ANN ARBOR — The public sector is learning to communicate with citizens in ways that are not usually associated with government services, according to an analysis of the state of social media in the federal government released Tuesday by Ann Arbor-based ForeSee.

ForeSee’s American Customer Satisfaction Index Quarterly E-Government Satisfaction Index included an analysis of the state of social media in the federal government.

ForeSee conducted an expert usability review of the 15 executive department websites in order to gauge how many participate in social media and how they do it. All are participating in the three most popular social platforms — Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube — and many are using other new media and communications tools, from Flickr and podcasts to email newsletters and RSS feeds.

“Social media is no longer a nice to have but a necessity in both the private sector and the public sector. It’s just the way people communicate now,” said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee. “The good news is that federal departments are participating in social media; the bad news is that efforts are happening at a variety of levels, and the effect can be muddled for citizens.”

Several clear themes and best practices emerging from the research are included in the report and can serve as useful guidance for other federal, state, and local governments. When government agencies adhere to the best practices that make their sites easier for citizens to use, citizen satisfaction increases, as does transparency and trust. Studies show that when satisfaction increases, citizens are more likely to use the website as opposed to other, costlier channels.

Today’s report also includes the third quarter update of the ACSI E-Government Satisfaction Index, a report that has been issued every quarter since 2003. Overall, satisfaction with federal government Web sites remains at 75 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale. Citizen satisfaction has remained at 75 or higher since late 2009 (with only one exception in the second quarter of 2010, when satisfaction fell briefly to 74.7). Today’s report represents more than 270,000 citizen surveys and includes scores for 100 federal government sites, all on a 100-point scale, so that comparisons can be made between sites over time.

“Customer satisfaction is a moving target that requires continual adjustment to changing circumstances,” said professor Claes Fornell of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and head of the ACSI. “Whether it is government or business, achieving high satisfaction requires responsiveness to consumer tastes, preferences, and even how they communicate, and part of that is effective use of social media.”

Today’s report also contains the ForeSee Online Transparency Index, which provides a consistent measure of online transparency and quantifies its impact on citizens’ attitudes and behaviors for 36 federal websites. In aggregate, transparency increases one point to 77, which is an all-time high for the category.

A full list of individual website scores along with more discussion of social media trends and best practices is included in the Q3 2011 ACSI E-Government Satisfaction Index, available as a free download at


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