Marketers and business development leaders in the private sector today understand the important role that social media plays to increase sales of a product or to promote a service. Social networks, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can boost brand awareness, provide product & service information and establish an ongoing dialogue with customers. In the public sector, state, local and education (SLED) agencies are beginning to recognize the value of social media - and for more reasons than for simply selling a product or service. We reported in 2014 on the increase in mobile initiatives to create an open, transparent, two-way dialogue with citizens that allows more people to engage and get involved with state and local government. Social media in combination with mobile applications can be an effective and even necessary way to connect with constituents. In a recent StateTech article, Ricky Ribeiro writes that “Although many governments once thought of social media as a curious side project, the reality is that it’s fast become an essential part of any state or local government’s communications strategy.”

In December 2014, Vision Internet, a technology firm specializing in government website development, conducted an online survey to gauge the current state of digital communications in local government and project future trends. The “What's Next in Digital Communications for Local Government” survey had respondents from 334 municipal and county governments with populations of less than 10,000 to more than 1 million. Survey results showed that the top website trends and investments for 2015 are social media, content management and mobile government.

Key Social Media Stats from "What's Next in Digital Communications for Local Government" Survey

The SLED Market: Social Media Bidding Trending Up

Onvia has a large database of procurement activity and spending plans from more than 80,000 entities in the U.S. According to Onvia’s Project Center, the number of social media-related opportunities has increased in the SLED market over the last few years. To take into account seasonality, our comparison is of the first five months in each of the last three years: In 2013, 168 social media-related bids & RFPs were issued from January through May; in the same period for 2014, there were 187 bids & RFPs published (an 11% increase over 2013). In 2015, the numbers continue to rise with 198 bids & RFPs issued in the first five months (a 6% increase over 2014). As of June 1, 2015, there are nearly 60 open opportunities in Onvia’s Project Center relating to social media.

Though Vision Internet’s survey focused on municipal and county government entities in general, Onvia's platform also revealed social media initiatives specifically for educational institutions, law enforcement and public transit. For colleges & universities, there’s a particular push for social media to help with recruitment, donations and school functions. For police departments, there’s a focus on investigations, crime prevention and community relations. For transit agencies, the focus is more on service alerts, real-time status updates and system improvements.

Issued an RFP in June 2015 for website development & brand identity for the Center of Design Innovation (CDI). The winning vendor will be able to push content out via social media and add new social media techniques to drive traffic to the website. The Center’s goal is to re-brand their visual identity and website to position the CDI as a leader in design thinking, learning and entrepreneurship in the region; the website design should speak to millennials and baby boomers, be “hip” and relevant. It should bring “great anticipation and excitement” to future corporate and private philanthropic partners and donors that encourage them to contribute to the CDI mission.
Issued an RFP in April 2015 for qualified vendors to support the emergency preparedness & public awareness multi-media marketing campaigns which will utilize social media.
Issued an RFP in June 2015 for a marketing and public awareness campaign. The proposer is encouraged to provide recommendations on the use of new and emerging media and methods of execution as they relate to the campaign objectives including social media outreach.

Top Purchase: Social Monitoring Tools

For these agencies, software & services that help monitor and analyze the various social media platforms and the online community engagement are also in high demand:

Issued a bid in June 2015 requesting a contractor to customize a public relations distribution campaign and provide a secure, externally hosted, cloud or online media monitoring system and services, for listening, measuring, analyzing, and engaging across web and social media channels including identifying most meaningful social media metrics to use and stats to track.
Issued a bid in June 2015 for a social media monitoring tool for the Boise Police Department to support operations, investigations and public relations. The software/application would be used to monitor critical incidents/code3 responses, public events such as protests and speeches, mine data and pattern of life information on suspects and persons of interest under investigations, gauge threats to public safety, gauge the public’s views of department initiatives and effectiveness of community relations activities, provide basic analytics for broader, strategic crime & administrative trends and provide topical & geographical alerts on time critical events.
Issued a bid in May 2015 for social media analytics software that will provide a user-friendly and powerful tool that can adequately and efficiently measure the effectiveness of NCDOT’s social media output across multiple platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest and Vine.

Top Social Media Tools in Use by Government Agencies

social media logos

Recent awards include:

Awarded Meltwater News a one-year contract ending in June 2015 worth $6,000 for online media monitoring and analysis service. The service includes daily email reports with news link search results, delivered to up to five authorized users.
Awarded Vocus (now Cision) a one-year contract ending in September 2015 worth $6,095 for web-based media monitoring services.
Awarded Hootsuite a one-year contract renewal ending in June 2015 worth $3,330 to license Hootsuite’s social media tracking tool.

2015 and Beyond: Social Media Investment to Increase over the Next Five Years

In Vision Internet’s survey, 34% of responders said an annual investment increase of 10-19% is needed for websites, mobile & social media over the next five years. Onvia’s Spending Forecast Center provides evidence that future agency plans and budgets include product and service investments for social media outreach, integration with mobile apps & websites as well as staffing and training. Among the 1000+ plans and budgets that include social media initiatives:

The Proposed FY2016 Operating Budget includes programs to foster effective communications, community outreach and engage stakeholders through social media such; provide emergency notifications, system‐level school closings and delays via social media to parents, staff, students and community leaders; provide infrastructure including online site & mobile application development and technologies that enable outreach via social media and mobile apps.
The 2015-2019 Adopted Capital Improvement Plan budgeted $100,000 for 2017 to build a mobile app designed to integrate social media and the Houston Police Department web-based applications and provide critical information to the public regarding HPD's services and functions. The plan states: “This process will enable HPD to provide users with real-time news alerts, information that is mostly requested from the public such as web-based links and contact numbers and on-line sites where they can report crime.”
The FY2015 Operating and Capital Budget includes $19,400 for a media clipping/social media tool as part of the continued “implementation of an enhanced social media strategy and improved website experience for customers and the general public.”

Social Media Vendors Have Opportunities to Influence Agency Decisions

Because it’s still early days for many state and local agencies, there can be social media challenges that may seem daunting to officials. In any industry, public or private, certain elements are valuable to an effective social media strategy - such as relevant content, a mobile-friendly website with a responsive user interface and staff with the bandwidth & dedication to keep the flow of information moving. Government agencies have additional concerns such as security risks and compliance, which can make finding the right social media products & services and implementing the best policies & procedures difficult. Unique challenges like these present opportunities for vendors who specialize in social media to help agencies craft the right solution to meet their needs.

Today, social media is everywhere and government agencies are no exception. Social media helps agencies be interactive, transparent and play a greater and more valuable role in serving their communities. Onvia’s suite of business tools can help vendors of social media products and services find opportunities, identify the top buyers and top competitors, access upcoming expiring contracts and reveal future agency spending plans. With this intelligence, vendors can sell the products and services SLED agencies need to best implement and maintain an essential social media presence.