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Open Government Directive – Key Benefits and Challenges

Brooklyn Bridge - Courtesy of Flickr user Tattooed JJ

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tattooed JJ

I used to be a journalist, and it was an incredible experience. However, I eventually got tired of being on the outside. I could call attention to government issues as an “objective” observer, but I wanted to affect positive change. My ultimate goal was to help bridge the gaps between government organizations and the people they serve.

The Open Government Directive instructs our nation’s leaders to start building those bridges. The Directive takes the principles of openness, transparency, and collaboration and empowers agencies to start using them in their ongoing operations. Several Government 2.0 leaders have outlined the details of the Directive, so I want to spend some time talking about the key benefits and challenges.

Benefits

  • Investment in Our Democratic Infrastructure – Wikipedia defines infrastructure as “the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.” With an estimated 308 million Americans covering 3.79 million square miles, interactive technologies are the only way to ensure that “We the People” can continue to participate in the formation of a “more perfect Union.”
  • Emphasis on Collaboration – The megacommunity concept is the idea that the challenges we face – “such as global competitiveness, health and environmental risks, and inadequate infrastructure” – can no longer be solved by individual organizations or agencies alone. It describes the intersection of businesses, governments, and not-for-profit organizations and how they can converge to address universal problems. The same tools that allow us to communicate within our organizations and with one another online can be used to bring together these organizations around common goals. Channeling the collective knowledge and power of a megacommunity can have a substantial and lasting impact on our nation’s most complex problems.
  • No More Excuses – How many of you have worked with a leader or client that has emphasized the unique challenges of your organization—promoting “social media” to some degree, but reluctant to share meaningful information or invite audience participation? I’m guessing this applies to at least four out of five people reading this blog, and my advice to you is that every organization is unique. Whether or not this Directive applies to your organization, use it as motivation to address those challenges and find ways to truly embrace the principles of open government.

Challenges

  • Lack of Public Understanding – The rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship are changing, and we need to be educated—at every level—on how and why to engage through open government channels. The loudest voices are usually the outliers (a group I fondly refer to as “the crazies”), and I would anticipate that the outliers will be the early adopters in open government. However, we cannot let a few loud voices thwart our progress, or even worse, deter individuals with more common opinions from participating online. From the beginning, we need to consider how to promote awareness of open government activities and provide a compelling call to action that’s broad enough to reach a representative public.
  • Inadequate Mission Alignment – Inevitably, some agencies will go through the motions of developing Open Government Plans and building Web sites without identifying how the basic principles can advance their missions. Failure to align open government activities to an organization’s mission, goals, and objectives could prevent the agency from realizing the true value open government. The ensuing lack of responsiveness could also result in decreased public trust. The Directive instructs each agency to incorporate the principles of President Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Memorandum into its core mission objectives, but I would argue that the principles should be integrated into strategies and processes rather than the ultimate objective.
  • Poor Construction – The first bridges were made of fallen trees and other materials that could be easily dragged across streams to create a path. They served their purpose for hunters and gatherers, but they could not support a significant traffic increase. I think many of our current open government efforts are similar to these bridges. If we want to integrate transparency, participation, and collaboration into ongoing government activities, we will need to evolve our strategy and technology to support increases in conversation. Proper construction will take expertise, time, and resources.

What are your predictions for the Open Government Directive? Do you think agencies will meet the deadlines, and if so, do you think they will embody the principles of open government? I look forward to your thoughts.

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So You Just Graduated and You Want a Job

Last week, I attended my sixth or seventh Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) International Conference, dating back to my years with the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) while I was in college. Indeed, the fact that PRSSA co-locates their national conference in the same city as the big kids conference is one of the reasons why I think it’s such a good event. I also recently participated in a panel event put on by the Georgetown chapter of the the Social Media Education Connection (SMCEDU) where we talked about social media with a group of Georgetown students.  Between these two events and my involvement with SMCEDU, I’ve spoken with a LOT of very bright, very ambitious, and very enthusiastic students.

Talking with these student reminded me of a recent post I did for the PRSA-NCC blog, “I Just Graduated and I Want a Job in Social Media.”  So, to help those students I’ve met recently, including: Renee Goldman, Yu-Ching Chiang, Heather Richey, Brooks Cooper, Jen Dryer, Courtney Wilson, Mike Hayes, and many others I’ve met over the last few weeks, I’m reprinting that post here:

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Are you "digitally prepared" for a job?

For the last few months, I’ve been talking with a lot of new college grads about their college experiences, jobs, and careers.  When I tell these eager young professionals that I’m a communications consultant who specializes in social media, I usually get one of two questions: 1) What does that mean? or 2) Seriously? How do I get to do that?

To address those of you who would have asked me the first question, I help my government clients develop and implement communications strategies and tactics so that they can better communicate with their employees, other government partners, the general public – essentially with any of their stakeholders. One way in which I do this is through the strategic use of social media tools like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

However, the second question has been much more popular and has led to the most interesting conversations.  So, for all you new college graduates out there looking to get a public relations or communications position that involves social media, here’s a little primer:

DO include links to your blog, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, Twitter profile or any other social media site on your resume. Employers want to see things that you’ve written and how you use these sites.

DON’T forget to make use of the privacy settings on these sites.  Your future employer WILL Google you, not to try to find incriminating pictures, but to get a better idea of how you use social media. Using Facebook to organize your local PRSSA chapter is very different from using Facebook to invite your friends to a kegger. It’s all about balance – most people realize that you have a life outside of work.  That’s ok.  Just make sure that’s not all you’re about.

DO some research on your potential employer and discover what, if any, social media presence they have.  If you’re applying for a government position working with communications or social media, you better be able to tell me that you at least know what GovLoop is.

DON’T try too hard.  I don’t want to do a search on you to discover that you joined Twitter a week ago and you’re following every Booz Allen employee you could find or that you’ve just joined 26 different PR-related groups on LinkedIn in the last few days.  Just be you and be authentic.

DO be ready to walk me through the steps you might take if I told you that I the CEO of a company and I wanted to start a blog.  Hint: if you tell me that you don’t have any experience with doing that, you’re probably not going to be interviewing much longer 🙂

DON’T overvalue your social media skills.  Social media, while hot right now, isn’t always the answer.  Make sure that you have a solid understanding of communication principles because we can teach you how to use Twitter – it’s much more difficult to teach you how to successfully build a communications strategy.

And last, but certainly not least, please DO a Google search for your name.  What shows up?  What doesn’t?  Remember that this is the new first impression.  If you aren’t completely honest about your skills and experiences, it’s really easy to track your digital exhaust and find out the truth. So, what kind of first impression do you want to make?

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PRSA Members Shed Light on Future of Public Relations

PRSA Cover

Download the Survey Report

As the line between communication sender and receiver continue to blur, and the concepts of news cycles and gatekeepers become outdated lexicons of an industry that is undergoing a major transformation, public relations professionals find themselves at a cross-roads.  Let’s face it – public relations itself is having a bit of an identity crisis.  Between the decline of the newspaper industry, the personalization of mass media, and the expansion of social media into every segment of the population, the image of the public relations professional of Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee has become barely recognizable.

What is the role of the public relations professional in today’s communication environment?  What does the future hold?

Well, according to a recent survey by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and Booz Allen Hamilton (full disclosure – I work for Booz Allen), the future of public relations will be marked by three topics:

  1. Justifying return on investment (ROI)
  2. Fighting to stay current with the latest technologies and methodologies
  3. Managing the ever-expanding channels of communications

“Social media tools will continue to change and evolve – we should not get stuck on a particular tool but be flexible and put our strategy to work on the appropriate platform.”
–    PRSA member and survey respondent

More than 2,000 PRSA members responded to the survey and provided their thoughts on the challenges they were facing, future trends, and those skills highest in demand now and in the future.

When asked to identify the top challenge they expect to face over the next five years, almost 60% of all respondents said that dealing with limited resources due to economic pressures would be a “great challenge.”  Justifying return on investment and finding the time to engage in online social media communities were the other two top challenges identified by more than half of the respondents.

The major findings are available in the full survey report and you can download that here.

In reviewing the results of the survey, there were a few other interesting points that jumped out at me that didn’t make it into the final report:

  • Almost 70% of respondents were women, matching closely the PRSA membership as a whole.
  • 93% of respondents identified themselves as white or causcasian
  • 29% of respondents were 32 years old or younger, the most popular age group among respondents
  • Compared to more than 40% of respondents who update their website every day, less than 20% comment on, or create content for, blogs on a daily basis
  • The skills identified most often by the respondents as being in highest demand over the next five years are strategic communications, social media, and crisis communications

On Monday, November 9th one of Booz Allen’s Vice President’s, Maria Darby (and one of my friends and mentors), will be briefing the results of this survey and discussing the future of communications and the public relations industry at the PRSA International Conference in San Diego,.  I’ll be joining her for a panel discussion following her presentation so if you’ll be there, make sure you stop by and say hello!

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Social Media and IT Security: Adversaries or Partners?

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the world of social media and IT security.  We’ve seen the return of the Koobface virus, the Marines have banned social networking sites (*UPDATED:  No, they haven’t), and both Twitter and Facebook were overcome by denial-of-service attacks.  This coverage has provided prime fodder for the IT security professionals of the world, whom I get the feeling would be much happier if nobody had access to the eminently dangerous and risky world of the Internet.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe information security is a very real and valid concern when it comes to social media.  I’ve always thought that for social media to succeed, IT security and social media champions have to be partners, rather than adversaries.   However, the recent events, combined with the traditionally conservative nature of a majority of IT security professionals, have resulted in many calling for total blocks on social media to “maintain the integrity of the network.”  However, in banning social media because it’s “safer,” are we effectively burning the town to stop the plague?  Joshua Salmons stated it best in a recent blog post –

“If the president left his travel agenda scheduling up to the Secret Service, he’d never leave the White House bunker (”Safer” is easier.). If an aircraft’s flight status was left up to the mechanic, it would never leave the hanger (Why risk the wear and tear? More work). Likewise, IT shouldn’t just say why we can’t do something, but should do more working with leadership to figure out how to balance risk and operation.”

The IT security professional is assessed on his or her ability to protect the organization’s infrastructure, ensure its reliability, and anticipate potential threats.  The IT security professional isn’t assessed on the happiness or unhappiness of the employees’ access to Twitter or Facebook.  They don’t receive a bonus if customer service improves or public awareness increases because of increased social media activity.  They are paid to protect the network – given the choice between allowing access to social media and blocking access, what would you choose?   The IT security professional has no incentive to provide this access or even to work with the public affairs staff to come to a compromise.  If it was up to them, we wouldn’t have access to anything outside the organizational firewall, lest we chance exposing our network to a virus.  But at what cost?  Wouldn’t the organization be better served if IT security became a partner and a resource for others throughout the organization?

Take a look at the comments in this post by Aaron Brazzell – they can be summed up in one theme: public affairs professionals and social media champions aren’t nearly as frustrated by the bans on social media, but by the communications abyss that often exists between them and IT.  When was the last time an IT security professional followed up a “No!” with something like, “but here’s what we can do?”  This communications gap can and must be filled if social media is to succeed.  And, this isn’t solely an IT security communications problem, it’s an organizational problem.  Public affairs and IT cannot continue to be adversaries; we must learn how to communicate and compromise better.  The future of Government 2.0 and social media depends on the both of you putting aside your differences and working together.

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