FedScoop’s #socialgov feature highlights the people behind the federal government’s social media engagement.
New Media Content Specialist
Office of Communications, U.S. Department of Agriculture
What are the ways USDA leverages social media?
One of USDA’s major strengths is its vast network of constituent interactions across the country. We have a national presence – down to the county level – with dedicated USDA employees working with real people in their communities to deliver the services they need. With the USDA Blog as an anchor, we do a great job of using our social media channels to showcase these stories so the rest of the country can learn about the programs and services USDA offers. Government can be difficult to navigate or connect with on a personal level, so seeing the success stories of individuals “just like me” can be a really helpful tool to motivate others to be active and get involved.
The question often is, with so much material out there, how do you help your audience find what they’re looking for? A lot of what social media has done for USDA is to help us focus on what type of content, stories and images people are interested in reading. We’re big on social media and web analytics, and from those we can get a sense of the sorts of materials people are looking to us to produce – I believe the process of incorporating data and other social feedback to improve our digital communications is invaluable to our audience.
How does it tie into the agency’s mission?
When USDA was founded by Abraham Lincoln, he called it the “People’s Department” because, at the time, much of the country was living on farms. Today, there are certainly fewer Americans living on farms than there were 150 years ago, but you’d be surprised how much of USDA’s portfolio affects your day-to-day life. And that’s where social media comes in.
Social platforms have allowed us to expand our outreach and education efforts into non-traditional audiences to connect what we do as a department with citizens who may not have an “on the farm” connection to agriculture. Social media gives us access to a large audience on a daily basis and that, in turn, offers an enormous opportunity to make these everyday connections.
Along those lines, what I really like about social media is that where traditional media relies on a third party to help tell our story, social media allows us to talk directly with the American people. Today it’s easy for an American farmer, consumer or student to directly ask the secretary of Agriculture questions about a program, or get advice on emerging fields in the agricultural sector. Social media is just another way of exemplifying our connection to everyday people, and in that way, helps us live up to our namesake.
What government social media advice do you have for others?
Don’t be afraid to share social media successes with your team and leadership. Performance measurement is important and we need it to understand which channels best help communicate our core mission to our stakeholders. In a world of increasing information flow, we want to be effective in reaching our audiences. And this also goes for tactics used by others beyond your organization. There are tons of good ideas out there, and there isn’t anything wrong with looking at a successful social media campaign and thinking, “Hey, we can do that too!”
It is also important to work with the strengths of your entire team to create an integrated product. At USDA, we have an excellent creative team that regularly gives us fresh new photos and videos to work with. The question then becomes, how do we best package this content so that it resonates with the right audience? On our USDA Facebook page in particular we’ve found that pairing a compelling photo with a quote from our Secretary or a poignant message from an announcement has been successful in encouraging people to share our materials. The best part about this approach is that when others see the success of an integrated approach, it’s more likely to become the ‘new normal.’
What’s your personal benchmark for agency social media success?
I still get butterflies when I hear our secretary talking about the importance of social media in communicating our mission, or telling a room of people to stay connected with us on Twitter and Facebook.
I also really love when a message punches through to an audience that isn’t one of our traditional players. We have a very active and engaged audience on a normal basis, but the instances that we strike a chord with someone unexpected or with non-traditional ag audiences; that feels like real success to me.
What’s your personal favorite social media platform and why?
For my own personal use, the social media platform I can’t get enough of is Twitter. It’s such an extraordinary way to consume information, which is completely dependent on your personal interests. I use it to keep up with my friends and favorite reporters and celebrities of course, but also, it’s the first place I go when I’m looking for explanations. If the bus or metro is backed up, or a street is closed, or I feel a rumble and I’m convinced is another earthquake, I look to Twitter first. And more often than not, I can find the answers I’m looking for.
Another channel I really love using on a personal level is Instagram because I am a firm believer that a good picture can tell the whole story. At the department we use visual content with the help of photographers, videographers and designers who allow us to convey our messaging in a rich, multi-media format that caters to our audiences. But overall, I think Instagram has challenged us to be more creative in how we express ourselves and I have to say, I enjoy the challenge.