Archive for December, 2010

Why is this even news? Best Use is not a Popularity Contest

Recently, Facebook DC asked their fans to “weigh in on the best use of Facebook in 2010 by members of Congress, political campaigns, and government agencies.” They have now released their results, which aren’t presented in scientific form, rather in a colloquial way. The results, found here, could be simply be described as predictable. For the most part, the government Facebook pages with the most fans seemingly had the most support for being good at using Facebook. I’m no statistician, but that sounds like an obvious result.

Trying very hard to remove partisan politics from GovSM, I cannot ignore that the most of the votes went to GOP sites. Generally, the GOP is slightly ahead of the Democrats when it comes to understanding and using Social Media, but they are not that far ahead. The difference here is in online followers and activists, where the GOP is considerably ahead. Sarah Palin, it is noted, has 2.5 million fans. Sen Scott Brown has 230,000. Rep Paul Ryan has over 50,000 fans. Each of these numbers are huge and completely unrepresentative of the group (Government Facebook pages) as a whole. Basically, the votes did not go to the accounts that made the “best use of Facebook in 2010”, rather the votes went to the pages with the highest fan bases.

To be sure, the results included some feedback about lesser known politicians and candidates and some of the things they have done on Facebook that made their fans happy. But any serious look into the “best use” has to be objective, with some sort of standard. Nothing of the sort is presented to the reader here. Instead, the results page has a nice large picture of Palin. I would suggest this was chosen since they heard more from her fans than anyone other.

From everything I’ve seen over the past few years, every time Facebook gets involved with politics, it moderately helps to bring in a larger audience, but whatever angle they tackle, it’s either very safe and bland or largely superficial. This “best use” survey is mostly superficial –  not much more than a popularity contest.


Why Senator McCaskill does not follow you – in her own words

Senator Clair McCaskill explains to some annoyed followers why she does not follow back, and how not following anyone allows her to spend more time reading, replying and engaging constituent concerns.

…Early on I realized that for me to do this myself I had to be realistic about time constraints. Most members of Congress who tweet have staff help on their tweeting. In fact, many members have their staff actually do their tweets for them.

I took a different route. I decided I would do this myself. It would be me, and only me. Some weeks I tweet a lot, others not so much. But without fail I read every single tweet I receive. Ok, maybe I gloss over a few “form” tweets, but I sincerely make an effort to read all. So I get lots of opinions and thoughts from thousands of people. Every day. It truly is two way communication…

Read the entire post here.

Tools for Transparency: GovSM

This is a cross-post of a guest blog entry I did for the Sunlight Foundation last week.

By now, we’ve all heard about the social media wave and most of us have heard about Gov2.0 and governmental use (or their feeble attempts to use) social media. Though there have been many discussions amongst “good gov” people about government officials’ best practices for using social media, what has been lacking is a clearly defined method of determining how a government office or official can use social media to benefit their constituents. If a system of rating social media use can be widely circulated (similar to Golden Mouse rankings of congressional websites), I believe that the quality of government use of social media will rise dramatically.

Currently, there are four major forms of social media, and four major players associated with each: social networking (Facebook), microblogging (Twitter), video sharing (Youtube), and picture sharing (Flickr). Of course, there are alternatives to those particular services, as well as many additional or up-and-coming forms of social media — like location-based sharing (Foursquare) — but those four are the main players. The trick, of course, is not for officials to just open accounts on these platforms, but to use them in some way that benefits and enlightens their constituents.

This is important to transparency because a properly used Facebook page can deliver information about an official that their website or local news coverage never would — especially on issues that don’t make the front page. And officials or agencies that post videos of their routine comings and goings will help educate their constituents about how the “sausage” is not just made, but conceived of, debated over, and developed. This by definition is greater transparency.

Of course it will take a long time for officials to properly use social media in a way that benefits their constituents to the fullest, but already there are bright spots. Two important keys to improving their use are for the open government movement to produce a “best practices” report — something my project, GovSM, is currently working on — and to have constituents communicate use social media channels to say just what type of information would be most valuable to them.

I started GovSM based on a conversation I had at a politics and social media conference I attended in the fall of 2009 in DC. There was a discussion about the best practices of social media in government, and while a few examples were offered by the group, it became clear that in order to even begin to define who does it best, you need to first determine who does it at all. Creating that list is a heavy lift in terms of time – I have visited every House, Senate, Gubernatorial, and electoral candidate page in the last six months – and so it makes sense that no one jumped at the task right away. Last spring I found some free time, spent three to four months learning how to code the main Senate and House pages and decided to launched my own attempt (with some excellent help of Ben Smith at Politico). GovSM was born. For now the entire site is human-entered text – if anything needs to be updated I have to find the information myself and enter in. There is nothing automated at all.

My site has a few purposes. First, it should be a place where the Hill and the public can go to see quickly, easily and clearly who is using what platforms. So far as I know, there is no place where you can just get a sortable list like that. There are many places that track congressional tweets, but my site does not care about the content (yet) so much as the usage. Second, I hope my site will demonstrate new uses of social media to govt. offices. A congressperson who thinks that all they need is a Facebook page but learns that 75% of the House uses Twitter will think really hard about ignoring that avenue of communication. Likewise, everyone can quickly learn when one or two offices experiment with new forms of social media like Foursquare or Scribd. Finally, GovSM is working on creating the aforementioned objective system of determining “best practices,” a guide that if used by government offices will hopefully help bring even greater transparency to government.

To learn more about GovSM head to

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