I recently spoke to Philip Bogenberger, Public relations specialist with the Virginia Department of ABC, about the department’s use of social media to interact with its constituencies. Below is an excerpt from that conversation.
SW: How did you decide that this was important to the Virginia Department of ABC?
PB: A lot of our customers, employees and licensees are already using these social media tools and it gives us another avenue to interact with them. At first we’d developed a Facebook page and Twitter handle, but we didn’t use them right away. I started making posts before we made it available to the public so our board could see what types of things we’d be posting and how we’d be interacting and the benefits that would come from it. After two months we made it public, tried it for 3-4 months, and it took some time to build a following but we saw some benefits and decided to stick with it.
We did the same thing with Twitter. We were willing to explore further as long as someone was willing to monitor it, and I was. In March of 2010 we had a high-profile case in our hearings division and that was the first time we used Twitter for breaking news, so the media and citizens and everyone got the news at the same time on Twitter first. From there it’s taken off.
SW: Were there any goals or metrics in place when you began this process?
PB: I put a plan in place with some moderate goals. I had some experience with developing a plan like that from working with a nonprofit in the area. We knew how many followers and fans we wanted to get, even though that’s not the most effective way to measure. We looked at that first, then calculated how many comments and likes and mentions we were getting, so we tracked not only how many people viewed us, but how many were interacting with us. Since we’ve been doing this for a little over a year, our goal for the number of followers was about 500 on Twitter and we’ve already surpassed 1,000. We were surprised by the number of people who have chosen to connect with us through social media.
SW: Who’s your target audience?
PB: At first we were trying to connect to licensees because we knew many were using those sites. We promoted the new pages in our newsletter, and what we found is that some people were skeptical connecting to us through Facebook or Twitter. We had a lot of success on Twitter connecting with media and general citizens. On Facebook we have a lot of employees and some licensees. The most important thing is that we put out information that’s relevant to our various audiences. It’s not always about ABC, but we want to provide information related to our industry, alcohol, public safety and all issues in between. We want to spark a discussion.
SW: How well does Virginia grasp new technology compared to its fellow control state organizations?
PB: From a communications standpoint we do pretty well, but everyone is different and I’m not privy to everyone’s goals. Iowa does well and I’m an avid follower of their Twitter feed. They have stuff that pertains to every state, not just Iowa. Oregon is very advanced, especially with video. We have a YouTube channel with about 30 videos, mostly created by us, but we also put up videos created by other people. The NABCA tweeted all the information from their conference, so even though I wasn’t there I knew everything that was going on. As long as we’re sharing the same information and connecting with each other, it can only help all of our followers.