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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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Crowdsourcing Our Health – Using Social Media to Educate and Unite the Public

“Social media on the Internet are empowering, engaging, and educating consumers and providers in health care.  This movement, known as Health 2.0, can be defined as: the use of social software and its ability to promote collaboration between patients, their caregivers, medical professionals, and other stakeholders in health.”

— Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, M.A., M.H.S.A, THINK-Health

Three different things happened to me last week that got me thinking about this concept of Health 2.0.  First, my colleague Jacque Brown started participating in the weekly Healthcomm chats on Twitter, I attended a meeting with the Center for Health Transformation, and I read this fantastic post by Ben Parr on Mashable.

Americans are increasingly relying on the Internet to find health information and connect with other people in similar situations.  According to the April

Source: iCrossing, How America Searches: Health and Wellness

Source: iCrossing, How America Searches: Health and Wellness

2008, “The Wisdom of Patients: Healthcare Meets Online Social Media,” report, more than 60% of Americans have used the Internet to find health information, and as of January 2008, the Internet rivaled physicians as the leading source for health information.  The 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer also determined that people tend to trust “a person like me” more than authority figures from business, government, and media.

Combine this with the fact that research shows that a stable and supportive social network improves health outcomes for people with a wide range of conditions, from the common cold to cancer, and the potential for social media to fundamentally change how we view our healthcare, how we view our health, is phenomenal.

Social media is bridging the gap between health and healthcare.  Imagine a world where your doctor calls you to make sure everything is ok after noticing an increase in the number of your Facebook status updates where you said you have a headache.  What if you could screen new doctors by viewing past surgeries of theirs on YouTube or by reading their blogs?  What if your entire medical history was available, securely, online?   Imagine being able to easily track, monitor, and research every illness, pain, cold, and headache you’ve ever had – you think we’d come across some interesting (and possibly life-saving) trends??

Through websites like Google Health, WebMD, and PatientsLikeMe, initiatives like Twit2Fit and the weekly HealthComm chats, and many other examples, we’re already starting to realize some of these benefits.  But to truly transform our country’s health, our government needs to get involved as well.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ new Center for New Media is a good start, but it’s but one small step toward Health 2.0.  Before we can truly realize Health 2.0 (can’t we think of term that doesn’t use the “2.0” moniker?), there are several very valid issues, along with several perceived barriers.

  • Privacy – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule provides federal protections for personal health information; However, personal health records (PHRs) shared outside of covered entities online are not protected by HIPAA.
  • Security – 13% of respondents to a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) survey revealed their facility had experienced a data breach.
  • AccessibilitySection 508 requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Resistance to Change – Healthcare is perhaps the oldest, largest, and most complex institution in the United States, and stakeholders from every aspect of the industry will have to adapt to a new way of doing business.

All very real issues, right?  However, as much as some people would like us to believe, these issues are NOT barriers to Health 2.0.  Our Government can and has overcome these issues before, but for it to continue, we must address these issues first. This is what Jacque likes to call the four stages of Health 2.0 denial.

  1. This is an invasion of privacy! – However, the “entities” mentioned above are ensuring HIPAA compliance and the caretakers who will more than likely be on the receiving end of PHR sharing already know of an individual’s medical conditions. Google has taken additional steps to ensure privacy by only making links available through the direct email address through which the notification was sent and making the links expire after 30 days.
  2. What about information security?!? – If the intelligence community can use social media to communicate and collaborate about our nation’s intelligence and we’re comfortable with our entire banking records now available online, I think we can figure out how to make our health records accessible AND secure.
  3. What about people who don’t have the internet? – 80% of adults in the US have mobile phones, and some countries are already piloting government-provided phones for health reasons.
  4. But this is just plain scary – When I first logged on to Google Health, I was overwhelmed at seeing my mortality displayed in front of me. Likewise, physicians and other groups are used to doing things the way they feel comfortable. Even if we do see the value in social media, it’s a transformational change that is going to take time and both formal and informal support to embrace.

Health 2.0 isn’t going to happen overnight – it’s going to take the time, dedication, resources, and cooperation of the general public, our government, Big Pharma, insurance providers, first responders, caregivers, and many others to make it happen.

If you’re interested in learning more about Health 2.0, there are much more qualified people than me who are out there making this a reality – I’m just someone who’s keenly interested in doing what I can to make it happen.

Additional Resources:

There are MANY more – the links above are simply my go-to resources.  If you have more resources, please add them here in the comments so that others may benefit too!

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