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Social Media and the Next Generation

My four years at Bethany College will always stick in my mind as some of the best times of my life.  Professionally, this is where I learned the fundamentals of communications, from public relations to advertising to writing for the media. Personally, this is where I formed many of the relationships that have made me the person that I am today.  This period of professional and personal growth has had a tremendous impact on everything that I do and I’m extraordinarily grateful for the relationships, experiences, and knowledge that I gained while I was in college.  It was here that I first learned the differences in writing a feature story and a news story, where I learned how to give a public presentation, where I first experienced what it was like to work with an actual client, where I began to understand that all the knowledge in the world isn’t going to cut it in the “real world” unless I had people skills too.  Disappointingly though, I didn’t learn a single thing about social media, Web 2.0, and especially not Government 2.0.  It wasn’t just that this terminology didn’t exist, it was that the principles of methods of open, transparent communications didn’t exist either.

We had a “Mass Communications 101” class where we learned how broadcast, communications had evolved over the years.  We had a “Communication Theory” class where we learned the Magic Bullet theory and the Mean World theory.  But, we never had a class where we learned the many-to-many communications model of social media.  We never had a class where we discussed the differences in writing for a blog versus writing for a newspaper.  Media relations 101 didn’t even mention bloggers.  We were learning communications for the past and the present but were unprepared for communications in the future.  How would communications evolve over time?  What new tools would change the way organizations communicated?  What new communications methodologies would be embraced?

Since I graduated, I’ve spoken to many students, professors, and alumni, and I’ve been consistently disappointed in the lack of formal (or informal) education around social media at the collegiate level.  Despite what you may have heard from the Baby Boomer generation, today’s college students aren’t out there creating blogs, tweeting, or using wikis on a regular basis.  Sure, they are most likely on Facebook or MySpace for personal reasons, but using Facebook to organize your next Edward Forty-hands mixer is a lot different than using a blog to change public opinion and organize an online community.  I’ve met just as many 24-year-olds who are as completely befuddled by Twitter as 42-year-olds.

Enter the Social Media Club Education Connection.  Ever since I started working as a consultant at Booz Allen, I’ve loved mentoring my colleagues, giving presentations at college campuses, and coaching junior team members on projects.  I’ve always gotten a lot of satisfaction from helping others reach their potential while still showing them that they can have fun doing it too. For these reasons, I’ve also been very interested in the opportunities for improvement in higher education and communications. Then one day in April, while attending the SNCR New Communications Forum, surrounded by people like Shel Israel, Chris Brogan, Geoff Livingston, Jeremiah Owyang, Katie Paine, and many other luminaries in the social media community, I thought to myself, “This is EXACTLY the type of conference that a college student should be attending.”  Further inspired by the next generation of social media leaders – people like Dana Lewis, Sydney Owen, and Dena Olyaie, and professors like Mihaela Vorvoreanu and Howard Rheingold – I tweeted that I thought there should be collegiate chapters of Social Media Club.  Shortly thereafter, I had a lengthy conversation with Chris Heuer, founder of the Social Media Club, about how to turn this idea into action and formally establish something.

Just a few months later, we’ve officially established the Social Media Education Connection (almost 150 members deep already!). I’m extremely excited to start working with George Washington University, one of our founding #SMCEDU chapters, right here in Washington DC.  In cooperation with student representatives, Dena Olyaie and Cathryn Sitterding, and faculty representative, Sean Aday, I’m looking forward to cultivating the relationship between the students of George Washington University, the DC Chapter of Social Media Club, and Booz Allen Hamilton.  When I first talked with Chris about establishing the Social Media Club Education Connection, we discussed our goals for this new initiative:

  • Connect the local Social Media Club groups more closely with their local universities
  • Co-create a combination of mentoring programs, internships, professional development opportunities to benefit both the university and professional chapters
  • Co-create a repository of Creative Commons licensed Social Media curriculum

Over the coming months, I will be working with Dena and Cathryn to create an SMCEDU GW chapter charter, work with the university to become an officially recognized organization, secure meeting space, identify additional interested students, create a strategic plan, and work with the SMCDC chapter leadership to identify professional development opportunities.  I hope this is the start of something much bigger, something that will spread throughout colleges and universities across the country, and I hope that you’ll be a part of it too.

Who knows what social media will be like in 5 or 10 years?  Who will be tomorrow’s communications leaders?  You now have the opportunity to help shape the future of the communications industry by helping shape the careers of the next generation. If you want to be part of the effort to improve the quality of social media education being offered in schools, please join our new SMCEDU Project Community on Ning.

*Image courtesy of Flickr user CLF*

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Social Media Done Right Means No More Social Media “Experts”

Where will all the social media experts be in five years?

Where will all the social media "experts" be in five years?

“If I do my job right, I shouldn’t be doing it in five years.”

That’s what I said almost three years ago when Walton Smith and I started our social media practice here at Booz Allen.  Like Geoff Livingston, I’ve felt for a long time that social media shouldn’t be considered some “special” strategy or some public relations parlor trick, but rather as part of an overall communications strategy.

Seeing as I’m part of a 500+ person team of strategic communications professionals here, my goal was not to create one smaller team of geeks who blog and Tweet all day, but to get all 500+ people on the team to know, understand, and use social media just as they know, understand, and use press releases, email pitches, and town hall meetings.

Sure, there will always be a need to call in the “experts” – the people who live and breathe this stuff – but for the most part, every communications professional needs to understand social media and its place in the overall mix of communications strategies and tools.   If I hear one more person tell me that they’re “too old for this stuff,” or that “I’m just not ready for that,” all you’re really telling me is that you’re not interested in being a really good communications professional.  These types of people won’t last for much longer anyway.

Over the last three years, we’ve made a lot of progress here in integrating social media into our overall communications capabilities – we’re no longer doing public relations, change management, crisis communications, event planning (among others) AND social media.  Social media is not a separate discipline – it’s just another set of tools in the toolbox that a communications professional has at their disposal.

Well, a little more than halfway into my prediction above, I can proudly say that I think my statement still holds true.  If anything, it might happen sooner.  Seemingly every RFP I come across now includes social media, and almost every one of our client projects has at least asked the question, “is social media right for our client?”  For the last three months, my days have been filled almost completely with meetings with various projects and clients to talk about social media, writing the tech approaches to several proposals, and giving internal presentations to our senior leadership about the importance of Government 2.0 and the role social media is playing in the future of our government.

Though I’ve been working my butt off lately to handle the incredible demand for social media and Government 2.0, everyone here has also realized that this demand isn’t going away anytime soon – in fact, it’s only going to increase.  I’m hearing more senior leaders here say things like, “This can’t just be done by Steve’s team – we need more people who know and understand this stuff.”  I’m seeing more performance reviews being conducted where people are being asked what they did to learn more about social media over the last year.  I’m getting more requests from people outside of my immediate social media team asking how they can get more up to speed with social media so that they don’t always have to come to us for help. I’ve found out about really cool Government 2.0 work that we’re doing after someone has already started it, instead of me being the bottleneck for all that work.

At the current pace, I imagine that I’ll soon just be Steve Radick, one member of a 500+ person team of communications professionals, all of whom know how to write a press release, create a corporate newsletter, write a speech, craft engaging blog posts, use Twitter to engage with their audiences, and develop a strategic communications plan.

Then, I’ll move on to my next challenge…

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Tired of All-Hands Meetings? Try an INTERNAL Unconference

On July 9th, 2009, my Strategic Communications team here at Booz Allen held an unconference as an alternative to the traditional All-Hands meeting.  Big thanks go out to Chris Hemrick, who led the planning, development, and execution of this event.  In collaboration with Chris and a few other team members, we pitched the idea to our leadership as a low-cost, low-resource opportunity to network, collaborate on some of the tough issues facing our team, learn from other members of the team, and have an opportunity to get involved with the rest of the team beyond their individual project teams.

So, how did we do it?  And more importantly, was it successful?

Pre-Conference

After receiving approval to move forward, we established our “home base” – a wiki page on our Enterprise 2.0 platform – hello.bah.com.  From here, we coordinated all our planning and outreach efforts.  We established the hashtag that we would use when blogging or Yammering about the Uconference.  We also determined the agenda for the day: 4:30 – 8:30 on a Thursday night with three sets of two concurrent sessions followed by one full wrap-up session and some networking time.  Sessions were to be restricted to one slide, and session leaders were only given 5 minutes to give the topic introduction.

About a month before the Unconference, we sent an email out to the team asking for people to propose potential topics via the wiki.  Sessions were then voted on by the rest of the members of the team.  However, because this was such a new concept to a majority of the team, we didn’t receive as many topic suggestions as we had hoped for.  As such, we had to reduce the number of total sessions from 6 to just 4.

One of the important things for us was also virtual participation.  Our team is spread out all over the DC area, and all over the country.  We needed a way for these folks to participate too.  However, unlike Government 2.0 Camp or South by Southwest, a majority of our participants aren’t used to live-Tweeting.  While tuning in to hashtags like #gov20camp or #sxsw can give virtual attendees a reasonable feel for the content of the conference, that only works when hundreds of people are actively using the service, giving individual perspectives and updates.  However, this doesn’t really work when only a few people are doing it.  To address this, we decided to use both Yammer and Adobe Connect, allowing chatting and live audio/video.  We also created topic-specific wiki pages and blogs and each session was to have a blogger and note-taker who would help continue the conversation after the actual event.

We also decided on a location.  After a pre-conference walk-through, we chose Bailey’s Pub & Grille in Arlington because it was 1) big enough for 100+ people and had space for breakout rooms, 2) metro-accessible and centrally located, 3) had free Wi-Fi and 4) was informal (it’s a bar!) enough to give the vibe that this was something different.

Day of

SC Unconference

Upon arriving at Bailey’s to get all set up, we had the projectors running, chatter had started on both Adobe Connect and Yammer, the first of about 100 people began to file in, and I had a cold draft of Heineken that was calling my name.  Everything was falling into place.  After about 20 minutes of getting settled in, we kicked off with a quick introduction about why we were doing this, what we wanted to accomplish, some expectation setting (people are going to get up and freely walk around, attendees were encouraged to be honest in their discussions, etc.), and some logistics, we were off and running.

However, not all went as smoothly as we had planned (that wouldn’t be any fun, would it?), logistically or strategically.  First, we quickly discovered that the webcam microphones we were using weren’t sufficient enough to capture the full discussion – virtual attendees were only hearing the discussion leader, not necessarily the entire conversation.  Video also proved problematic as the lighting was very dark and the webcams we were using weren’t able to capture everyone around the room who spoke.  This, combined with the fact that Yammer went down right in the middle of the first discussion, really hampered the virtual attendees’ ability to participate.  They were restricted to video/audio of the discussion leader and live chat with person running the Adobe Connect session.  While this wasn’t ideal, all of these problems are easily fixable with higher quality microphones and video equipment.

The other challenge that we experienced was that the sessions themselves didn’t exactly go as we had planned.  As I mentioned earlier, we had to trim the number of sessions to two sets of two concurrent sessions.  But, we didn’t cut the total amount of time, so each session ended up being an hour long – this ended up being about 20-30 minutes too long.  This meant that the discussion ended up going in circles and off-topic a few times during the second half of the sessions.  We also found out that the effectiveness of the sessions depended largely on the topic at hand – there was one session focused on how we use social media with our clients that resulted in a lot of good discussion and learning.  However, the session I led was focused on the best way to divide and utilize our time.  This led to a lot of good discussion as well, but also some bickering, disagreements, not to mention some maybe too-candid comments.

Post-Conference

During the entire Unconference, Tracy Johnson was walking around with a Flip camera asking people for their thoughts on the Unconference.  Here’s what they said:

We sent out a survey asking all attendees what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they’d suggest doing next year.  We also briefed our leadership team the following day with our own post-event report.  Attendees seemed to say that they appreciated something different, that they liked the informal nature of the unconference, and that they would definitely participate again.  The members of the leadership team, suspicious of the idea at first, were excited to hear some of the ideas and discussion to come out of the event and agreed that it was something that should be done again.

Wrap-up

I loved having the unconference – it was a welcome change from the normal stand and talk through slides meeting, and gave us an opportunity to get together with our colleagues AND talk about how to improve our team’s operations.  The concept of an internal unconference, though, isn’t for everyone.  Before you consider an internal unconference at your organization, consider your answers to the following questions:

  1. Will there be a need for virtual participation?
  2. Does your organization have an internal microblogging service (Twitter is most likely too public for most)?
  3. Is your leadership willing to listen to criticism and new ideas, and most importantly, to DO something about the ideas and opinions that are discussed?
  4. How geographically separated is your team?  Can they all gather at one location?
  5. Are new ideas and open discussion typically valued or discouraged?
  6. Are a majority of your team introverts or extroverts?
  7. Do you have a budget to cover A/V equipment, location reservation, food/drinks, nametags, etc.?
  8. Do you have a space from where the conversation can continue after the event (wiki page, forum, blog, etc.)?
  9. Will leadership participate and encourage their staff to do the same?
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Swine Flu 2.0 : A Case For How Managing Social Media is a Matter of National Security

The following is a guest post by Michael Dumlao, a member of my team who specializes in creative design,  web development and social media.  He’s also our Crisis 2.0 go-to guy and has spoken at several conferences on the convergence of social media and crisis communications.  Follow him at @michaeldumlao on Twitter.

Jack Holt, Director of New Media at the Department of Defense who oversees DODLive, the DOD’s social media program, recently said with great conviction, that if government is not in the social media space, then government abdicates control to other people who can adopt – with potential malicious intent – a convincing digital masquerade of that agency. Hence his warning that engaging social media is a matter of national security. Specifically, the government needs to lead discussions in social media because it is the government’s job to be there and in doing so, protect the public from misinformation.

This scenario was recently played out with social media’s contentious role in the H1N1 flu outbreak. That social media was criticized for its lack of editorial oversight is not necessarily new. The difference now is the proliferation of social media amongst the public is far greater that when initial concerns about the credibility of social media first came out. Furthermore, with Twitter’s portability on mobile phones, the misinformation that any participatory media can and will create becomes more omnipresent. How then do folks filter through the rumors and (at times, dangerously) erroneous claims without ignoring valid and vital information that could save lives? To this I offer the following thoughts:
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