Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mail it Back

U.S. Census Bureau Uses 21st Century Technology to Promote Participation

For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has been sending out census forms to households. And for decades many households have failed to fill out these forms, let alone send them back. How many of you have received this form in the mail and instead of filling it out, you just tossed it in a pile of junk mail? Well, I can honestly say that I’ve never failed to fill it out, but then again, the U.S. Census Bureau only conducts a population count every ten years and ten years ago I was only seventeen – the U.S. Census Bureau requires anyone over the age of eighteen to fill out the entire census.

For those of you who have admitted to overlooking the census form, the agency is on to you and has spent millions of dollars on social media to get your attention. Although the census form can only be submitted through mail, the agency is now on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, and blogs in hopes of getting an impressive response from the public. But it doesn’t stop there; it now has its own road tour vehicle, and has even used the 2010 Super Bowl ad as a marketing tool.

Is It Working?

The Census Bureau’s Facebook page is quite interactive. Fans can post messages on its wall, upload pictures, and watch videos. Their page even has links to census jobs so that fans will not have to go far to become an employee. With 7,201 fans and counting, the Census Bureau is doing a pretty good job at getting the public involved. But are they really? With over 350 million Facebook users, 7,201 fans are a bit low, don’t you think?

@uscensusbureau has over 2000 followers on Twitter and only follows 236.

The agency was creative with its Youtube video. The video is pretty much a musical with the message “We can’t move forward until you mail it back.” I want to say that this video doesn’t work for me, but to be honest, the tune is pretty catchy. I’ll admit, I did catch myself singing “We can’t move forward until you mail it back.” Watch this video more than once, I guarantee you’ll be singing the song.

The Census Bureau has also posted several pictures up on Flickr. I’m not too familiar with Flickr, but from the information I gathered from the site, it’s a good way for them to interact with the public.

2010 Portrait of America Road Tour
The agency has 13 road tour vehicles that, in total, will travel more than 150,000 miles in 1,547 days. The goal of this tour is to promote the 2010 Census and to educate the public on how important it is to “mail it back.” These vehicles offer interactive exhibits, promotional materials, and a showcase for speakers.

Speaking of vehicles, the U.S. Census Bureau even has a NASCAR driven by Greg Biffle, a two time NASCAR Champion. NASCAR has the second biggest fan base in America, after the NFL.
2010 Super Bowl Ad
Now, let’s talk about this $2.5 million that was spent on advertisement during the Super Bowl. Was it really worth it? While some argue that it was a waste of government money, others applaud the agency’s efforts to get the public to return the forms. Overall, the ad ranked poorly amongst media critics stating that the U.S. Census Bureau should stick to counting and leave social media to the professionals.

Will You Mail It Back?

While many Americans openly support the U.S. Census Bureau, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has openly stated that she and her family will only fill out parts of the Census. Facing a $5,000 fine for not completing the Census, Bachmann argues that the constitution only requires her to indicate the amount of people living in the household. The U.S. Census Bureau claims that by getting the public to mail out the forms the agency will not have to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on field representatives. Once a household fails to mail the Census back, a field representative is then sent out to that home to collect information. Those field representatives can be quite persistent.


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  2. Lydie, this is a great post. And you're right. That song is in my head right now. I'm just glad that something finally got "Video Killed the Radio Star" out of there.

    Speaking as the class curmudgeon, I would like to say that I have always filled out my census forms. Not because it's fun, or hip, or even because it is the latest fad. I've always filled out the forms because it is a violation of federal law to not fill them out, and I've always been squeamish about breaking federal laws. This is the exact same reason I file my taxes.

    So even though the Census Bureau is making an attempt at mastering social media, the sad fact is that our government does not have a happy history when it comes to technology. So I will suspend judgment, at least until that Facebook number climbs above 10,000.

    And what's the deal with those vans? The country is falling down around our ears, and here we have a bunch of civil servants riding around in customized vans doing I'm not quite sure what. If they make those folks drive those vans to each non-compliant household and pick up that $5000 fine in person, the non-compliance issue would pretty much evaporate overnight. So would the deficit and the recession.

  3. Lydie,

    I have two desperate friends who got jobs working for the Census. I bet they will be the persistent "field representatives" knocking on people's door when they fail to fill out the Census.

    This was the first year that I filled out the Census and, oddly enough, it was a huge deal. Before I moved into my current apartment, I had a long talk with my Grandmother. I'm 22 years old, unmarried, and I live with a male friend. One of her biggest concerns is that the year we moved in together was a Census year. (Of all things, right?)

    She was concerned about future generations looking back on the historical family records. I'll be the first one to have been recorded in the books as living unmarried with a male. In the end, I decided it was fine. My great-great grandchildren will surely be doing crazier things than that.

    Even with all the pressure of futuristic speculation, I nearly forgot to fill out the Census. I had so much going on with my roommate in the hospital that it slipped my mind.

    And social media did nothing to remind me. I never saw any of the hype online. Part of the problem with social media is that you still have to "look" for it in order to find it.

    You know what I did see? Every construction sign, traffic alert, and billboard on the way home reminding me that the deadline was in 24 hours. There was no way not to notice. Now THAT was effective marketing.