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Twenty Theses for Government 2.0, Cluetrain Style

I’ve fulfilled one of my social media resolutions for 2009, and have recently re-read the Cluetrain Manifesto.  As I mentioned in that post, I always feel so much better about the work that I do when I look at it through the lens of the 95 theses laid out in Cluetrain.  This is even more true now.  Ever since President Obama’s “Transparency and Open Government” memo was issued a few weeks ago, it seems that every one of our clients is asking about social media.  They all want to know how/if social media can help them become more transparent, participatory, and collaborative.  They all want to know what they need to do to comply with the new Administration’s goals of transparency.  Inevitably, this increased interest has brought its fair share of social media carpetbaggers and alleged Government 2.0 gurus, but it has also done an incredible job of bringing together real-life Government employees with contractors and consultants for a common goal.

Just as the Cluetrain laid out 95 theses that described the new global conversation taking place via the Internet, here are 20 theses (I’m not nearly as ambitious as the Cluetrain authors) for carpetbaggers, gurus, civil servants, contractors, and anyone else interested in Government 2.0.  There are undoubtedly many many more that could be added to this list and I encourage you to add any that you think of in the comments.

  1. The risks of social media are greatly outweighed by the risks of NOT doing social media.
  2. Your Government agency/organization/group/branch/division is not unique.  You do not work in a place that just can’t just use social media because your data is too sensitive.  You do not work in an environment where social media will never work.  Your challenges, while unique to you, are not unique to the government.
  3. You will work with skeptics and other people who want to see social media fail because the transparency and authenticity will expose their weaknesses.
  4. You will work with people who want to get involved with social media for all the wrong reasons.  They will see it as an opportunity to advance their own their careers, to make more money, or to show off.  These people will be more dangerous to your efforts than the biggest skeptic.
  5. Younger employees are not necessarily any more knowledgeable about social media than older employees.  Stop assuming that they are.
  6. Before going out and hiring any social media “consultants,” assume that there is already someone within your organization who is actively using social media and who is very passionate about it.  Find them, use them, engage them.  These are the people who will make or break your foray into social media.
  7. Mistakes can and will be made (a lot).  Stop trying to create safeguards to eliminate the possibility of mistakes and instead concentrate on how to deal with them when they are made.
  8. Information security is a very real and valid concern.  Do NOT take this lightly.
  9. Policies are not written in stone.  With justification, passion, and knowledge, policies and rules can and should be changed.  Sometimes it’s as easy as asking, but other times will require a knockdown, drag-out fight.  Both are important.
  10. Be humble.  You don’t know everything so stop trying to pretend that you do.  It’s ok to be wrong.
  11. But, be confident.  Know what you know and don’t back down.  You will be challenged by skeptics and others who do not care and/or understand social media.  Do not let them discourage you.
  12. There are true social media champions throughout the government.  Find them.  Talk to them.  Learn from them.
  13. Government 2.0 is not a new concept.  It’s getting so much attention now because social media has given a voice to the ambitious, the innovative, and the creative people within the government.
  14. Social media is not about the technology but what the technology enables.
  15. Social media is not driven by the position, the title, or the department, it’s driven by the person.  Stop trying to pidgeon-hole into one team or department, and instead think of a way to bring together people from across your organization.
  16. Instead of marketing your social media capabilities, skills, experience, platforms, software, etc. to the government, why don’t you try talking with them?  An honest conversation will be remembered for far longer than a PowerPoint presentation.
  17. Today’s employees will probably spend five minutes during the workday talking to their friends on Facebook or watching the latest YouTube video.  Today’s employees will also probably spend an hour at 10:00 at night answering emails or responding to a work-related blog post.  Assume that your employees are good people who want to do the right thing and who take pride in their work.
  18. Agency Secretaries and Department Heads are big boys and girls.  They should be able to have direct conversations with their workforce without having to jump through hoops to do so.
  19. Transparency, participatory, collaborative – these terms do not refer only to the end state; they refer to the process used to get there as well.  It’s ok to have debates, arguments, and disagreements about the best way to go about achieving “Government 2.0.”  Diverse perspectives, opinions, and beliefs should be embraced and talked about openly.
  20. It’s not enough to just allow negative feedback on your blog or website, you also have to do something about it.  This might mean engaging in a conversation about why person X feels this way or (gasp!) making a change to an outdated policy.  Don’t just listen to what the public has to say, you have to also care about it too.

The technology that is currently driving social media will change, but the principles of participation, transparency, and collaboration will not.  You can either jump on the Government 2.0 cluetrain or get hit by it.  Which one will you be?

*thanks to Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger for inspiring this post with their book, the Cluetrain Manifesto.

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Social Media is Scary – How to Address Senior Executives

Part 2 in a series of posts responding to my original post, “Social Media is Scary

Image courtesy of Flickr user chelmsfordpubliclibrary

Image courtesy of Flickr user chelmsfordpubliclibrary

So, what can you do to address the myriad reasons for social media being scary?  This is the second (the first one addressed the junior employee) of four blog posts tackling each of the demographics that I brought up in the original posts one by one and illustrate how I handle the “social media is scary” line.  The second group is the Senior Executive –

For Senior Executives– “What happens when people start using these platforms to just complain about everything?  Why would I want to give everyone a place to whine about every little thing that’s bothering them?  I can’t possibly keep up with every comment, question, and suggestion that goes up – I don’t have the time to do that!”

I’ve already talked about how to justify social media to the big-wigs.  This post expands on that. Here are the three key messages I find myself telling my senior executive clients regardless of what tools I’m showing them.

  1. Social media isn’t about the tools – it’s about what the tools enable.
  2. Social media cannot exist in a vacuum.  Social media has to be integrated into your organization’s overall communications strategy.
  3. The tools that you want to use are dependent on what you want to accomplish.

While it’s good to show an executive a tool that can be used to improve their processes, it’s often more important for them to understand the bigger picture.  That it’s not just about the benefits of the tool, that it’s about the open, transparent, authentic communications and collaboration that these tools allow.  They have to justify the time, money, and resources required to move a particular tool’s use from the micro to the macro level.  To do this, they have to understand that a blog isn’t just a way for them to communicate better with their employees.  They have to understand that a blog is about creating a culture of open and honest dialogue within their organization.  They have to understand the bigger picture.

I also tell them that social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  The executive has to realize that to effectively use social media, you can’t designate somebody or some group as “the Web 2.0 guys.”  There’s nothing worse than your public affairs officers receiving a call from reporter asking a question about one of your blog postings and they have no idea what they’re talking about because “the Web 2.0 guys” handle that.  When I meet with a senior executive, I try to make sure that there are at least four groups represented – people who “get” social media, representatives from the communications or public affairs group who can speak to the organization’s communications strategy, people from the IT department who understand the technical architecture, rules and policies of the organization, and someone who really understands the organization’s mission – the person who is deeply involved with the organization’s overall strategies.  One person could take on one or more of these roles, but every part should be represented.

The last point seems to be the most obvious.  There’s no social media tool continuum that lays out all social media tools from least beneficial to most beneficial.  No chart that says blogs are the best tool to use when you’re first starting out with social media.  The tools that you use (and how you use them) are entirely dependent on what you want to accomplish.  I can’t tell you what tool you should get started with until we determine what your goal is.

However, the absolute most important (and most effective) approach can be summed up in two words – BE PASSIONATE.  I can’t tell you the number of times where I briefed a senior executive about social media and the biggest takeaway that he/she had was, “well, I’ll tell you what – you obviously believe in this and are extremely passionate about its potential so let’s give it a try.”  When a senior executive sees someone, especially if it’s one of their own employees taking the initiative to spend hours of their own time developing a briefing or writing a white paper developing something they truly believe in, they can see that.

Above all else, be passionate about what you’re talking about, whether that’s social media or something else.  Believe in your ideas.  Believe in their potential.  And believe in yourself.

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Social Media is Scary – How to Address Junior Employees

On one of my recent posts, Social Media is Scary, Rick posed some pretty valid questions that essentially boiled down to “yeah, social media is scary, but now what?  What can I do to address these concerns?”  I thought this was a great follow-up question that I promised to answer in a future post.

So, what can you do to address the myriad reasons for social media being scary?  In my next four blog posts, I’ll tackle each of the demographics that I brought up in the original posts one by one and illustrate how I handle the “social media is scary” line.  Our first group is the Junior Employee –

For junior employees – “Yeah, that’s great that I can start a blog that everyone in the organization can read, but what will I say?  What if my grammar is wrong or I spell something wrong – will people think I can’t write?  What if I disagree with something that my manager says?  What if I write too much and my boss wonders why I wasn’t working?  I don’t know – I’ll have to really think about it.”

For junior employees, it’s all about tapping into their entrepreneurial spirit.  Show them how they can use their organization’s internal blogs, wiki, bookmarks, etc. to identify their niche and to promote it.  Show them how this voice that they now have can be used to advance their own career.

Image Courtesy of Flickr user GroovyGuru

Image Courtesy of Flickr user GroovyGuru

Junior employees lost in a mass of thousands – they’re often anonymous pluggers who are told that they have to “put in their time.”  With the proliferation of social media both inside and outside the organization, this phrase is now more of an excuse than a reason.  If you’re a junior employee who is sick and tired of being the gopher, of being tasked with doing nothing but web research, of not being invited to strategy meetings, DO something about it.  Do your job well and stop whining about the lack of opportunities and create your own.  You now have a voice.  You now have a platform with which you can demonstrate your skills and expertise and create your own opportunities.

I’ve used my own experience as a case study here.  When I first started pushing the words “social media” around my traditionally conservative firm, I started small.  I pulled together some basic briefings and white papers, but never really got traction beyond my core team.  Once we deployed internal blogs, a wiki, and forums, that’s when my work internally with social media really took off.  I blogged every chance I got.  I went in and created dozens of wiki pages on every social media tool I found.  I commented on everyone’s blogs.  I took every opportunity I could to get my name out there associated with social media, Web 2.0, New Media and anything else that was related to those terms.  As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, when I first started down this path, I was working 9-5 AND 5-9.  I had to continue doing my actual job and then come home and work my tail off on this.  Remember that no one is going to care what you have to say if you’re getting negative performance reviews because you’re neglecting your actual job in favor of something else.

Now, anytime anyone in my company searches the terms “social media” or “Web 2.0” or “blog” on our Intranet, my name pops up.  What made me one of Booz Allen’s social media leads wasn’t some new title or promotion or org chart change – it was simply a matter of my putting my name out there along with my thoughts, opinions, and ideas and letting everyone judge me based on that.  That first blog entry WAS terrifying, but you know what – I decided that I’d have to take that first step at some point, why not do it on something that I feel very confident about?

So, when a junior employee tells me that social media is scary, all I have to show them the benefits of social media, of how you can use these tools to position yourself how you want to be seen and where you want your career to go.  I tell all of my mentees to find something, find anything, that they really enjoy and that they can somehow tie into the business of our organization.  You’re in grad school studying Global Communication with a specialization in Middle Eastern Studies?  Perfect!  Go start a blog on that.  Go create wiki pages that examine the impact of the Internet in Iran.  Start a community of all others who are interested in learning more about that topic.  Just identify your niche, and get out there already!  If you’re a junior employee reading this and you’re STILL looking for motivation, then watch this spectacular video from last year’s Web 2.0 Expo in New York.  Listen to Gary’s speech and then try to tell me that you’re not ready to go kill it!

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Why Social Media is Scary

As one of my company’s social media leads, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a wide range of people about social media.  From our most senior VPs to senior executives within the government to our summer interns, every group has their own set of questions, concerns, and pre-conceived notions about social media and what it means for them.  Over time though, I’ve realized that they all one thing in common.  They could all agree on one thing.

Social media is scary.

Let me tell you why.  Businesses and our government are structured in a very hierarchical way – everyone is part of an org chart, everyone has a boss, and everyone is working to get to the next level.  Why?  Because inevitably, the next level brings more pay, more power, more respect, and more influence.  In the current organizational structure, everyone’s role is nicely identified on the org chart and with that, there is a structured way to act.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever said or have been told something like, “you can’t contact him directly – get in touch with your manager first,” or “draft an email for me to send to him,” or even better, “talk to “Public Affairs and Legal to get that approved before sending it out.”

The problem with this structure is that social media renders these traditional roles and responsibilities obsolete.  It introduces unpredictability and opportunity, unauthorized emails and tremendous insights, inappropriate language and humor.  Social media gives everyone a voice, whether they want it or not.

That’s a scary concept.

  • For junior employees – “Yeah, that’s great that I can start a blog that everyone in the organization can read, but what will I say?  What if my grammar is wrong or I spell something wrong – will people think I can’t write?  What if I disagree with something that my manager says?  What if I write too much and my boss wonders why I wasn’t working?  I don’t know – I’ll have to really think about it.”
  • For developers, programmers and other IT staff – “Ummm, I became an IT programmer because I hate people.  I don’t like speaking out, and really enjoy just coding and sticking to myself.  Now, you’re making me blog about my work?  I have to post my code to a wiki?  But, I can’t – it’s not ready for prime time yet.  I can’t just post draft content out there – let me get my manager to review this first.”
  • For managers – “So, how much time is my staff going to be spending blogging/reading blogs rather than doing actual work?  If my staff have questions about their project, their career, or their work environment, I want them coming to me, not blogging about it for the whole world to see.  I’ve got an MBA and have been with the organization for five years – why would I put my work out there for people to change and mess up?”
  • For senior leadership – “What happens when people start using these platforms to just complain about everything?  Why would I want to give everyone a place to whine about every little thing that’s bothering them?  I can’t possibly keep up with every comment, question, and suggestion that goes up – I don’t have the time to do that!”

At the heart of all these questions is an underlying fear of the unexpected. People now have a voice, a freedom to say what they want and talk to whomever they want.

In the traditional business culture of org charts, everyone is relegated to their role and everyone lives by that – it is very easy (and fits nicely onto a PowerPoint slide).  Before we had social media at my organization, if we got an email from someone we didn’t know, all we had to go on was their directory listing – “ohhh, I just got an email from one of our Principals – I’ll have to ask my manager if it’s ok to respond directly to them or not.”  Now, I can click on anyone’s name and see not only their entire bio and a picture, but also their entire history of contributed intellectual capital(IC).  I can see their blog postings, their wiki edits, their bookmarks, and their skillset.  I’ve gotten this a lot lately as people within my organization have tried to say that they’re social media “experts” yet I can click on their name and find out they haven’t blogged, they’ve made one wiki edit, and they’ve only logged into our social media platform once.  Really?  You’re a social media “expert?”  Thanks, but I’ll pass and contact the guy in San Diego who has been editing the wiki like a fiend, adding great IC on social media.

Social media allows people to easily subvert the traditional organizational hierarchy.  Whereas that title or degree that followed your name used to be all the authority you needed, you’re now being judged by what, if anything, you’ve contributed.  I’ve run into quite a few senior PhDs who turned out to be brilliant and just as many who left me asking how they got through undergrad – I now have more information at my disposal to make my own determination before I ever even meet them.  This transparency scares people because they’re now forced to show their skills and demonstrate their expertise.

Social media gives employees an unprecedented ability to use their voice to gain credibility, influence, and power within the organization – for better or for worse.  Junior employees can quickly become valued and respected or suspended and reprimanded members of the organization because they now have a voice.  Middle managers can lose their power and credibility if they don’t use their voice.  Senior leaders can lose total control of their organization if they don’t listen to these voices.

No matter what level you’re at, social media can be very scary.  On the other hand, it can be an incredible opportunity.  Will you face your fears and take advantage of the opportunity or hide from the fear it instills?

*Image Courtesy of Flickr user Ack Ook*

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