Success! Popularity! Fans! Page views! I win! Seems everybody wants to be Internet-important. Not to bust anybody's bubble, but government success and engagement numbers benefit from some perspective.
For starters, Federal Computer Week listed the "Top Ten Agencies with The Most Facebook Fans." Tops is White House's Facebook page with (now) 375,000 fans. That's a respectable number that continues to grow. But for comparison, the Facebook page for Nutella--that chocolate hazelnut spread--has 3.3 million fans. Plus there are two other Nutella fan pages with 977,000 and 750,000 fans each.
NASA, government's popular space agency, is pulling closer to 10,000 fans of it's Facebook page. Pink Floyd--a band that released it's last album the day that Netscape was founded and who created one of the best rock albums of all time Dark Side of the Moon (released in 1973 the same year that NASA's space station Skylab was launched)--has 1.6 million fans. [See also Mark Drapeau's post on this topic.]
Second, there are the arguments I hear about the important power of government content and presence on the Internet. Overall, this is true. According to comScore data* all dot-gov traffic combined puts government among the top 10 online properties.
Looking closer at the numbers is more sobering. Because government sites are fragmented they are less trafficked than the aggregated numbers show.
For example, the online classified site craigslist.org has three-fifths (60%) the traffic of the entire government. Comparing the State Department--despite high traffic for passport and travel information, the sports-entertainment site ESPN has ten times more visitors. Commerce.gov--whose data includes hurricane and storm tracking from noaa.gov, weather.gov, time.gov--has less than one-sixth the traffic of the popular Weather Channel. And, the transaction heavy Social Security Administration has 10% of the visitors that Wal-Mart does.
Government websites and social media efforts exist in a broader ecosystem. Yes, let's celebrate success, but let's first define and refine what that means. The tough news? Looking at numbers without context can lead to believing that you are more important than you really are. The good news? The fact that you are less important than you think doesn't mean that you aren't important at all.
* The comScore data on government sites July 09 and regarding other media sites Aug 09.