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Make Sure Your Social Media Evangelists Feel the Love

September 30, 2010

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While writing my last post, I got to thinking about all of the conversations I’ve had with the talented, ambitious, entrepreneurial colleagues I’ve gotten to know over the last few years. Most of these individuals serve, in some fashion, as social media evangelists – they’re the ones leading the charge to get their organizations on Twitter, to start blogging, to start using new technology to really change how their organizations operate.

Image Courtesy of Flickr User AndYaDontStop

I quickly realized how valuable these people are to me, not to mention how valuable they are to their own organizations. They’re always willing to share best practices, war stories, and valuable content that I can use every day.  They inspire me as I see what they’ve been able to accomplish in similar bureaucratic environments.  They seem to make everyone around them happier through their enthusiasm for using social media to connect with people.  Their ambition and passion drives others to want to do more, to try new things, and to work together to solve problems.

When I talk with these people’s peers, I hear similar stories – about the innovation they’ve enabled, the initiatives they’ve championed, and the value they’ve provided others. These social media evangelists are clearly recognized by their peers (and often, by their competitors) for making a difference and being an invaluable part of their organizations.

However, when I speak with these social media evangelists themselves, I often hear a very different story. It’s not that they aren’t appreciated – they are. It’s more that their managers haven’t figured out how to appreciate them. Rather than hearing all about the promotions, raises, or awards that I would expect to hear about from employees as valued as they are, I hear things like:

  • “Sure, I may be the “Director of Social Media,” but I don’t have any authority to make decisions and wasn’t given a budget or a team to actually scale this effectively.”
  • “My bosses say they love the work that I’m doing, but I haven’t been promoted yet, because they don’t have a progression model for someone who does social media.”
  • “I’m constantly getting recruiting calls from other organizations and headhunters because they recognize the value that I bring, but I don’t think my boss even understands what I do.”
  • “Why am I putting my butt on my line to bring about some real change in policies and culture, when I get the same raise as the guy who keeps his head down, does his job, and goes home at 5:00?”
  • I love working in social media – I feel like I’m getting an opportunity to make some real changes here, but damn, it’s exhausting constantly trying to get buy-in for my initiatives and justify my existence.”
  • “I’ve met and worked with people from across other teams throughout the organization, but because those teams fall outside of my boss’s area of responsibility, I don’t receive any credit for that work.”

If, by most accounts, these social media evangelists are highly valued for their contributions by their peers, colleagues, and competitors, why then, do they not feel like they’re valued members of their own organization?  Why aren’t they moving quickly up the corporate ladder?  Why do they feel exhausted and frustrated (but simultaneously excited and motivated)?  Why are these social media evangelists highly sought after by recruiters and competitors, yet often ignored or misunderstood by their own management chain?

If you’re the manager for one of these social media evangelists, here are five ways to ensure that they do indeed feel the love:

  • Do some research about social media and your organization. Go beyond just what you see on the status reports and performance reviews and find out exactly what impacts this person has had.  Reading “starting the organization’s Yammer network” doesn’t sound all that impressive until you actually join the network and see thousands of people from across the organization collaborating with each other in ways that were impossible using existing technology.
  • Talk to other people. What’s been the real impact of this person’s work? This impact doesn’t have to be measured in dollars and cents. Have they empowered others to become more innovative? Has their work resulted in changed policies and practices that have opened doors for other initiatives? Find out exactly how their peers look at this individual and why.
  • Realize that your traditional business models and performance reviews may need to be adjusted. You can’t tell someone they’re a high performer and you value what they bring to the organization, but fail to promote them or give them a raise because they may not fit nicely into your existing models. Work with them to identify ways to keep them moving up the corporate ladder without destroying their creativity and ambition.
  • Consider using non-traditional rewards. The social media evangelist loves getting promotions and raises (who doesn’t?), but they also highly value rewards that make their work easier and allows them to be more effective. Instead of the traditional “Great job!” certificate or Starbucks gift card, consider giving them an intern that can help them with their day-to-day work or a small yearly budget that they can use to purchase specialized software (Photoshop, etc.) or hardware (Flip cameras, additional RAM, etc.).
  • Support their initiatives. Check in regularly and ask if there’s anything you can help with – that may be something simple like sending an email to the team to show that you support what they’re proposing or setting up a meeting for them with a member of the organization’s leadership to discuss his/her plans and dreams.

Most importantly (and this is the easiest and most effective tactic), make sure that you actually care about the work that they’re doing. This may sound like common sense, but every time you giggle when this highly valued employee says the word “tweet,” know that a small part of him/her is dying. They take their jobs very seriously and have spent many many hours trying to help others understand the work that they do – the last thing they need is to have to explain what a wiki is to the person who’s supposed to be their biggest champion. Remember that while these people may present additional managerial challenges, they’re also some of your most entrepreneurial, ambitious, innovative, and passionate employees. Make sure that they’re feeling the love from you, because if they’re not, there are many other organizations searching high and low for people just this who are more than ready to show them the love.

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Entrepreneurs: Celebrated in the Private Sector, Hidden in Government

September 17, 2010

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Webster’s Dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. It’s the “American dream” – owning your business, being your own boss, creating and growing something new and doing it better than anyone else. Kids are encouraged to dream big, to innovate, to invent, and to be ambitious. Silicon Valley has been built on the backs of these risk-taking entrepreneurs.

  • Facebook, the behemoth of a social network with 500 million worldwide users, was founded by a college student and his buddies.
  • Google, the search engine that processes  more than a billion searches a day, was founded by two graduate students.
  • Apple, the ubiquitous electronics company behind the iPhones and iPods we all carry around with us, was started by three guys building computers in their basement.
  • eBay, the most successful online auction site in the world, was started when someone bought computer programmer Pierre Omidyar‘s broken laser pointer on his personal auction site.

Read Fast Company. Read Wired. Read Inc. It’s not hard to find hundreds more stories just like these  – entrepreneurial people who have an idea, take a risk and build a business to scale that idea to the public.  Most of these ideas flame out, some become massive successes, but almost all will, at some point, go back to the drawing board and try to do it all again. There’s no shortage of opportunities to fix something or improve on something else, and the beautiful thing about America is that there will always be someone, somewhere, thinking of a way to fix it.

As this year’s Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo have shown, this spirit of entrepreneurship has spread to the DC area as well, prompting some to ask if DC can become the next Silicon Valley and Mark Drapeau to wonder about the long-term vision for for open government entrepreneurship. However, what struck me as I read through Mark’s article and GovFresh’s “10 Entrepreneurs Changing the Way Government Works” was they they focused entirely on people working in the private sector. Can civil servants not be entrepreneurs as well?

“One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

Does this not apply to those working IN government too? While they may not be entrepreneurs in the traditional sense, the spirit of entrepreneurship is certainly alive and well among those in the federal, state, and local government.  Unfortunately, while entrepreneurs who identify problems, take risks, and build businesses are celebrated and featured in glowing articles in magazines, those in the government who identify problems, take risks, and drive innovative changes usually toil in virtual obscurity at best, or are reprimanded at worst.

Dilbert.com

True open government entrepreneurship isn’t just about open data or mashups or social networking platforms or DC start-ups. It’s about those civil servants who organize, manage, and assume the risks of changing the way our government works. It’s about those analysts who create a platform that changes the way intelligence analysis is done. It’s about two State Department staffers fundamentally changing how diplomacy works.  Just because they’re not starting a business doesn’t make them any less of an entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, most civil servant entrepreneurs are hidden away from public view and recognition. For every Alec Ross and Sean Dennehy, there are ten other entrepreneurs who instead of being celebrated for their ambition, are penalized for their ambitions. Rather than New York Times articles or speaking slots at O’Reilly conferences, civil servant entrepreneurs instead hear:

  • “You can’t talk directly to the Director – you’re not high enough on the totem pole”
  • “That’s something that will have to be decided above your pay grade”
  • “Make sure you get approval from public affairs before you talk about that. And oh by the way, that process could take 1-2 weeks.”
  • “That’s not your job – let so-and-so deal with that”
  • “Sure, we might become more efficient, but that means we may also lose 2-3 billets and/or funding”
  • “According to policy X, that’s not allowed”

The long-term success of open government entrepreneurship lies not with more open government business models from the private sector, but within the government itself. We must do a better job of creating an environment where innovation and entrepreneurship is encouraged and rewarded. Government isn’t lacking for entrepreneurship opportunities, ideas, or ambitious people – it’s lacking the processes to do something with those ideas and people. Instead of relying on open government entrepreneurs in the public sector, let’s do a better job of encouraging and empowering the entrepreneurs within.

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Dear IT Guy, Can You Actually Use the Tool You’re Creating?

August 27, 2010

34 Comments

Do the top developers for Google’s Android operating system use Blackberries?  Do the IT guys developing Windows 7 use Macs?  Do the folks at WordPress use Blogger to host their personal blogs?

These are purposely ridiculous questions – wouldn’t the best developers use the actual tools they’re responsible for building?  Wouldn’t they do their job more effectively if they were actually a user of the product they’re developing? Doesn’t the product have more credibility if the people behind it are believers in the product’s features?  Out of everyone, shouldn’t the development team, at least, be the biggest advocates of the very software they’re implementing?  Shouldn’t they be the ones drinking the Kool-Aid?

Unfortunately, IT departments at large companies and government agencies are too often doing the equivalent of developing Android apps at work and using the iPhone at home. Sharepoint developers implement Sharepoint, yet they don’t use it to manage the implementation. The guys installing your organization’s blogging software don’t realize that the “Add a Picture” button doesn’t work because they don’t have blogs.  The team responsible for increasing awareness of your Enterprise 2.0 platform haven’t even created profiles of themselves.

Now, take a look at the official support areas for WordPress, Telligent, MindTouch, Jive or any of the dozens of social software vendor sites.  Notice anything? The developers are often the most active members of their respective communities and they’re using their own software day after day in the course of doing their jobs. If there’s a glitch involved with posting a new comment to a forum, they’re going to be the first ones to see it, diagnose the problem and fix it.

Sadly, I’ve been seeing these situations increase with the emergence of the Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 initiatives. IT departments are increasingly being asked to implement wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, video-sharing, and dozens of other varieties of collaboration software – software they may know how to code, but often have no idea how to actually use.  They’re just told to “give us a wiki” or “develop a blog for me.”  Actually using the blog or wiki isn’t a requirement.  As as I was told by one programmer a year or so ago when I recommended he start a blog to inform the rest of the community about the latest enhancements and maintenance activities,

“Every hour I spend playing around on a blog post is an hour I spend away from coding!”

Well, that was helpful – thanks! Instead of getting frustrated and ending the conversation, I should have instead elaborated on the benefits that a developer enjoys when he becomes a user instead of just a developer.

  • Higher quality product – you can identify bugs and feature improvements before they become problems for other users.
  • Increased credibility – If, as a user,  I ask how to upload my photo, guess whose response I’m going to be believe – the guy with an empty profile or the guy who’s been active on the community for the last year?
  • Increased “forgive-ability” – Look, we know that these sites will go down occasionally, especially when they’re first being developed.  We can deal with that…if we’ve been reading your blog and know that it’s down this Saturday night because you’re installing the new widget we’ve been asking for. If the site goes down and all we get is a 404 error page stating that the site is down for maintenance…again, we’re going to be less than pleased.
  • Content Seeding – Clients are always asking,  “how are we going to get people to actually work on this site and add content?”  Well, before you even launch, if your project team (including developers, community managers, comms people, etc.) actually use the site you’re building, you’ll create a solid base of content before you even start to open it up to more people.  Adding to existing content (even if it’s not related) is always easier than creating something new.
  • Common Ground – you become a member of the community instead of the guy behind the curtain making changes willy-nilly. You gain trust and respect because they know that you’re dealing with the same issues they are.  You’re struggling to access the site on your phone too.  You’re not getting the alerts you signed up for either.  You’re not able to embed videos correctly.  You go through what they go through.
  • Greater ownership in the final product – The community becomes YOUR community, not something you’re just developing for a bunch of “users.”  You become invested in it and want to make it faster, add new features, win awards, etc. because you’re a part of it.

For all you non-developers out there, would you like your IT staff to be more visible?  Would you be interested in learning more about what’s happening under the hood of your Intranet/Enterprise 2.0 platform?  What other benefits do you see to getting them more involved?

For you developers, what’s preventing you from getting this involved in the communities/platforms that you’re responsible for creating?

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Identify the Right People to Manage Your Social Media Initiatives

August 9, 2010

202 Comments

Who leads your organization’s social media initiatives? Is it someone who rose up and took the role or is is someone who was assigned that role?

Social media isn’t something that can just be assigned to someone any more than you can just assign someone to be the homecoming king. Adding “social media” to that junior public affairs officer’s job description isn’t suddenly going to turn your organization into the next Zappo’s. While you’re at it, you might as well add “organizational budgeting” and “legal review” to his job description too – those are two other things that he/she might be able to do well, but would you really entrust those duties to them?

This is why so many social media initiatives fail – not because of technology or policy, but because of people.  We talk often about what department should lead social media, how to get leadership buy-in for social media, or what technology should be used, and while those are important discussions to have, you should be focused on identifying WHO should be leading the social media initiatives.  Not whether that’s the Chief Marketing Officer or the Director of Public Affairs or the Community Relations Lead, but actual names of people.  Remember, social media is driven by the person, not the position.

The best person right now might be Joe over in Marketing, but what if Joe leaves the organization?  Who leads the social media initiatives then?  The answer isn’t necessarily Joe’s replacement.  It might be Kim over in HR. It might be that new guy over in community relations, or maybe it’s your webmaster.  The point is that social media doesn’t fit nicely into just one job description.  There’s a very real human element to it, and identifying the wrong person, even if it is the right position is often the biggest determination in the success or failure of your social media initiatives.

To find the right person to handle social media for your organization, look for people who:

  • LOVE your organization and really understand its mission – first and foremost, find the people who love their jobs and believe in your mission. This isn’t a job for the person interested in just the paycheck.
  • Believe in the transformative power of social media – it’s not about applying the same old processes to new tools. It’s about fundamentally transforming the way your organization interacts with the public, your customers and with each other.
  • You enjoy being around – If a person is a real butthead in real-life, he’s going to be that way online too, and you can’t afford to have someone like that representing you or your organization
  • Have little fear of failure – Early in my career, a client pulled me aside after they shot down 3 straight ideas I had and told me, “I want to make sure that you understand we WANT you to continue bringing those off-the-wall ideas because it forces us to think of things we never thought of and even if we don’t take your suggestions now, they all become building blocks for future ideas.”
  • Enjoy working in teams – Social media is “social” – you have to enjoy working with a diverse group of people
  • Are responsive – There is no 24 hour news cycle any more. It’s real-time baby. You need people who you KNOW will reply to emails, tweets, texts, etc. quickly and thoroughly. Interestingly, these are also often the people who are the most ambitious and passionate about your organization too.  (*note – these are also the people who may take longer lunches or come in a little late because they don’t just “shut off” at 5:00 PM)
  • Can speak like a human being – Corporate marketing speak, statistics, facts, and figures are good, but when was the last time you got inspired by a pie chart? Find people who can connect with their colleagues/customers/clients on a personal level
  • Are very aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are open about them – One of the first things I tell new employees is to find out what you’re good at and find out what you’re not good at, and then find people who are good at those things and make friends with them. In social media, you’re going to come across issues regarding privacy, IT, legal, communications, and HR, not to mention specific functional areas of your organization. You can’t know it all – know what you don’t know, and know who to contact for help.
  • Are humble -People mess up in social media. A lot.  It’s ok.  Admit you’re wrong, fix what you messed up and move on. Not everyone can do this, and very few can do it well.

Now that I think about it,these are many of the same qualities that exist in any leader, right?  So, what other qualities would you look for when trying to identify someone to head up a social media initiative?

This post was inspired by Andrew Wilson’s “Innovation Lab | Who Should Be At The Table” post and Lovisa Williams’ “The Intersection” post. Fantastic stuff (as usual) by the both of them.

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