Interior and USDA Talk Social Media Success

Dec 2, 2014
600 x 332 Strategy concepts on chalk board Melpomenem iStock Thinkstock 466815611

When it comes to implementing a social media strategy, determining how to measure success can be challenging. Yes, knowing how many followers and likes you have is beneficial. However, to really get valuable results from the trove of social media data monitor, social media managers first need to understand what they are measuring and why.

When you know your goals, you can determine what channels you will use to get there. Then, you can measure if you are reaching your goals or not. In simple terms, you need goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPI).

For this article, I spoke with Tim Fullerton, Director of Digital Strategy at the Department of Interior (DOI) in Washington, D.C. I also included my experiences as the social media manager at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Bozeman, Mont. Fullerton and I have separate and very distinct goals. At DOI, he is using social media to speak to and with a national audience. At NRCS in Montana, my goal is to connect with a far smaller audience, farmers and ranchers throughout the state. The strategies vary, but the practice of allowing metrics to drive social media change is identical.

Department of Interior

At DOI, each one of several social media platforms is utilized to reach a specific goal. According to Fullerton, the agency’s Instagram account is about promoting public lands. Twitter is a mixture, some photos and policy information, and YouTube mainly focuses on DOI policy with a weekly video of top stories and what’s happening within the Department. “All of the tools are a little bit different in how they help us reach out, but the majority of our digital outreach and our digital strategy are using these social media tools,” he said.

Fullerton has certain expectations for each platform—which are crucial when it comes to metrics. Social media managers need have established expectations for each platform, so they will know what metrics to monitor. Since Fullerton knows what he wants from each social media platform, he is able to establish the specific metrics to determine if DOI is reaching its goals.

One metric Fullerton uses to monitor success is the level of visitor interaction with DOI content. “We’re looking at how much our content is being shared because one of our goals is to continue to grow our account,” he said.

While measuring how many people are engaged with your content is probably the obvious metric, you can dig a lot deeper. At DOI, they don’t stop at learning how many people “liked” a post. They also include Google Analytics to determine which social media posts are driving traffic back to

If Fullerton sees that their audience is not engaging with the agency’s content as expected, he will use metrics to switch things up a bit. For example, DOI’s review of metrics led to an insight causing them to change their method of posting videos online. When DOI began posting “This Week at Interior,” they initially uploaded the video to their agency’s YouTube channel and shared the YouTube video on the DOI’s Facebook page. The video averaged about 3,000-5,000 views each week. However, after researching video sharing, the DOI team tested video upload directly to Facebook. The results were impressive. The initial video had 8,000 views by the end of the week. Once Fullerton saw the metrics, he decided: “anytime we put a video up for the public to view on Facebook, we are going to be using Facebook’s video player because more people see it, and more people share it. Which, at the end of the day, is the goal of our program—to get as many people engaged with our content as possible.”

DOI also used metrics to deliver a change in what is posted on social media. After reviewing what people “shared” and what got the most “likes,” the DOI team determined that people were really interested in the agency’s collection of “beautiful photos.” Using metrics, DOI went into a photo-posting routine—every morning and evening during the weekday, and one in the late morning on the weekends. The photos have become “hallmark of [the agency’s] digital program,” Fullerton said. “It’s just stuff that people can enjoy, no matter what they think of a particular issue. And that [posting photos] has dramatically increased the amount of followers, the engagement rates and frankly, the visibility of the program.”

Metrics are critical to a social media strategy, and if used correctly, they can lead to positive changes in the way an agency does things.

“The analytics should really drive the entire digital strategy,” Fullerton said. “Being able to hone your strategy from there make everything more successful and more strategic because you’re going to be able to go where it’s clear the public wants you to go.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

When I first became the social media manager at NRCS, I was turning my personal knack for social media into success for my agency. The most difficult part about this job was identifying such a specific audience: farmers and ranchers in Montana. At the state-level, NRCS can only have Twitter. Facebook is reserved for the Department of Agriculture. This really limited us because the majority of our audience is on Facebook—not Twitter. However, that didn’t stop me from trying. It was a ground-up approach. I spent about 3 months going through thousands of followers, followers of followers, and followers of followers of followers. It was time-consuming, but we were trending up.

Although our followers were increasing, my use of metrics determined that our followers were not engaging with our content. That’s when I decided to jazz things up a bit. Instead of simply posting tweets, I began to include a photo with every post I made. Also, instead of just using our URL, I used to shorten our URLs. These minor adjustments made a dramatic and immediate difference. Suddenly, people were retweeting and favoriting our posts. Then soon after, their followers began coming to us.

Once I established how each post should look, I really took a hard look at the content. Initially, I posted news releases and deadlines—general things. Later, I decided to try posting more about some of the success stories, videos and other resources we had available on our website. Metrics from this experiment showed me that our followers are highly interested in snow survey and soil health. While I still post about a variety of topics, the majority of my tweets are about these issues, and according to Twitter and Google Analytics, our audience is still very interested and engaged.

Recently, I tweeted a YouTube video about bale grazing. The video averaged about the same clicks, but one of my followers—an agriculture news organization—picked up our video, embedded it on their Web page and posted it their website. Right now, the video has more than 800 views (which is a lot for a state with less than 1 million people), it has been shared on Facebook 200+ times and our viewers finish 79 percent of the video on average. I used metrics from this video to answer a few questions and to pose some:

  • Many farmers and ranchers (not just in Montana) are interested in bale grazing;
  • Whenever I post a video or something that may be useful to a publication, I should direct message links to news organizations;
  • NRCS partners may be key in bridging the gap between our state office and Facebook;
  • What role did weather (Montana producers are inside during the winters) play in us accumulating so many viewers?;
  • How will I use video retention and the total number of viewer to comprehensively measure success?

Metrics have helped me answer most of my questions. In some instances, having the data only posed more questions which in turn required more data in order to be answered. But I am confident we will get there.

Creating or maintain a successful social media strategy truly requires someone to measure and analyze what is truly happening on those platforms. Just knowing what to measure and how to measure can go a long way.Editor’s Note: For more information on social media performance metrics, check out the Federal Social Media Analytics Toolkit. To learn more from Tim on how Facebook Video can improve your metrics, register for Facebook Video for Public Services.