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The Evolution of the Social Media Evangelist

August 23, 2009

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Do the EvolutionI’m currently going through my annual assessment, and in completing my self-assessment, I had some time to reflect on the last year and subsequently, over my six years at Booz Allen. As I combed through old emails and files, I thought back to 2006 when I first realized that social media was a game-changer in the government space. I remembered all the briefings I did, all the emails I sent, all the debates I had with people, and that’s when I realized the evolution that had taken place over the last three years. While I can say that being a social media evangelist has hasn’t always been easy or fun, it’s always moved forward – sometimes more slowly than other times, but always forward.

Since that first day back in 2006, when I realized the opportunities that social media presented me, my company, and my government, I have evolved from an opportunist to a leader (I hope!), and I can only hope that I’ll continue to evolve in the years ahead. Here are the seven evolutionary stages that I went through as a social media evangelist – I’m interested in hearing if you find yourself going through a similar evolution, or if you skipped a few steps and went straight from an amoeba to advanced human ūüôā

Phase One – The Opportunist

In the first phase, you are an Opportunist. In this initial phase, you’ve identified an opportunity – this can be for you, for your team, your division, or your organization. You start by doing exhaustive research to see if this opportunity is feasible and realistic. Your ambitions run wild as you focus on all of the raises, promotions, and accolades that are potentially available if you are able to take advantage of this opportunity. In my case, this is the stage where I first read books like the Cluetrain Manifesto and Wikinomics and when I first started using Intellipedia. I started talking with my mentors about social media and why it represented a huge opportunity for improving communication and collaboration internally and with our clients.¬† At this point, ideas of all kinds are running through your head, but they’re primarily driven by personal gain – I will be able to save time, work more efficiently, make more money, win an award, etc.

Phase Two – The Idealist

The next stage is the idealistic stage.¬† This is where you start adding outcomes to the ideas you’ve come up with. You start thinking things like, “If the intelligence community can collaborate on a wiki, then why isn’t every organization?¬† If only I could show them what we could do with a wiki, there’s no way they could turn that down!”¬† While in the Idealist stage, you don’t consider real-world issues like firewalls, policies, changes in administration, funding, or internal politics. You are going to change the world with this wonderful idea or product of yours and the masses will ask, “why didn’t I think of that?” You work almost solely in the land of potential and while this passion for social media starts flowing into all aspects of your work, you start to realize that passion and potential alone isn’t going to cut it.

Phase Three – The Pessimist

Quickly following the highs of the Idealist stage come the lows of the Pessimist stage. This is where you will most likely be brought back to earth by the policies, management, and politics of the real world.¬† You will be called naive. You will be told by people being paid much more than you that your idea can’t be done. Seemingly, everyone you talk with have a reason why your idea or dream can’t be accomplished. They will tell you things like, “we’ve never worked like that before” and “there’s no way that will work because of the policy.”¬† You will start to question if you made the right decision to pursue these ideas, if you’ve wasted your time going down some rabbit-hole that you’ll never be able to get out of.¬† You will get incredibly frustrated as you give what seems like the 100th briefing on what social media is, what it isn’t, and how it can help, and then see no tangible movement follow. You’re left wondering, “what’s wrong with everyone – this seems so obvious to me, and I just don’t get why they don’t recognize it too!!”

Phase Four – The Workaholic

In the Workaholic phase, you’re working 9-5 on your “real” job, and then 5-9 on your idea, your passion.¬† You’ve gained a critical mass of supporters and people have started to recognize you as the primary resource on social media. You’re fielding dozens of questions every day about what social media is and why it can be beneficial. If available, you’re one of the most active bloggers or wiki editors. If not officially yet, you’re functioning as the de facto community manager for the social media tool that you’ve inevitably already started. You’re trying to get others as excited as you are by being extra active – commenting on every blog, giving briefings to anyone who will listen, sending out emails to articles extolling the virtues of social media.¬† You’re suffering from both the Hatred of Losing Information (HOLI) and the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).¬† This is the stage that I found myself in for the longest period of time, and I think it’s because I was focused on bringing social media to a 22,000+ person organization.¬† For smaller orgs, I’m guessing this phase is much shorter.

Phase Five – The Egotist

The Egotist phase sometimes overlaps with the Workaholic stage. This is where you get an overinflated sense of ego and might start calling referring to yourself as a social media expert or guru. You’ve now got more supporters than detractors. You’ve probably won a few awards and might have even gotten a raise or a promotion, due largely to your social media evangelizing efforts. In the Egotist stage, you start feeling a strong sense of ownership over all things social media, and think you have more control and authority than you do. You may even start arguing with people, saying, “you’re not doing it right!” The Egotist can be a very nasty stage, one that ends up actually inhibiting your overall goals. When I reached this stage, I was lucky because I had surrounded myself with lots of very smart, honest people who called me on it, and explained that I couldn’t control everything related to social media in an organization as big as Booz Allen. I learned that I could no longer be involved with every single social media-related effort – I had to become a teacher.

Phase Six – The Teacher

The Teacher phase is one born out of necessity. At some point, the desire for social media knowledge and expertise within your organization is going to grow so large and so widespread that it will be impossible for you to manage it all. You will no longer be able to keep up with the entire community’s activities. You won’t be able to fulfill every request for a briefing. You’ll need to teach others the same philosophies and methods that you’ve learned. You’ll have to help them determine how to navigate the political and administrative barriers that you’ve had to negotiate to get where you are now. This is the most critical phase, the phase that will determine if your social media efforts blossom into a scalable, organizational-wide effort, or just looked at as a proof of concept with potential.

Phase Seven – The Leader

The final phase (at least thus far) is the Leader phase. At this stage, you’ve formed your team and you’ve learned what you need to get involved with and what you can entrust to others. You’re not only managing the work of others, but you’re leading them as well. All your work to this point has set you up to be a leader of social media, not just an evangelist.¬† People respect and seek out your opinion, not because they have to, but because they think you have something to add. You’ve taken the “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach now and have totally reversed position on other social media leaders in the organization. You no longer feel threatened as you did in the Egotist phase. Rather, you now feel proud to see other people throughout the organization start to realize the value that social media can have. You officially transitioned from a grass-roots initiative to an accepted, respected, and valued service offering, capability, or culture.

So what’s the next phase?¬† I’m not real sure at this point. I think that I’m currently transitioning from the Teacher phase to the Leader phase, but I’m not entirely sure what’s next. My hope is that social media will just become so ingrained in people’s lives that it will be time for a new evolution to take place, an evolution that uses social media to help further an even greater cause.¬† Maybe that’s when you enter the “Mentor” phase…

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

July 21, 2009

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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

July 12, 2009

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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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