, Facebook, Podcasts and videos, RSS feeds, YouTube, blogs and Flickr.

However, agencies would be better served by focusing their social media efforts, Snead says.

"It is better to have fewer types of media and better interaction with community members than to engage in more types of media and not interact well with social media communities," he writes.

While it's great to accumulate lots of Facebook likes and Twitter followers, "the next step is to engage participants and get them interested in website content and other information a site has to offer," he says. And agencies that are not accepting comments and encouraging feedback are not developing their user community.

While Snead warns that social media usage counts are not viable measures of public participation, his review of Executive branch agencies and departments yields some interesting statistics.

Seventy-two percent of sample sites used Twitter, with the White House, NASA and the National Institutes of Health leading the way in followers. WhiteHouse.gov had 2,214,416 followers and 2,700 tweets, NASA.gov had 1,175,727 followers and 15,104 tweets, and NIH.gov had 135,610 followers and 1,848 tweets at the time of Snead's review.

Overall, 68 percent of sample sites use Facebook, and 71 percent of those had more than 10,000 total likes, which represents the total number of times an agency's friends liked a comment or post on the agency page. Of the Facebook sites, 18 percent average over 100 comments per post, finds the study.

Seventy-one percent of sample agencies use RSS feeds, 28 percent use blogs, and 24 percent use Flickr, finds the report.

For more:
- download the article, "Social media use in the U.S. Executive branch," (.pdf) (purchase required)

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