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GCN : February 2014
The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have been monitoring social media for several years to search for potential terrorists and criminals. Mean- while companies have been scanning social media to gather intelligence about consumer perceptions of their brands. And the Centers for Disease Control is gathering data from Google Flu Trends and MappyHealth to keep tabs on health issues. Increasingly, however, government agencies are now turning to social me- dia as a way to interact with citizens -- to inform and to be informed. The most notable effort to date is Grade.DC.gov, a program launched by the District of Columbia in 2012. Grade.DC.gov gathers data from social media, as well as from comments con- tributed to its website. Nearly two years after launching the program, the surprise has been transformation of Grade. DC.gov from a public relations effort to something more. "When we started this we thought of it more as a transparency in communica- tions exercise," said Matt Desjardines, D.C. communications of cer. As the dis- trict expanded the program, however, it has come to see it as a service platform for interacting with residents. "The one thing that we quickly learned is that this has more bene t when used appropri- ately on the service side of things," said Desjardines. Desjardines cites the example of the district's Department of Aging learning through social media of complaints about the food at certain facilities. "They were serving some food that didn't taste good, and we were able to make that small subtle shift using Grade.DC.gov social media to get the meal plan changed," said Desjardines. "People's lives were a little bit better off because of that." The district contracted with newBrand- Analytics to collect and analyze data from the Grade.DC.gov website and from social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. newBrandAnalytics doesn't just gather messages and pass them along, it runs them through the company's proprietary text-analytics engine to extract signi - cance. "We identify certain keywords and then assign various levels of senti- ment to them," said Zach Boisi, director of client services. "We grade on a ve point scale." Recognizing that sentiment-analysis algorithms can miss sarcasm and slang -- both of which are often directed at government agencies -- the analytics team backs up the text-analytics engine with a quality-control network of humans who regularly sample the data ow. According to Boisi, a dozen new- BrandAnalytics analysts are dedicated to the Grade.DC.gov project. "They prob- ably know more about D.C. government that any D.C. resident," said Boisi. "If someone says 'this service is LOL,' or 'the service was the bomb,' they are able to discern it." The results of the analysis are dis- tributed in two ways. First, monthly grades for each of the 15 agencies cur- rently covered are offered on the Grade. DC.gov website. Secondly, daily reports that cover the interactions from the day before are delivered to agency managers via e-mail. Judging from the grades received over the past two years, the program has been effective. "Going back to the start of this program, the sentiment was not positive," said Boisi. "I think of the ve agencies we launched with back in April 2012, four of the agencies had C- and one was C+." In fact, the grades for the 15 agencies involved in December 2013 included nine As. There were only two Cs and one D (which was based on only three reviews). "Over time, these grades have all trended upward," said Boisi. "And we have not changed our grading mecha- nism whatsoever." It is, of course, dif cult to run a cost- bene t analysis on such a program, but Desjardine says the district government is very happy with its investment. While the contract with newBrandAnalytics was $170,000 for the rst year, along with two $250,000 options years, he said it has paid off. "It has really allowed us to tap into this growing communication stream from the public," he said. "It has shortened the feedback loop. And combining the data streams of different social media is really valuable from a managerial standpoint. GradeDC.gov allows managers to see everything in one place." • DC transforms social media site with citizen service BY PATRICK MARSHALL "Combining the data streams of different social media is really valuable from a managerial standpoint. GradeDC.gov allows managers to see everything in one place." --- D.C. COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER MATT DESJARDINES GCN FEBRUARY 2014 • GCN.COM 5