According to the U.S. Department of Commerce (2011), "almost 72 percent of Americans use the Internet at some location (p. 5)." Along with this growth in Internet use has come an increase in the use of social media. Socialnomics (www.socialnomics.net), an Internet-based group that reports on social media stories, studies, and statistics, created a YouTube video that illuminates the impact of the Social Media Revolution (SM Revolution). Statistics from this video include:
Erik Qualman, the founder of Socialnomics, says, "We don't have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we DO it."
So how can SACs and government agencies use social media to their advantage? What are the pros and cons associated with the SM Revolution? Once the West Virginia Criminal Justice Statistical Analysis Center (CJSAC) realized we needed to more efficiently communicate our own work to the public and other stakeholders, we began to explore avenues that involve the use of such media. While the CJSAC research staff in no way understands all the how's and why's of social media use, we can discuss how social media have impacted us as a research center located in state government as well as our vision and goals for pursuing their use. We will also describe what we have learned since starting our social media pages in February 2010.
The Why Behind Social Media
In an age of information overload, it is increasingly important for people to devise "filters" to get efficient access to the information most relevant to their work and interests. Consumers must be more assertive and proactive about deciding what information they are most interested in and the best ways to get it. While it may sound difficult when so much information is broadcast through multiple outlets and media, it is actually as easy as making a few clicks to establish "filters." It is no longer necessary to cruise Web sites, a process that can be overwhelming, time consuming, and often difficult to muddle through. You can get the news and information you want and view it in a time frame most convenient for you through social media.
Personal newsfeeds (a newsfeed is like a timeline of daily postings from pages that you like or follow) show you up-to-the-minute status posted by the people, organization, or agencies that you follow or like. You determine what to click on to get more information-and what to skip. As you become more familiar with social media applications and different outlets, it becomes easier to maneuver and tailor them to your particular interests.
CJSAC's Vision for Use of Social Media
In the West Virginia SAC, our vision for the use of social media centers on how best to streamline our own processes of communicating information to the public and, at the same time, make it easier for our "consumers" to get the information they want in a timely, efficient, and easy manner. In the past, like many organizations we relied on traditional means for news dissemination, such as newsletters and email distribution lists. However, we often felt we were not getting the information into the hands of the "right" people (i.e., those who were most interested) and that many people were being overlooked. We began to explore how we might reach more people and become a more visible and practical resource to the citizens of West Virginia if we tapped into the "SM Revolution."
WV's CJSAC first began using social media in February 2010. Since that time the types of information we push out to our subscribers as well as how we compile that information have evolved. We chose two popular media outlets to begin-Facebook and Twitter. These are are both user friendly, popular, and can "do" what we were looking for at inception-efficiently relay state and national criminal justice-related news, share grant solicitation information, and distribute links and other important Web sites to people that "followed" or "liked" (common terms that Twitter and Facebook use to let people follow your updates on their newsfeeds) our pages. Moreover, these two social media sites can be linked so that if we post an update on Facebook, it appears on our Twitter feed, thereby cutting down on the amount of time spent on these sites daily.
Achieving CJSAC Goals Through Social Media
The Office of Research and Strategic Planning (ORSP) and the CJSAC have many goals that center on being more accessible and getting timely, relevant the state, including the public. One such goal is to act as a "clearinghouse" for justice-related research and evaluation news and statistics. It is clear that that the ways in which people (as well as businesses and government agencies) network with others have changed. Modern networking allows us to reach new groups of people in a "ripple effect." For instance, people may come across information that the CJSAC has posted because a friend "liked," shared, or commented on that post. This sharing allows us to reach people who may not have even known we exist with information that may be beneficial to them in some way.
This process can also work in the opposite direction. We pull information from other social media sites and share it on our pages with people who may not have heard of the original source. For instance, many of the pages that CJSAC has as "favorite" under our Facebook page or "follow" on Twitter are actually sites we came across on social media sites with interests similar to our own.
The CJSAC shares a wide variety of national, state, and local justice-related information, including upcoming webinars and other trainings, grant information and funding sources, and current ORSP projects, publications, and news. Recently, we used Facebook and Twitter to announce and describe the newly created Justice Center for Evidence-Based Practice and upcoming trainings associated with a statewide risk and needs assessment implementation initiative. In the near future, we will be using these outlets to notify people of important policy updates and training registration materials, and we eventually plan to open a discussion forum.
To ensure that our posts are relevant and timely, the CJSAC uses multiple strategies to get quality information from various organizations and agencies. Email notifications of news are requested from a variety of governmental and other agencies, such as the Department of Justice (i.e., Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Institute of Justice, and Bureau of Justice Assistance), the Justice Research and Statistics Association, and the National Criminal Justice Association. Additional sources include Facebook and Twitter pages set up by other justice-related organizations (which can be easily followed by adding them to your "favorites"). CJSAC staff review multiple sources for information almost daily, weed out information that does not apply to criminal justice or related areas, and create posts that fall into our areas of interest. Agencies and people that like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter receive these posts regularly on their own timeline or by viewing our specific pages.
Assessing Gains and Future Lessons
An important part of any undertaking is to assess whether you are achieving the intended results. We are most interested in expanding our outreach through the use of social networking. Therefore, we want to know whether our posts are being accessed and whether we are better reaching our target population. Facebook has a basic, but good, management system or "admin panel" in place that allows an agency to see basic statistics about its page, including: notifications, messages, new likes/total likes, who is "talking about this," and what your "reach" is by week over the current 30-day period. These notifications can be viewed anytime you log into the page, or you can set up the account so that it sends weekly reminders related to monitoring activity (see diagram). However, outside of counting the number of people that "like" or "follow" your page, it is difficult to get a handle on the exact number of people you reach or if they actually open-or maybe more important, utilize- the information you provide. We hope that our posts and updates are reaching those who can use the information or circulate it to people that will find it beneficial. Nonetheless, we are satisfied with the growth in the number of organizations and people accessing the page and plan to publicize the availability of our site to more people in the future.
The CJSAC is making efforts to be progressive in terms of social media and technology, and we believe these media will help us fulfill our mission of informing the public and state stakeholders on justice-related issues and our work. The CJSAC currently has a number of projects to expand what we are doing in the cyber world and we are trying to find ways to be more efficient with our time and money, as both are in great demand.
For instance, while we currently use the sites to publicize trainings, we plan to expand their use by having the entire notification and registration process for both live and online classes available through our Web site and social media outlets. We are working with the West Virginia Office of Technology to use the Online Learning Management System (OLMS) to accomplish this goal. The OLMS will provide a mechanism for registering participants, managing trainings and the participants, tracking certifications, and sending out alerts via email. In the future, we also anticipate having training videos, webinars, and podcasts available to help a variety of people and groups.
Social media are not only cost-effective tools but they are also flexible and easy to manage. We are excited about how social media will aid in the development of a more efficient and helpful CJSAC. Because we can link our social media pages to different Web sites, including our own (www.djcs.wv.gov/orsp), we can provide our followers with up-to-date and relevant information in one location.
The Huffington Post. (2012). Social Media Statistics 2011: Amazing Facts About Internet Use (video). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/08/social-media-statistics-2011_n_873116.html
Socialnomics. (2012). About Us. http://www.socialnomics.net/aboutsocialnomics/
U.S. Department of Commerce. (2011). National Telecommunications and Information Administration. http://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/ntia_internet_use_report_february_2011.pdf