Government Meet the Citizens; the Role of Social Strategies in the Government

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Today’s citizens are technologically sophisticated, always connected, and expect around-the-clock support, no matter where they are or what they are doing. They expect that their experience with an agency will remain consistent and feel seamless as they traverse social and traditional channels, like it often does with commercial brands. As a result, agencies are under pressure not only to quickly identify strategies and technologies to keep up with the increasing number of citizens trying to interact with them on the social web, but also to ensure that social efforts are part of their cohesive citizen experience strategies – all with less resources than their commercial counterparts.

Social media is the fastest growing channel where citizens are engaging with government agencies, and it demands real-time attention.  In a recent Harris Survey sponsored by RightNow, when asked how U.S. government agencies could improve the way citizens interact with them, respondents sited online communities or branded forums (54%) and an increased presence on social sites (34%) as top reasons. With social concepts quickly taking over as the best way to engage with the government, agencies need to establish the most effective ways to manage these new channels to meet their unique agency needs while managing security requirements at the same time.

The next frontier in government is thinking about these social media tools as a necessary response to citizen centered innovation driven by the convergence of business applications and social media platforms, the semantic web (self learning knowledge and technology) and personalization. But in order for social citizen experience strategies to really take off in the government sector, expect to see a heavier focus on measuring the social citizen experience and the return on investment associated with implementing social tools. Let’s take a closer look at how agencies can be more social in their citizen experience initiatives:

1) Citizen centered innovation. The primary concept here is engaging with citizens to allow them to drive innovation – let’s call this citizen powered innovation.  Government agencies can leverage the citizen to help improve the service, support and information they provide.  Citizens have strong opinions and great ideas – why not let them work to help identify new business processes, and help submit, share and pilot ideas to further refine them before putting into practice? Tactical speaking, citizens can assist in knowledge creation and maintenance by commenting on and rating answers that appears in an organization’s  knowledge base.  Agencies can continue to encourage this by syncing answers from their communities and forums as well.

2) Convergence of business applications and social media platforms. The contact center is a prime location for the convergence of business applications with social media platforms.  Agencies’ contact centers need to listen to conversations that are taking place on social sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube etc. and have the ability to engage in the conversation as appropriate.  As Andrea DiMaio states  “(“real” engagement) is about figuring out where citizens are already having conversations that government needs to be aware of. It is about bringing information and dialogue to places where citizens want that dialogue to happen: their blogs, their Facebook groups, their Twitter streams.”

Agencies that are more vigilant about conversations happening on the social web can scan and automatically route content to the appropriate next step (publish, moderate, or discard) based on the sentiment of the post. An example of this would be a citizen posting a comment on Twitter stating “I’m stuck in Italy, lost my passport & the State Dept does not have a 24 hr hotline.  Please help. #gov.” Agencies can use social monitoring tools to immediately route this tweet into the contact center so an agent can immediately begin solving the problem.  Moreover, a reply can be tweeted stating that “Hello, I’m with the State Department and I see you need help.  Please feel free to contact me at .”

3) Personalization and the semantic web. Agencies need to get to know the individual citizen to provide a more personalized experience.  Each interaction with an agency should be captured and a contact history developed.  Agencies need to do more than simply track the questions they’ve been asked and address information citizens have already searched for, by  extending this further to  allow citizens to participate in forums and communities of interest.  Once a history is established, agencies are better equipped to evaluate citizen participation.  For example, if someone posts something positive – say “thank you.” Or if they are expressing unhappiness, the agency can use this information to open a support ticket to help. If incorrect facts are being circulated – provide correct information. If they have correct facts – use social tools to share the facts with others to amplify the conversation. At the very least, just monitoring social channels helps agencies stay one step ahead of a call for action.

4) Measure Return of Investment. Agencies can measure successful social citizen experiences in many tangible ways.  For instance, support costs can be decreased by allowing citizen-to-citizen help through a forum. What’s cheaper than a channel that does not require any direct contact with your agency?  How about the free collaboration that the citizens can provide? Certainly it’s more cost effective than a multi-million dollar RFP.  Finally there are the savings around delivering proactive citizen support by monitoring and joining conversations, in addition to routing citizens to self-service applications that are far less expensive than traditional contact centers.

Alan Webber with Altimeter Group recently pointed out that “organizational and cultural shifts take time, effort, resources, and work to be successful – not hype,” and I believe this is representative of the government’s exploration of social technologies at this point in time.  Even just a few years ago it was commonplace for citizens to accept and even expect poor citizen experiences when interacting with federal agencies. As more and more social networks, platforms, and communities become widely used, citizens will continue to interact with their government agencies as they do in the commercial world.  And those agencies that find a way to implement a citizen experience strategy that allows for massive social engagement will increase internal productivity, operate with more efficiency and raise citizen satisfaction.

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