Social Media Isn’t Always the Answer

As one of Booz Allen’s social media leads, I’m thrilled to see more and more of my government clients starting to ask questions about social media and if/how it might help them.  I love logging into Twitter and seeing so many different conversations centered around Government 2.0.  I love thinking about the potential that social media has in fundamentally changing the way our government operates.  I also love telling my clients that they’re not ready for social media.

Let me explain.

I’ve seen Intellipedia, TSA’s Evolution of Security blog, DoDLive, the DoD’s Blogger’s Roundtable, FEMA’s YouTube channel, GovLoop, and many other examples of “Government 2.0.”  I’ve also seen plenty of failed blogs, dormant wikis, and other failed attempts at using social media.  The reasons for failed social media range from the obvious (ghostwriting a blog and not allowing comments) to the not so obvious (middle managers not allowing wiki contributions without first getting them approved).  However, these are simply symptoms of a larger issue at work.

Here’s the thing – unless your organization is ready for transparency and authenticity, and has instilled a culture of sharing, you’re going to have a lot of trouble successfully spreading social media.  This is where I often tell my clients to take a step back from the tools of social media and focus more on the processes of social media.  I compare this type of thinking to a football team that goes out and drafts really talented receivers, but stick them into an offense that’s focused on running the ball.  The receivers (social media) end up failing not necessarily because they’re bad, they end up failing because they were placed into an offense (the organizational culture) that wasn’t optimized for them.

You see, social media isn’t about the technology – it’s about what the technology enables.  And even if your organization is ready for the tools, it may very well not be ready for what those tools will bring.  Before diving into the world of social media, take a step back and see if your organizational culture and internal processes will support what social media will enable.

  1. Are employees discouraged from contacting people outside of their chain of command?
  2. Are employees discouraged from challenging authority?
  3. Is risk-taking rewarded or punished?
  4. Are employees rewarded for collaborating with other colleagues or for authoring/producing original work?
  5. Do your employees have regular access to the Intranet?
  6. Does your leadership value the feedback of employees?
  7. Are employees prohibited from speaking externally without prior permission?
  8. Is the contribution and sharing of intellectual capital part of the employees’ regular routine?
  9. What’s more valued, entrepreneurship or following orders?
  10. Do employees derive more value from networking with colleagues or from using the Intranet?

Asking these (and there are many more – this is just a sampling) questions will help your organization (offense) be prepared for what social media (receivers) will enable.

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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