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Addressing the Digital Divide WITHIN Your Organization

October 21, 2010

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Try teaching social media to someone who still looks at this day after day

If it wasn’t for my brother and I, my mother would still have a VCR that blinks 12:00 because she couldn’t figure out to change the time on it and never saw any desire too.  Despite fixing it every time I was there, she never saw a problem with it. About five years ago, I finally bought her a DVD player and upon opening the box, I was greeted not with a “thanks!” but a “why do I need this? Our VCR works fine.” Merry Christmas Mom!

Five years and hundreds of presentations later, I’ve realized that my mom, while frustratingly not interested in technology, wasn’t the anomaly – I was. I work at one of the largest technology consulting firms in the world and a vast majority of my clients work for the U.S. Federal Government, yet every day, I’m reminded of the fact that while I may think of them as Luddites, they think of me as a huge nerd.  While using Twitter may seem almost passe to me and the other social media “evangelists” out there, it’s important to remember that the not only does the vast majority of America not use Twitter – the vast majority of your colleagues don’t either.  And like my mom, they probably don’t care or see why they should.

Everyone talks about the digital divide that exists in America between those with access to information technology and those who don’t, but the digital divide that gets talked about far less is the one that exists right in your office. Look around you – there are many people in your office who:

  • Have no idea what a browser is
  • Print out their emails and schedule each day
  • Carry pounds of binders and notebooks with them every day
  • Think you know everything when, in reality, you just know how to use Google
  • Still use a flip phone
  • Ask you what a URL is

Realizing this fact (that I’m a nerd) and accepting that most people don’t share my passion for technology (because I’m a nerd) has helped me as I create presentations, write proposals, talk with my clients, and mentor my colleagues. You see, I used to get frustrated when I’d give presentations, and upon telling people to open their browsers, I’d hear, “what’s a browser?” Because, as my frustration would mount – “how can people still not have a basic understanding of the Internet???!!” – their frustration would escalate as well – “I can’t stand when people tell me I should be using some new tool when my way of doing things works just fine!” Instead of an opportunity to learn about technology that can help them, our mutual frustration led to an almost adversarial relationship. Not good. Now, I’m focused on empathizing rather than converting and explaining rather than criticizing. This means that people are focused on the information I have to give, not on defending their position. And, I’m able to actually listen to their concerns and frustrations without feeling the need to defend my position.

When you read this and go back to your office today, consider empathizing instead of criticizing.

When You Hear

Don’t Say This

Say This

“What’s a Browser?”

“Seriously?”

“The browser is your window into the Internet – there are many different browers, including Safari, Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox. Let’s see which one you have.”

“What’s a Tweeter?”

“Haven’t you watched ANY news in the last two years?”

“The site is called Twitter and it’s an Internet site where people can share 140 character messages, links, status updates, and locations with other people”

“Why would I bother with sending you a text when I can just call you?”

“Because if you call me, I’m not going to answer”

“Texting is great way to communicate with someone in short bursts, often when talking on the phone is not feasible.”

“I don’t know how you have time to tell people what you ate or where you are at all hours of the day!”

“I wouldn’t be talking about time management when you’re the one who prints out every single one of your emails”

“I don’t.  That’s why I only use Facebook (or Twitter) to share interesting links, talk with my family/friends, and/or ask questions of my network.”

“When was Company X founded?”

Send them a link for Let Me Google That For You

“This is a great example of where we can use Google to find the answer really quickly – let me show you.”

Use these opportunities to teach more and more importantly, to learn more. Rather than writing these people off as lost causes, we should be doing our best to bridge this digital divide and understand that we too can learn from their experiences. Ask them why they still cling to their old practices to understand how you can better frame technology in terms that make sense to them, not to you. Use them as sounding boards for your next great social media or tech idea – after all, even if you have the greatest tool, it’s not going to mean anything if the nerds like you and me are the only ones using it.

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Social Media Integration in Higher Education

August 18, 2010

46 Comments

The following is a guest post by Jen Dryer, a current student at the University of Southern Indiana. I first met Jen at the 2009 PRSA International Conference in San Diego, and was immediately impressed with her enthusiasm and eagerness to learn about the business uses of social media. She, along with Brooks Cooper, have since become the linchpins for integrating social media into the classroom at USI. Given her unique perspective and our mutual interest in all things #SMCEDU, I asked her to write a guest post here on what social media in higher education means to her.

Looking back ten years ago, the thought of social media didn’t even exist. We kept in contact through traditional media like phone calls, e-mails, and sometimes even the good old-fashioned hand-written letter. Company promotions and advertisements were broadcast through television, magazines, billboards and the occasional internet banner. Now, fast forward five years and advertising is now found on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, making everyone’s lives a lot easier. Not only are more websites being created, but each individual social media site is expanding and integrating to make things more convenient for its users.  We have entered the world of social media and we are now using our online voices to speak louder than ever before.

Image courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks

Social media is starting to shape the world we live in on a “most recent” basis.  However, since social media has existed, most of the education departments of America have not “signed in.” Social media is an essential part of our professional business world, and if we want students to succeed, then it must be part of the curriculum. One reason it hasn’t is because social media often started out as a fad with the younger generation, so it is automatically assumed that our generation of students is very knowledgeable of social media.

It is true that our generation knows a great deal about using social media, but usually only for personal reasons.  When I had an interview for my current internship they told me one of the reasons I was chosen for an interview was the fact that my Facebook page was “acceptable” to their professional needs.  Employers do not want to hire a person whose Twitter or Facebook page could make their company look bad. The other students may have been very worthy candidates for the position, but the picture with eight shot glasses surrounding them seemed to prove otherwise.  Though my employer may not have necessarily disagreed with the candidates’ drinking, they did think it was very unprofessional to not take the initiative to untag themselves from the picture.

It’s an interesting question – why are today’s students held accountable for not knowing how to use social media professionally, yet they haven’t ever been taught formally?

Social media-focused classes for the core curriculum is an excellent idea. I don’t think it should be specifically called a social media class; rather, it should be a well-rounded class that focuses on communicating in a digital world.  It may be best to start by integrating it into speech classes that every student has to take at every university across the United States. The speech class I took as a freshman had integrated communication skills, such as interview tips, handshakes, etc.  Being that the speech class isn’t solely focused on speech, it would be a good starting place to integrate social media communication.

Image courtesy of Flickr user lawtonchiles

Those studying areas such as health or sciences are taught how and why things work and also how to be ethical. Their main focus is not how to communicate effectively, so communications and social media doesn’t always come natural to them.  A general “Internet etiquette” course would be valuable to them. Or maybe we can follow the University of Kentucky, who recently combined their English Composition and Communication courses to create a more efficient way for students to engage in the classroom.  This revolutionary required course incorporates the use of social media so that students learn the essentials of writing professionally using social media.  No matter what one may be studying, social media importance can’t be underestimated.

I’ve often found that professors are teaching us how to do old school tasks, such as writing a memorandum. But, we don’t learn how to tweet.  Education should be constantly updated with the most effective and convenient ways to educate those pursuing that career field.  Professors wouldn’t teach students to create overhead projection slides instead of using PowerPoint, so why do they refuse to adopt the principles of social media as a quick and effective way to replace less effective methods?

One main question always arises when discussing how to integrate social media into higher education. How would we assess a social media course?  Let’s be honest – all of the college grads have heard of how Facebook content can limit their chances of scoring that job. What we need to be teaching is not to just delete the bad content, but rather to teach students how to add valuable content. The best way to grade would be to assess them on the valuable content that they post, not just for the inappropriate content they don’t have. The main point of the social media class should be graded on “what if” situations and facts about professional Internet writing, social media settings, pictures, videos, news and crisis management on the Internet.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Liako

We have come a long way from Morse code and telegrams to a much faster and easier way to communicate. It almost boggles or “bloggles” our minds!  Perhaps five years from now everyone will jump on the social media bandwagon and will be more advanced and complex enough to create classes in our higher education system.  If students are not even being educated on the current issues, we can’t expect to move on to bigger and better things. As for now, we must try to push social media into our higher education and create a more professional and more networked world. After all, students learn much better in a natural environment and nothing is more natural for our generation than social media.

This video is a great example of how social media is being integrated in not only the professional world, but also secondary education.  It’s a great idea to grab young adults’ attention and expand their possibilities in communications today.  But, why doesn’t higher education, the institution where one becomes a more intellectually rounded individual,  jump on this opportunity to help better prepare their candidates for the real world?

For more information about integrating social media in higher education, make sure you check out the following resources:

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What Can the Government Learn From a $100,000 Salt & Pepper Shaker?

July 26, 2010

23 Comments

I finally got around to reading “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch.  If you’re not familiar with Randy’s story, read about it here or watch the video below.  I highly recommend this if you’re about to have a child,  already a parent, if you’re a teacher, or if in any way, you’re responsible for the welfare of someone else – it’s a fantastic reminder to focus on what matters.  There’s a ton of great lessons in this book, but as I was reading it, one story in particular stuck out – the $100,000 Salt & Pepper Shaker.  This story resonated with me because it not only made me think of all the companies and brands that have earned my loyalty over the years, but also of the the interactions that I have had with our government, be it at the Post Office, at the DMV, as the Social Security Administration, the IRS, etc.

Here’s the summary of Randy’s story –

When Randy was 12, he was walking around Disney World with his sister. He and his sister wanted to thank their parents for the vacation so they pooled their money together to purchase ceramic salt & pepper shakers as gifts. Unfortunately, in his excitement to be at Disney World and to give his parents the gift, young Randy drops them, shattering both. Someone saw this incident and suggested that he take them back to the store and ask for a replacement. This was a foreign concept to Randy – why would they replace them? He broke them. It was his fault.  Nevertheless, he went back to the store and explained what happened. To Randy and his sister’s surprise, the Disney store manager not only replaced the salt & pepper shakers free of charge, he apologized for not wrapping them up well enough!

Years later, Randy looks back at that day and sees the beginning of a love affair with Disney that has gone on for decades. You see, that one seemingly insignificant gesture made Randy and his parents see Disney on a whole new level, and as a result, they have enthusiastically supported the Disney brand to the tune of more than $100,000 in tickets, food, and souvenirs.

At the end of this chapter of the book, Randy tells the story of how he still serves as a consultant to Disney and at the end of his meetings, he ends by asking,

“If I sent a child into one of your stores with a broken salt and pepper shaker today, would your policies allow your workers to be kind enough to replace it?

The executives “squirm at the question” because they know the answer is “probably not.”

We all have stories like this – the mechanic you still go to because he corrected that other mechanic’s mistake for free; the barber who, upon finding out that you didn’t have enough cash to pay him after cutting your hair told you “not to worry about it because you’ll pay him next time;” the guy at Best Buy who took 20 minutes out of his day to answer every single question about plasma vs. LCD TVs that you had.

Now, can you think of a story like that involving a government institution?  If you are a civil service employee, how would you answer the question? Are your organization’s policies such that you would be able to spend ten extra minutes with a heartbroken customer to fix their problem?

If I were the head of a government agency, I would bring in the folks from Disney to talk to all of my managers and public-facing employees about the importance of customer service in government. A government agency that uses solid change management techniques to teach every employee to truly embrace principles like “the front line is the bottom line,” and “Two Ears, two eyes and one mouth, use them in that ratio” would do more to bring about “Government 2.0 than any new policy, memo, or technology platform could ever do.

We talk a lot about Government 2.0 being citizen-centric, but that’s not going to happen via some technology platform or memo. That’s going to happen when we make the citizen our customer, our bottom line and we extend that to include both online and offline interactions. There’s one phrase that Walt Disney used as the key to Disney’s customer service program – “exceed guests’ expectations.”

Where in your agency’s mission mission does it say that you will try to “exceed citizens’ expectations?

Watch the full video of Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” below.

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Reverse Mentoring is All About Screwing in the Lightbulb before Flipping the Switch

May 12, 2010

15 Comments

The following is a guest post by Shala Byers.  Shala is the creator of Booz Allen’s Reverse Mentoring Program and a good friend of mine.  I asked her to write a post on the reverse mentoring program that she started last year and that I’m working with her on now to scale across our firm.

Image courtesy of Flickr user remography

When I first started my foray into Social Media there were two kinds of people—those who proselytized Web 2.0 and those who approached it with the skepticism of an instant weight loss pill—  “This looks too easy…it can’t be this easy.”  Turns out, Web 2.0 IS that easy… mechanically; the concept of integrating it into ones daily routine, however, tends to be the hold up.

I actively avoided Twitter, for example, because I didn’t see the purpose.   Early adopters who had been using it for quite a while told me to get on and just start tweeting.  Again, the problem here wasn’t the logistics—it is easy enough to sign up for a new website account.  My trouble came from the “why” and the “how” questions.  WHY am I doing this?  WHY do they need to know what I am eating for lunch?  HOW am I supposed to act on this website?  Essentially, my early adopter friends, while well intentioned, were essentially trying to “flip the switch” to turn on the Social Media light without screwing in the bulb to begin with.

I needed context; I needed to be walked through it.  I needed someone to attach the light bulb for me.

After spending ample time with some of our social media champions, I started to see the benefits of how person-to-person sessions effectively fill this gap in my understanding.  After just a few sessions, and a little encouragement, I not only understood how to use social media, I was able to understand how to leverage them to benefit my clients.

This “light bulb” discovery led me to the second step in my social media adventure—creating a program that would do the same thing for others on a massive scale (20,000+ employee company).  I realized that we needed a program that would connect social media “experts” with those who wanted and needed to stay on the pulse of client technology.

We needed a reverse mentoring program.  You may have heard of the term “reverse mentoring”— an alternative method of learning where the seniors in an organization become the mentees and junior staff serving as the mentors.

While this concept had been developed at other organizations before, I knew Booz Allen’s program would have to be a little different to account for all 20,000+ employees.  I discovered that this kind of program wasn’t just needed at the senior level though – everyone needed to understand social media for it to become integrated in the way we operate.  We needed to identify a way to make social media relevant across dozens of skillsets, markets, and teams across the firm.   My goal, essentially, was to deploy a number of social media mentors throughout different teams to screw in the “social media lightbulbs” and help flip the switch for these people.  And I did this with the help of the co-program lead who I was lucky enough to rope in, Jeff Mrowka.

Over the course of the past year, this Reverse Mentoring team has worked tirelessly to create a program that would better equip our senior leadership to handle the ever-changing world of social media.  We knew that a Pilot Program would help us work through any potential kinks.  That’s why we officially launched the Social Media Mentoring Pilot Program in November 2009 with six Vice Presidents and several other senior leaders on board as participants, paired with four mentors.

Unsurprisingly, their conversations started out with questions about how to create a user name and click through each site.  What the sessions evolved into is what made the pilot even more interesting than we could have ever imagined:

  1. Brainstorming Sessions:  The Social Media Mentoring hour often evolved into a full-on brainstorming hour.  What we found out was that senior leadership in the firm is often so focused on their market or area of expertise that they seldom get a chance to sit around the table with their peers to brainstorm.   They benefited as much from hearing from their mentors as they did from speaking with one another.
  2. Client Offerings: Social Media Mentoring sessions provided an opportunity for junior staff to showcase client capabilities they were developing as a way to add value to their existing projects.  It afforded our leadership a time and place to sit and connect the dots regarding how they could harness these tools for existing and future issues.

So what is the way ahead?  The program has been a resounding success.  Participants not only understand the concepts, but are actively deploying these solutions within their project teams. Demand among our senior leadership has begun to outstrip supply so finding and developing even more mentors is one of our top priorities.

In developing the After Action Report for our little pilot program, we have to answer the question – “what do these brainstorming sessions ultimately do for us? For the mentees?  For the mentors?  And lastly, what’s the next step to scaling this program to a massive organization?  We’re going to have to start shipping in a lot of lightbulbs…

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