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Federal Government and Social Media

It is day two of the O’Reilly Gov 2.0 Summit, and I had an interesting conversation at lunch with a person who works in a well known US federal agency.  I’m not going to share this person’s name or agency since I don’t want this person to get unwanted attention.

This person follows the the following maxim when it comes to new experiments: “It is sometimes easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”  This is in reference to how this person set up a Facebook page for their particular department.  Further, he/she also follows retweets about how members of the public react to interacting with the agency.  If they find someone who has a question, the agency provides an answer via twitter.

I was surprised that this person seems to enjoy a degree of freedom that I did not expect one could have in the bureaucratic federal government.  This person mentioned that while he/she and his/her boss are “uncomfortable” for a week or two after starting something like a department Facebook page without permission, they have been vindicated.  Of course, that’s if what they do succeeds; they would be in trouble if something they do fails.

I applaud this person’s initiative and willingness to trail blaze.  Of course, I understand that there is judgment required when trying new strategies out.  It is one thing to send someone to a useful webpage via twitter than it is to divulge sensitive information over a non-government network.  Further, I understand the comfort and protection of waiting to get permission before experimenting, but nonetheless I wish this person success.  Hopefully, he/she will help inspire federal agencies to use social media more to serve the public better.

The Kids These Days are not the Kids of Yesterday

Guest post by Alan Haburchak

It seems like there is a certain generally accepted truth about age and ideology in America: Young people are liberal and vote Democratic while the older generation tends to trend more conservative. There's even that old chestnut usually attributed to Winston Churchill: "If you're young and not a liberal you have no heart, if you're old and not a conservative, you have no brain."

That seems like it would make sense, and is certainly backed up by exit polling in the 2008 presidential race where two-thirds of 18-29 year olds voted for Barack Obama. But in a panel at the Personal Democracy Forum today, Simon Rosenberg and Morley Winograd of the New Democrat Network, presented research that showed political leanings are intensely generational. The Millenial Generation (the kids today, born after 1980 with their Facebook and their Twitter) identify as "liberal" almost two to one. No surprise there.

But, the same survey given to Generation X (those born between 1960 and 1980) when they were the age Millenials are now shows over 60% identifying as conservative, and the Boomer generation (born between 1943 and 1960) split almost down the middle. Young people have not always been so overtly liberal minded as they are now, according to Rosenburg and Winograd.

For Rosenberg and Winograd, the reason for this lies in a theory put forth in a 1991 book called Generations. According to the authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, the twentieth century, and actually the last 400 years of human history can be divided into twenty-year four-generation cycles, with each successive generation conforming to a specific type. Todays Millenials are the current cycle's "civic" generation, they're optimisitic and believe in community action and volunteering (the hallmarks of the Obama presidency). The Gen Xers on the other hand come from the "reactive" generation, characterized by self-reliance and entrepreneurship (the political hero of this group: Reagan).

The relevance of all this theorizing, according to Rosenberg and Winograd, is in how it has and will continue to shape the political landscape of the United States. Given how liberal the Millenials are, and the fact that there are more of them than any generation since the Boomers, they will probably dominate at least the next two electoral cycles, if not even farther into the future. This means that if Rosenberg and Winograd are right, the Dems can plan on another big win in 2012 and probably in 2016 as well.

That begs the question, what comes next in the generational cycle? According to the theory, the next generation is going to fall into the "adaptive" category, which means they might be a lot like John McCain's "silent generation," meaning a lot of them will have deeply-held conservative beliefs and will probably wonder how their parents can be so liberal and open-minded. Plus, they'll want to know why the old folks won't shut up about this Face-Twitter thing they used when they were kids.

The Twitter+Facebook Traffic Referral Explosion

I wrote a post a few weeks back that looked at how Facebook and Twitter compare as traffic drivers.  What I didn’t mention in my post is that over the course of the last six to twelve months the amount of traffic driven by both sites has grown exponentially. 

Last week at the 140 Conference, venture capitalist Fred Wilson gave a talk in which he shared some observations from the referral logs of his portfolio companies.  He found traffic from Twitter and Facebook has been increasing at a rate of 30-40 percent per month for the last year.  If this trend continues, this means that social media (lead by Twitter and Facebook) will surpass Google as a traffic source for many sites sometime in the next year. 

I have a couple of quick observations about this, based on the site stats I have access to, which are a mix of sites for non-profits, advocacy organizations and companies:

  • Traffic from Twitter and Facebook is increasing by 20-30% per month on the sites I manage that (1) produce content on a consistent basis and (2) are working to promote themselves on these platforms.  These types of sites lend themselves to Twitter and Facebook, and thus are getting lots of traffic.
  • Twitter and Facebook do not drive much traffic at all to sites that don’t produce consistent content and which aren’t actively engaged in the platforms.  Google is far and way the dominate traffic source for this type of site.

This is probably an obvious point, but you really have to earn your social media traffic by producing good content and working to promote it.

A video of Wilson’s talk is embedded below. 


/Democrats vs. /Republicans

Like many, I logged on to Facebook at midnight Friday night/Saturday morning to grab my chosen Facebook URL and to reserve some vanity URLs for clients as a way of protecting their brands.  I wasn’t alone – within 24 hours of the launch more than 3 million vanity URLs had been claimed

Over the weekend, I entertained myself by typing in some interesting Facebook URLs to see who had reserved them.  That led to me typing in www.facebook.com/democrats and www.facebook.com/republicans to see if both parties had claimed their brand on Facebook.  As you’ll see if you click through, the DNC has claimed /democrats while the RNC does not yet control /republicans

This was baffling to me, as I can’t imagine anyone in the tech space not knowing about the vanity URL land grab, and I knew the RNC had a larger following on Facebook than the DNC (84,000 to 43,000, after looking it up).  So what’s going on?

I looked at it further this morning and solved this great mystery.  It turns out the RNC has invested their resources in building a group instead of a page.  Groups are not eligible for vanity URLs at this point. 

I’m sure the RNC made the decision to create a group instead of a page long ago, when it was unclear what the best practice was for companies and organizations.  Facebook launched new page functionality in February of 2009, and only at that point did it become clear that pages were the way to go.  The key advantage of pages over groups  is that as a page admin you can create status updates like regular users, which then appear in your fans news feeds.  If you are the RNC, these status updates can be a really powerful way to drive action.  With the launch of vanity URLs, the case for pages over groups is now even stronger.

This is sort of a bummer if you are the RNC.  They have outperformed the DNC on Facebook, but are handicapped by their decision to create a group instead of a page.  They have probably gone too far down the group path to switch at this point.  If I were them, I’d want a do over.

Manu Ginobili vs. Zappos.com

I was checking out my Facebook news feed today at lunch, and noticed two very different levels of reaction to status updates from two of the pages I am fans of.  One of the pages belongs to San Antonio Spurs basketball hero Manu Ginobili and the other is for online retailer Zappos.com.  As you can see below, Ginobili’s update quickly generated 61 likes and 39 comments, while the Zappos update only got two likes and comments.

Many Ginobili


















This despite the fact that Zappos has 16,745 fans as compared to Ginobili’s 11,663, and the fact that Ginobili’s update is in Spanish and probably can’t be read by many of his fans.  If you go through the fan pages of Ginobili and Zappos, you’ll see that Manu’s updates consistently produce significantly more activity than Zappos updates.  Why?

Manu is a living, breathing person, so his updates fit in seamlessly with the news feed items produced by my friends and family.  It is written in the first person, and publicizes an upcoming charity event he is putting on.  It is actually the kind of update I’ve seen my actual friends write.

Even though I have chosen to be a fan of Zappos, its updates feel a bit like advertising when I see them in my Facebook feed.  They seem out of place and I tune them out.  In Zappos’ case, I tune them out despite the fact the company is doing a great job of making their updates compelling and providing a behind the scenes look at their brand. 

As I’ve written before, Facebook is still primarily about friends.  In this example, Ginobili’s fan page looks and act a lot more like my friends do than Zappos does.  So it drives more activity, and Ginobili’s fans are more engaged with his page than fans of Zappos.  It will be interesting to see if this changes as Facebook continues to grow.