2010 Census Turns to Facebook to Maximize Impact, Reach Young Adults

As the year 2010 gets underway, so does the federal Census in the United States — only this time around it has gone somewhat digital, incorporating Facebook and other digital media to spread the word about being counted.

While the Census still only accepts mailed-in responses, the point of the online effort is to make more people aware that it is happening, especially people who might otherwise ignore it.

Or as as Joanne Dickinson, Chief of Customer Research and Marketing for the U.S. Census Bureau, tells us:

In the last decade, communication shifted from being top-down to bottom-up, so, listeners, viewers and readers of Facebook, for example, choose the information they want to consume. We are aware of how people spread the word, in their own words, today. We know that people are more likely to trust themselves and their families and communities.

The Census is mandated by the United States Constitution every 10 years and is ultimately used for everything from apportioning federal representatives in the House and the Senate to allocating money for public schools.

The Census’ Page has more than 360 fans and is aimed primarily at the twenty-something and ethnic populations of Facebook users, Dickinson said. On the Page users find links to Census videos, press releases, a demo to help people fill out this year’s form, a PDF guide in both English and Spanish, as well as news stories about the Census.

But, as Dickinson points out, the ultimate purpose of the Page is to guide people back to the 2010 Census web page, likely explaining why that web site is prominently displayed on the Page, while links to social media pages like Facebook are hard to find on the 2010 Census web site.

“We just wanted to make sure in 2010 that we harnessed every tool possible,” Dickinson said, noting that the primary thrust of the social media campaign was to “cross-promote” to the 2010 Census web site. “We’re spreading the word, getting the message out, and letting them communicate among themselves about it.”

The Census Bureau launched its Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages this week and Dickinson said the Census would be watching the “metrics” of the pages closely to tailor their efforts for different segments of the U.S. population.

In particular the new social media campaigns will aid the Census in counting a traditionally difficult-to-find population that is abundant on Facebook: young people, as well as some ethnic groups, such as Latinos.

“One of those sectors that is hard for us to catch is those young, unattached residents and college students,” Dickinson said. “One-third to one-half of the people on Facebook fit right into that sector.”

Counting more than 300 million people can be difficult, but as Dickinson explains, doing so in 2000 was even more so; if you recall, neither Facebook nor Twitter existed then. The first Census web page launched in 1994, she said, and in the 2000 the Census effort the bureau’s answer to the digital age was an email campaign.