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Government Use of Social Media – “In Addition to,” Not “In Lieu of”

April 27, 2010

19 Comments

Pew Internet Report

Download the full report

Pew Internet released their “Government Online” report today, and it’s chock FULL of great statistics.  If you get an opportunity, I highly recommend reading through the whole thing and bookmarking it for good slide fodder for future presentations.  I won’t/can’t possibly do justice to the entire report here in one post, but there was one particular piece that struck me in my initial read-through:

“As we found in our last survey of e-government in August 2003, telephone contact is the overall most preferred contact method when people have a problem, question, or task involving the government.  35% of of Americans say they prefer using the telephone in these circumstances, a figure that is relatively unchanged from the 38% who said so in 2003.” [page 20]

And,

“The telephone remains relatively popular even among the technologically proficient, as 1/3 of home broadband (32%) and wireless Internet users (32%) say that the telephone is their favorite means of contact when they need to get in touch with government.” [page 20]

Surprising?  It shouldn’t be.  Despite the Government 2.0 community’s zeal for all things social media and online, 1/3 of Americans still don’t have access to broadband Internet, and even among those who do, less than 50% prefer to contact their government via online means, instead preferring the telephone, in-person contact, or writing a letter (!!).  While the issue of a digital divide when it comes to government-public communication is well-documented, it’s about more than just identifying non-digital means to reach out those without broadband access – it’s about providing a variety of means, both online and off, for everyone.  Among those who did contact their government at some point, almost half used a combination of both online and offline vehicles to do so.

“44% of all Americans contacted their local, state, or federal government via offline means. Roughly one in three called a government office or agency on the phone, one-quarter visited an office or agency in person, and 17% wrote a letter to a government office, agency, or official.”

Americans are using a combination of online and offline means to communicate with government

While plenty of Americans are are going online to contact their government – 82% of internet users (representing 61% of all American adults) looked for information or completed a transaction on a government website in the twelve months preceding the survey -the total proportion of Americans who prefer online communications has actually remained the same since this survey was last conducted back in 2003.  For these internet users, government websites/Twitter accounts/Facebook fan pages/blogs/podcasts have become critical supplements – not replacements – for more traditional forms of communication. The majority of online government users interact with government agencies using multiple channels, both online and off.

What does this mean to the Gov 2.0 community?  A few things –

  • Online government communication is incredibly valuable and useful
  • Information and transactions are viewed as more important government offerings than social media outreach
  • Government use of social media should be focused on supplementing and improving the day-to-day informational and transactional needs of the public
  • We should be focusing a LOT less on getting more Facebook fans and Twitter followers and more on figuring out how Facebook and Twitter can improve our customer service
  • Government use of social media should be integrated with the communications and public affairs departments.  Very few internet users rely solely on government social media sites – in fact, those who use government social media sites are more likely to also use other means, both online and off, to communicate with their government as well
  • Balance the promotions of your social media channels with other means of communications.  Two in five Americans believe that the use of social media is a waste of government resources, although 3/4 believe this type of engagement makes government accessible.

Social media helps supplement and improve everything else the government is doing to communicate – it’s not some communications panacea.  But you already knew that, right?? 🙂

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The “Getting Started with Government 2.0” Guide

April 2, 2010

92 Comments

In the last few months, I’ve received an increasing number of “hey Steve, how would you recommend someone get started in social media or Government 2.0?” emails, and I’ve gotten tired of sending out the same emails time and time again. I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for a while, but even I was little overwhelmed at the resources available! So, here’s my attempt at creating a post (with comments) that will hopefully become a helpful resource for those interested in learning more about social media and the Government.

*I realize that there will be GREAT resources out there that I miss in this post – PLEASE add them below as a comment so that others may benefit!!!

The Fundamentals

  1. Government 2.0 is about more than just social media. I define it as “the strategic use of technology to transform our government into a platform that is participatory, collaborative, and transparent” but that’s just one definition – there are a LOT more.  However, to make this post manageable for you guys, I’ll be focusing primarily on the social media and communications side of Government 2.0 here.
  2. Read the Twenty Theses for Government 2.0 – if you’re interested in this world, read these basic tenets of how social media and the government works
  3. You’re not going to learn this stuff via books and blogs alone – you’re going to have to get your hands dirty and actually use these tools to interact with the people you’re trying to reach.
  4. Don’t apply mass media (press releases, TV, radio, etc.) rules and processes to this. Good fundamentals in interpersonal communication will serve you well.  There are no audiences or eyeballs any more – you’re going to be dealing with real people here.

    Gov 2.0 milestones from 2009

  5. Getting “good” at this is going to take time. I can’t give you a checklist of things to do and magically, you’re going to be good at it when you’re done. While I wish it were that easy, just keeping up with all of the changes that are taking place in the government is hard enough. The environment has changed so much even in the last year. That’s why all these steps will get only get you started – it will be up to you to keep the progress up!

The Starter Videos

Baby Steps

  • Do a Google search on your name. Find out what’s available online about you already – this is your first impression to most people.  Do you have a popular name and the results are flooded with data that’s not about you? Doesn’t matter – I don’t know that that’s not you.  You NEED to be aware of what’s out there about you and what can be associated with you.
  • Set up a Google Alert for your name/organization so that you’re notified whenever someone writes a blog post, news article, etc. about you or your organization.
  • Read Chris Brogan’s “If I Started Today” and his “Social Media Starter Pack” posts
  • Do some internal research.  Search your organization’s Intranet to see who in your organization is already doing something with social media or Government 2.0.  Find out who the experts are within and introduce yourself to them.  Have a meeting with them and find out what they recommend/where you might be able to help. I know this is all new to you, but chances are, someone has already started doing something with social media internally.
  • Do some external research.  Google your organization’s name and “social media” or “Government 2.0” or “open government.”  Find out what, if anything, is being said externally.  Maybe you’ll find out additional names of people you can reach out to or maybe you’ll find nothing – either way, it’s better to have done your research first.
  • Find your organization’s social media policy/guidelines and memorize them. Print them out and stick them to your wall.  If your organization doesn’t have any social media guidelines, find your external communications policy and see if it’s covered in there. If not, then go and talk with your public affairs/external communications team and have a conversation about this.

Setting the Stage

The government – federal, state, and local – isn’t some late adopter in social media. In many cases, they’re leading the way. Before you start thinking that just because you work in an office that still only has Internet Explorer 6, and any social media knowledge is just going to blow everyone away, take a look through some of these influential  documents on what the government is doing in this area.

Books

If you’re a book reader, go out and get the following:

Daily Reading

Become Part of the Online Community

  • Get on LinkedIn. Here’s a good primer on how to get started there. LinkedIn is the most popular business-oriented social networking site there is. It’s low risk, and it will give you a starting point for your online activities.
  • Join GovLoop, the “Facebook for Government” with more than 25,000 members, and read through their Getting Started Guide. Try to visit at least once a day.

    Join GovLoop if you haven't already

  • Join Twitter (watch Twitter in Plain English). No, it’s not just a site where you’re going to hear what people ate for lunch. This is where you’re going to get a chance to meet and interact with some of the top social media and Gov 2.0 minds in real-time.  Once you create your account, start by following these people/lists:

Protecting Your Privacy

  • As you’re signing up for these social networking services, and you start “getting out there,” don’t forget that there are privacy implications to everything you post online. While the following resources will help educate you on the privacy policies and best practices of social media, I always tell people not to post anything online that you wouldn’t want your boss/mom seeing. I don’t care what check boxes you select or what privacy setting you use – if it’s online, consider it public.  Facebook doesn’t have a setting to prevent “right click, save as” or from hitting the PrintScreen button and grabbing a screenshot. 

Newsletters

  • Subscribe to the Daily Scoop from FedScoop
  • Subscribe to the SmartBrief on Social Media – fantastic daily email newsletter on the top social media stories of the day (disclosure: I’m on their Advisory Board)
  • Subscribe to KD Paine’s Measurement Standard newsletter for the latest news, tips, and strategies for measuring and evaluating social media
  • If you’re a member of GovLoop, you’ll also receive the GovLoop Weekly, a newsletter highlighting the best of GovLoop each week

Bookmark These Government 2.0 Resources

Social Media is About Connecting Offline Too

Becoming comfortable and effective with social media doesn’t mean just mean sitting in front of your computer either.

GovLoop profiles a new member every week, and GovFresh has highlighted several members of the Gov 2.0 community as Gov 2.0 heroes. If you get a chance, introduce yourself to these people as I can virtually guarantee you that someone has already experienced whatever challenge you’re facing and can probably help you overcome it.

Congratulations if you made it this far!  At this point, you will be pretty overwhelmed – that’s ok!  Back when I got started with social media at my company, it took me around six months to go from “hmmm, this is interesting” to “let’s actually do something with this as an organization!” Spend some time reading, learning, playing, meeting, and talking with people until you are comfortable with the concepts and tools of social media and the government.

The Sunlight Foundation's interpretation of a logo for open government

Taking a Strategic View

Once you’re comfortable with the principles and tools of social media, now you can start applying them to your organization. Start by reviewing this handy social media strategy worksheet from AIDS.gov, as well as this super list of social media case studies from organizations around the world. From the public sector, check out all of the case studies that were highlighted at last year’s Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase and this year’s Gov 2.0 Expo.

Your next step will likely be step 3 in my “Bringing Social Media to Your Organization Playbook.”  By this point, you should be pretty saturated in the world of social media, (and have hopefully dropped me a tweet or two), so I’ll end this massive post here as you should be well on your way to adding yourself to my lists of resources above.  Just keep in mind that you may soon find yourself following the evolution of the social media evangelist – be aware of the stages that you may very well find yourself in, and start identifying ways to mitigate the challenges that they may present.

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The Public Doesn’t Need to Know What Gov 2.0 is, But They Do Need to Experience It

March 8, 2010

90 Comments

“Dear U.S. Government,

There’s been a lot of media coverage about you becoming more open and transparent. There have been a multitude of new policies, conferences, guidelines, platforms, and even awards for things related to something called Government 2.0 and Open Government. You people in DC sure are talking a good game – trotting out your iPhone apps, Twitter feeds, blogs, and wikis – and I suppose I should care about those things, but in reality, I haven’t got the slightest clue why any of that matters to me. I, like 95% of America, don’t use Twitter, I don’t have any idea how to mash anything up, and I don’t care enough about your agency to read your blog.

I’m not sure why I should care about open government -sure these things are nice and all, but it hasn’t really changed anything.  You know what would change things? If my Congressman would actually explain what he does on the Hill – what is she/he doing on a daily basis to make my life better?  If someone at the IRS could explain the tax code to me. If someone at the metro could tell me when my train will be ten minutes late, and why they’re only running four car trains at rush hour. If I knew when my street was going to be plowed. But most of all, I want government to just work. I just want to stop dreading having to interact with the red tape and the bureaucracy, and I want to feel like my government is there to help me.”

– Sincerely,

John Q. Public

 

The Open Government Directive set the wheels in motion for thousands of government 2.0 intitiatives but means little to the average citizen

I’m not going to get into whether the general public needs to understand what “Gov 2.0” is  or not, but there is one thing that we in the Gov 2.0 community need to do a better job of and it’s not educating the public on what open government is or why they should care.  No, what we need to do is start calling more attention to things like the DC DMV’s real-time video feed of their lines, like NextBus to alert riders when their next bus is coming, like what Santa Cruz is doing to involve its citizens in the budget process.

While something like Data.gov may eventually become the backbone for hundreds, maybe thousands, of revolutionary open government initiatives down the road, it’s not impacting the average citizen’s life RIGHT NOW.  To the average citizen, it’s not revolutionary – it’s just another government website.

Building an open government is kind of like building a successful sports team. While team management may have a vision of where they want to be in five years and may be taking steps to build the infrastructure – drafting young players with potential, cutting older/overpaid veterans, and putting in a new strategy – so that they are successful in five years, they also realize that they can’t just concede the next five years and hope their fans will keep coming back. So they sign some veteran free agents to help the team compete in the short term. They may make a trade to help build some excitement among the fan base. They may lower ticket prices. They realize that even though a championship may realistically be years away, the team has to continue to show the public that they care about them and that they’re doing what they can to win, both in the short term and over the long term.

So, no, the public doesn’t need to understand what Gov 2.0 or open gov is – but they do need to understand that their government is actively trying to do more to communicate and collaborate with them. Let’s not get too caught up in what Open Government could mean in the future, and forget about the little things that we can do for the public right now. Implement customer service training for everyone who could interact with the public, fix the speakers on the metro so that people can understand what’s being said – it’s these little things that will go a long way in establishing the trust among the public (our fans) that we’re committed to building a truly open government, now and into the future.

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Social Media isn’t a Prerequisite for Open Government

February 19, 2010

46 Comments

Open Government/Government 2.0 is about more than wikis, open data, Twitter, Web 2.0, or social media—it is about the strategic use of technology to transform our government into a platform that is participatory, collaborative, and transparent. Sure, social media can help facilitate this transformation, but starting a blog or Twitter account is by no means a prerequisite. You don’t have to wait until you hammer out a Twitter policy or get legal approval for your blogging guidelines to start this transformation.You don’t need to create all kinds of widgets and mashups with your data. The barrier of entry isn’t that high. Open government doesn’t start or end with social media – it starts with a mindset that you want to become more participatory, collaborative, and transparent.

While government use of social media is often highlighted as best practice examples of open government, they’re by no means the only examples. The first steps toward creating a more open government can be as simple as updating your public website more often or committing to actually implementing changes suggested by employees via your Intranet.

So, for those who maybe might not be ready for social media, here are eight things you can do now that can help your organization become more open, and none involve social media:

  • Update the content on your website a few times a week – And not just with more PDF downloads. Highlight an interesting article or link. Create an “Employee Highlight” section and showcase the work that they do. Link to job vacancy announcement. Generate a greater variety of content on your site and update it regularly.
  • Upgrade your “Contact Us” form with a name and contact information – I don’t know about you, but when I see a generic “contact us” form, I usually don’t take the time to provide any feedback because I assume it’s going to go off into the ether and I may or may not get a response sometime in the next seven days. A real name and contact information not only adds transparency and accountability, it also adds a sense of commitment that you value my feedback.
  • Replace your PDF files with XML or HTML files – Many government websites do a good job of connecting the public to TONS of information via individual PDF files. However, uploading dozens of PDF files hundreds of pages thick doesn’t equal openness and transparency. It usually just means you’ve totally overwhelmed the public with information and hidden your data in plain sight. Consider parsing these PDF files and uploading them in an accessible, searchable format.
  • Add external links to your site – Some agencies still have policies that say that they cannot link to non .gov sites. If this is still a policy at your agency, show them this and get the policy changed. You can and should link to non .gov sites.
  • Update the default browser on your employees’ computers – You might be surprised at how much of a difference a modern browser can make in an employee’s day-to-day work. A modern up-to-date browser is more than just a luxury – it can make collaboration easier and more efficient by providing easier access to applications and sites.
  • Ask for employee/public input on policy/regulations changes – Instead of firing off that next all-hands memo with the new policy for X, consider posting it in draft form to your site and giving your stakeholders an opportunity to have some input to it before it goes final.
  • Allow the public to subscribe to your site via RSS and email – One of the easiest and most valuable ways to increase awareness of your content is to make it easy for people to access and share it. All you need is Notepad, a server, and a beer.
  • Make collaboration part of the assessment process. Does your performance review process include anything about collaboration or sharing intellectual capital? Are employees recognized with awards or commendations for collaborating?

I could go on and on, but I don’t want this post to become a novel 🙂  What other recommendations do you have for creating open government WITHOUT using social media?

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