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Try Looking Outside to Solve the Problems Inside

Quick – who recently said this in reference to his organization’s social media efforts?

“…if our consumers are younger, and they love video games, and they have shorter attention spans, and they love interactivity, and they love social media, and everyone blogs, and everyone’s on Facebook, why wouldn’t we put ourselves right in the middle of that?”

What social media or Government 2.0 champion could have said this? Could it have been Federal CIO Vivek Kundra? Maybe Director, New Media and Citizen Engagement at GSA, Bev Godwin? Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Price Floyd?

Nope. Try Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals. In this week’s Washington Post, Leonsis discusses why the team is aggressively using social media to engage with their fans and the potential impact that social media can have on his team and on the sport. Sound familiar? Sound anything like what us in the Gov 2.0 and social media communities have been telling our bosses and clients for years now?

Leonsis goes on to say that, “what’s unique and different about us is that most organizations are managed [with the thinking], ‘We’re bricks and mortar, we’re buildings, and we have this Web operation beside us,'” Leonsis said. “We’re kind of different. We look at the Web as being our basic power plant, kind of like electricity, so the Web and communicating in this fashion is second nature to us now. It’s not like we go brochure, television, mail. It’s Web, and then everything else. It’s social media first, and everything else.”

Hmmmm…sounds like his perspective, experience, and business acumen would be a valuable addition to the Gov 2.0 conversation, don’t you think?

I recently read a fascinating article in the latest edition of Fast Company – “A Problem Solver’s Guide to Copycatting.” This article argues that instead of solving our toughest problems through brainstorming or consulting with experts, we should start looking for analogues outside our industry because someone (or some thing) has probably already solved our problem. For example (from the Fast Company article),

“In 1989, the pilots of the Exxon Valdez ran it into Bligh Reef, spilling enough oil to cover 11,000 square miles of ocean. To finish this cleanup job, you’d have to clear an area the size of Walt Disney World Resort every week for about five years. One major obstacle was that the oil and water tended to freeze together, making the oil harder to skim off. This problem defied engineers for years until a man named John Davis, who had no experience in the oil industry, solved it. In 2007, he proposed using a construction tool that vibrates cement to keep it in liquid form as it pours. Presto!”

This methodology, this thinking, that someone who has absolutely no experience with or knowledge of your organization might be able to solve a problem that your top domain experts haven’t been able to crack is a totally foreign concept to most organizations, especially those within the government. What if instead of talking with the Gov 2.0 “experts,” we started getting more people from outside of Government involved in Gov 2.0? Think about the value that Craig Newmark has brought to the Gov 2.0 discussion. Or Tim O’Reilly.

The social media community seems to have realized the value these outsider perspectives can bring – just last year I attended conferences featuring Jermaine Dupri, Brooke Burke, and Jalen Rose. This year, Gov 2.0 events like Gov 2.0 LA reached out to Hollywood to get that perspective and author/entrepreneur/professional keynoter Gary Vaynerchuk will be speaking at this year’s Gov 2.0 Expo. Getting these influencers involved as speakers is a great start, but we need to achieve more consistent engagement beyond just singular events.

What if the next Director of New Media and Web Communications for DHS was someone like Mike DiLorenzo, Director of Corporate Communications for the NHL? What if we talked with some behavior modification psychologists about the best way to change people’s behavior from one of “need to know” to “need to share?” What if we studied Native American tribes to learn more about how they build and maintain a unique culture even in the face of extreme changes?

While government may be unique, the problems we’re facing aren’t. The challenge shouldn’t be in solving them, but rather, in finding out who or what has solved them already.

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Looking Back at My 2009 Social Media Resolutions

On New Year’s Eve 2008, I made seven social media resolutions that I wanted to try to keep during 2009.  I had to be in total control of whether each would happen or do not happen, they had to be realistic, and they were somehow related to the work I do with social media and communications. Today, one year and 2 days later, I wanted to revisit those resolutions and explore what I accomplished, what I didn’t, and why.

My first resolution was the always ever-popular “blog more often.” Looking back at the frequency of my posts, I averaged about one post per week. While this is less than I’d ideally like to blog, I found that while there are a ton of topics I’d like to blog about, I tend to blog only when I feel like I have something to say that offers some some value to you. While I didn’t necessarily blog more often, I think I did something more important, and made my posts of higher quality. Grade: B

My second social media resolution was to “focus on things other than social media.” I wanted to do a better job of taking some time to go spend time with my family, go to the gym, and do things outside of work. Unfortunately, as social media and the concept of Gov 2.0 gained more momentum internally and with our clients, it seemed that there was always more and more work to be done. Day-to-day, I found myself busier than ever, but this year was the first where I actually took some vacation time and went on a trip. I took some time off and went to Hawaii in May and then to Paris in December. I need to do a better job of balancing work and life every day, not just on vacations.  Grade: C

My third resolution was to “re-read the Cluetrain Manifesto.” This one was easy – this was one of the first resolutions that I tackled, and it resulted in one of my favorite and most popular posts of 2009, “Twenty Theses for Government 2.0, Cluetrain Style.” The best part of this resolution was that it helped me simplify things. There’s sometimes a tendency to overthink this social media stuff and we forget our fundamentals. Re-reading the Cluetrain Manifesto and my resulting post provided a good foundation from which to start.  Grade: A

My fourth resolution – to “spend an hour each day reading about social media” wasn’t as successful. I was rarely able to carve out an hour a day to read and comment on other blogs, discussion forums, online communities and books. I know the importance of participating in these discussions and growing my knowledge base, but it was difficult to keep this elevated on the priority list when I’m also balancing client work, performance assessments, proposals and white papers, internal governance roles, etc. We all face these competing priorities, but we also have to make community participation and professional growth a priority as well. In 2010, I hope that I’m able to turn this into reality. Grade: C-

Accomplishing my fifth resolution – “turn more of my virtual connections into real ones” – was my most fulfilling. Whether through the Gov 2.0 Camp, the Gov 2.0 Summit, or any other number of Gov 2.0 and social media events I attended over the last year, I had the opportunity to meet a huge number of people in real-life. I can’t possibly list them all here, but I can’t tell you how much more important friends and people are than followers or subscribers. Grade: A

My sixth resolution was an utter failure – “use email less internally.” Not only did I not use email less, I think I actually used it more often. Despite the availability of tools like hello.bah.com, Yammer, and instant messenger, email remains the least common denominator. From intern to Vice President, it’s the one tool that everyone has the access, the knowledge, and the experience to use. Until we can show demonstrable value of social media to everyone in the organization and make it as easy to use and accessible as email, it will continue to be difficult to wean people off of it. In 2010, I resolve to do more to incorporate social media into the things that I can directly control – the day-to-day workflow of me and my team. Grade: F

My final resolution of 2009 was to “proactively reach out to more senior leaders to teach them about social media.” Happily, this resolution was accomplished in spades this year. Whether through our reverse mentoring program spearheaded by Shala Byers or the numerous internal briefings that my team and I conducted, social media and Gov 2.0 has gone beyond “hmmm…that’s interesting” to full-scale “this is critically important to our business and we need to learn more.”  While we haven’t achieved broad adoption yet, we’ve certainly achieved broad interest to learn more.  Grade: B

Overall, I’d give myself a B- in realizing my 2009 resolutions. Not too bad, and to be honest, probably better than I thought I’d do! My biggest regret it that Iwasn’t able to cut down on my use of email more – I’m going to try to do more this year to incorporate social media into my routine processes and walk the walk a little better.

What about you? How’d you do in achieving your new year’s resolutions from last year?

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Do You Know Where Santa is Tonight?

Santa

Santa Claus at Peterson Air Force Base

Christmas Eve is a day that holds a special place in many kids’ hearts – for some, it’s the presents, or the family and friends, or the music, or even the food – but for me, it’s always been about Santa Claus.  The almost magical feeling that overcame my cousins and I when we were little kids and we’d go to bed swearing that there was no way we’d ever fall asleep because we were so excited for Christmas morning. Setting out the milk and cookies for Santa, listening for the sounds of the reindeer on the roof of my grandparents house (we always stayed at my grandparents’ house Christmas Eve night) waking me up – it was all kind of surreal for me.  That’s a feeling that I’ll always hold close to my heart during the holiday season and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my kids too someday.

That’s also why this time of year is one of my favorite times to be a Booz Allen consultant too.  That’s because, for the last few years, we’ve had the privilege to have one of the most important jobs in the world – helping the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) track Santa Claus as he delivers presents to kids across the globe. For more than 50 years, NORAD has used the media and a special phone number to provide children worldwide with updates on Santa Claus’ location as he travels the globe on Christmas Eve.

It all started back in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement for children to call Santa misprinted the telephone number. Instead of reaching Santa, however, kids ended up calling NORAD’s Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.”  The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, realizing that kids were relying on him for quite possibly the most important information of the year, regularly checked the radar for Santa as he made his way around the world delivering presents.  All of the children who called were given updates on his location…and a 50 year old tradition was born.

Since then, NORAD has continued to track Santa’s annual flight, responding to children who call asking to find out where he is, what they’re getting for Christmas (sorry – the NORAD radars can’t tell if he has coal or presents in his sleigh), and when he’s coming to their house. NORAD, much like Santa himself, has also started to make better use of technology too.  In addition to being able to follow Santa using real-time Google Maps data, you can also join the more than 250,000 people who are friends with Santa on Facebook, get NORAD’s latest updates on Santa’s travels by following them Twitter, see where Santa has already been by looking at the photos of Santa on Flickr, and watch videos of his many visits around the world on YouTube.

This year, help make Christmas Eve become a magical time for your kids too and show them the NORAD Tracks Santa website.  Where’s Santa at now?

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Gov 2.0 Isn’t Achieved via Instruction Manual

Over the last few weeks, I had an opportunity to speak with some of our nation’s finest, both domestic and abroad.  On December 3, I spoke to the members of the All Services Social Media Council and then on December 9, I spoke at the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) Public Affairs Conference. From D.C. to Germany, these members of our military never failed to impress me with their dedication to their mission and their love of their country.

Not surprisingly, they also held a common interest in social media – what it means to them, what it means to their organizations, and how (and if) they might be able to use these tools. Everyone was looking for some sort of guidance that would answer these questions. Should they create a Facebook page? Should their Twitter page be a personal account or an organizational account? What blogging platform should they use and how often should they blog?

Coincidentally, the new Open Government Directive, thought by many to be THE document that will answer some of these questions and provide government agencies with the direction they’re craving, was released last week.  The Department of Defense is supposed to be releasing their social media policy in the next month or so.  Other agencies are following suit and issuing their own policies and guidelines.

However, these documents, no matter how many deadlines, milestones, and tactics are included in them, aren’t going to provide a manual for achieving the vision of Government 2.0. Open government isn’t something that’s going to be accomplished via a laundry list of actions that can be checkmarked away.  There isn’t going to be a point when your organization flips the final switch and says, “Ta-da!! Now we’re Government 2.0!!”

Sorry – it’s just not that simple.  Despite the benefits the Open Government Directive will bring, it’s just a start. Government 2.0 isn’t going to happen because you’ve gone through and checked all the boxes from the Open Government Directive.  You can make your datasets available.  You can publish all the open government plans you want.  You can establish working group upon working group.  All of those tactics are great first steps, but think longer term.  Think beyond the 120 day deadline in the Open Government Directive and try to imagine what your agency looks like in this new world of open government.

How will you instill this culture of collaboration, transparency, and participation internally, among your employees so that this is standard operating procedure?  Will openness and transparency be encouraged in new hire training?  Will there be some sort of punishment for those who continue to hoard information and close it off?  Will employees be rewarded for being more transparent?

Achieving Government 2.0 is going to require some serious change management that goes beyond any one Directive and hits at the heart of the organization’s people, processes, and technology.  This is going to be an ongoing process change and we’re still at the start of it.

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