Catching the Social Media Wave: Using Data to Drive Decisions
Catching the Social Media Wave:
Using Data to Drive Decisions
By Richard Hartman, Ph.D., COO, OhMyGov. Inc. and John Salamone, Vice President, Federal Management Partners, Inc.
Despite what the public may believe, budget cuts are not new to the federal government. Although the high profile sequestration cuts are driving political discussions, budget decisions, and news cycles, federal executives are all too familiar with fiscal pressures based on guidance from the Administration and Congressionally driven mandates. In fact, the current cadre of executives rose through the ranks marching to the mantra of doing more with less.
However, sequestration is particularly painful because of the indiscriminate nature of the across-the-board cuts. In this instance, executives are losing control of their funding without the opportunity to defend the integrity, impact, and mission related accomplishments of their programs. At some point, executives have to regain control of the process and be prepared to defend their programs and budgets to internal and external agency stakeholders.
From an operational standpoint, the days of across the board cuts without discretion to program performance are no longer acceptable. Further cuts may be unavoidable but the arbitrary nature has to end. If not, we will continue to see a negative impact on the performance of programs with direct consequences to the public and to the federal employees serving as the stewards of the services. Moving forward, federal executives must make a concerted effort to inform political and programmatic discussions that drive budget decisions by using elements of the social media network such as cloud data, mobile information, and big data – melding them together in an almost instantaneous confluence that will be faster than any decision-making process used in the past.
When preparing for budget discussions, agency executives should be finding ways to align readily available data from variety of sources, including key program performance metrics, Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results, and workforce trends with the mission of their agency and associated priority goals. However, adding real-time input from constituents, employees, and stakeholders through social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter, to this process will give executives a much deeper understanding of the political and public perceptions that impact program performance and service delivery.
Social media analytics provides instantaneous insight about an agency in comparison to other agencies based on the perceptions of the public, congress, and the agency's own staff. For example, an SES at NASA could gather social media network information about the agency and quickly note that it is ranked 1st when compared to other large federal agencies evaluated against several digital media measures (see screenshot on page 9).
This information is helpful to NASA leaders because the agency's strategic plan places a high premium on social media, including prominent placement on the agency's homepage. NASA executives have an additional way to capture the return on investment of agency's social media strategy for internal and external budget requests and reporting exercises.
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Additionally, researchers are finding that new media data correlates well with other performance measures. Just recently, NASA was awarded the number one ranking in the 2012 version of the Partnership for Public Service's Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. Therefore, combining the number one ranking in social media with the Best Places to Work rankings provides an abundance of additional measures of success for the agency to examine and explore.
However, simply knowing an agency's rank or searching recent social media mentions are often not enough. The use of more sophisticated social media analytics tools can gain deeper insight into the organization's performance and the public's sentiment. This information can then be used to inform program objectives, improve performance, and shape agency priority goals.
The private sector is already embracing this approach. Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, said recently at the Council on Foreign Relations, "the dynamic manner of their future billion dollar decisions will be based on the massaging of masses of data that will decide the winners and the losers of the future."
By using the information gathered from new media and new technologies, federal managers can supplement budget discussions to "gain control" of the process. With the ongoing budget discussions and evolving program performance reporting expectations driven by the modernization of the Government Performance and Results Act, federal executives should find innovative ways to incorporate social media data into the traditional justification process.
As painful as the sequestration may appear, your next budget fight may stretch beyond the program level as consolidations and cuts of entire federal departments and agencies have entered the daily conversation of members of 113th Congress and aspiring politicians alike. Therefore, executives must be able to explain the relevance of programs, agencies and/or entire Departments by providing the administration with mission-related performance information collected from a variety of sources that can be used to respond to external stakeholders.
By becoming aware and utilizing these new technologies, federal executives can defend their decisions for targeted cuts to congress, the public and their employees and also make the case for sustaining effective programs while investing in emerging programs.
Richard Hartman, Ph.D., is the COO and Co-Founder of OhMyGov, Inc., and a former career Federal executive who has held adjunct faculty positions as an associate professor with George Washington University and assistant professor as Georgetown University. John Salamone, a vice president at Federal Management Partners Inc., worked in federal government for 16 years and was executive director of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council.