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Interested in Being at the Tip of the Spear? Be Prepared for…

April 18, 2010

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Image courtesy of Flickr user Percita

Over the last three years, I’ve met a lot of people who are their organization’s social media evangelist, lead, POC, pioneer, ninja, guru, etc., and I’ve met many others who are aspiring to take on that role.  Hell, I even wrote my last post to help those people get started.  While it’s easy to get caught up in all the hype that often follows the people in these roles – the promotions, the raises, the invitations to participate in selective working groups, the personal branding, the ability to make your living using Facebook and Twitter – I’d like to take this opportunity to help balance out the expectations.  The following statements aren’t necessarily good or bad, but they do paint a more realistic picture.

So, if you’re itching to become “the guy” at your organization when it comes to social media, be prepared:

  • To be expected to know EVERYTHING about social media, not only about Twitter, Facebook, and wikis, but also all of the policies, trends, statistics, and laws too
  • To know who else in your organization is also involved with social media and if you don’t, why not
  • To encounter people who assume that because you’re on Facebook or Twitter while at work, that you’re never actually busy with anything
  • To justify the return on investment (ROI) of  all the time you spend using social media
  • To get dozens of emails from people every time a there’s a negative, controversial media article discussing the risks of social media (you should have seen how many people pointed to the Wired article came out showing how terrorists could use Twitter and told me, “see, that’s why we shouldn’t use social media)
  • To be always on, all the time. No matter what meeting you go into, there’s always a chance that you may have to give an impromptu presentation
  • To have people constantly asking you for your thoughts on the latest social media-related email/blog/memo/article/news/interview that came out
  • To justify your existence to your managers when there are organizations who outsource their social media for a few cents per tweet
  • To get inundated with requests like this – “I just read [insert social media link here]. Do you have like 30 minutes to meet with me so that I can ask you some basic questions?”
  • To see your work (even within your own organization) turn up in other people’s work without any attribution
  • To be told that “all this collaboration is great, but what real work have you accomplished?”
  • To change teams and/or organizational alignment at least once

I’ve encountered all of these situations to varying degrees over the last three years, and at times, I’ve felt frustrated, excited, nervous, entrepreneurial, scared, sometimes all simultaneously, but through it all, I’ve always felt proud to be on the cutting edge of changes that need to be made. I’ve never wondered if it was worth it, and I can definitely say that I’ve always felt challenged and stimulated through it all.

If you’re considering being at the tip of the social media spear within your organization, make sure that you’re prepared…for everything.

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Who Owns Social Media? Everyone and No One

March 23, 2010

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of meetings both within Booz Allen and with my clients to discuss social media, and I’ve noticed that more and more organizations are moving beyond the social media experimentation stage. I’m finding that I’m no longer justifying the use of social media, but helping develop the processes, policies, and personnel that will move the use of social media from interesting experiment to a long-term way of doing business.

While your organization’s initial foray into social media may have started with a junior public affairs professional, some webmaster in the IT department, more and more organizations are now trying to figure out how to integrate these social media “pilots” into their long-term strategies and plans.

In one case, I met with a room full of information security professionals. In another, it was a public affairs office. In another, I met with the recruiting office of an agency. In still another, it was a mish-mash of people including public affairs officers, project managers, internal communications, privacy specialists, records management professionals, and senior leadership. Everyone viewed “ownership” of social media differently. Some thought their team should control social media for the entire organization while others felt a more decentralized approach would be more effective. Others wanted to create an integrated process team with representatives from across the organization. The only thing that everyone had in common is the view that their perspective and concerns weren’t getting the attention they thought they deserved.

Internally, we’re going through a similar evolution – in a firm with 20,000+ employees spread across the world and dozens of different business lines and market areas, there’s no shortage of people now looking for ways that social media can help them and their clients. In talking with one of our Vice Presidents the other day, he asked me, “in your opinion, who should own social media here?”  Who was going to be THE person he could reach to with questions? The first answer that came to mind was “well, no one should own it, but there are a lot of people who need to be involved in owning it.”

Then yesterday, I came across this post by Rick Alcantara, “Who Should Control Social Media Within a Company?,” and I couldn’t help thinking that we’re asking the wrong question. If the use of social media is so transformative and paradigm-shifting, and we agree that there needs to be new processes and policies in place to deal with it, then shouldn’t we also be looking at new governance models as well? Why do we assume that social media should (or can) fit into our existing buckets?

The Problem

Organizations traditionally consist of distinct lines of business, teams, branches, divisions, service offerings, etc. This model works great when these teams don’t have to work with one another – IT is responsible for protecting the network, public affairs is responsible for communicating with the public. Great.  But what happens when these teams need to work with one another, need to collaborate with each other?

In some cases, these teams work well together, not because of some formal charter or governance process, but because of the personal relationships that have been made. My team and Walton’s (my counterpart on our IT team) team work well together not because we were told to, but because he and I have a relationship built on trust and mutual respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In other cases, one team works on something and then sends it on to the other team for a formal “chop.” That’s not collaboration – that’s an approval chain. Sometimes, an Integrated Process Team (IPT) is formed to facilitate this collaboration, but those too often devolve into screaming matches or passive aggressive maneuvering, and most IPTs don’t get any real power beyond “making recommendations” anyway.

Just as social media has fundamentally changed the way organizations communicate and collaborate internally, it is also forcing us to rethink the way we govern its use. Maybe social media shouldn’t be “owned” by anyone? Maybe it should be governed in a similarly transformative way?

The Solution

I like what Jocelyn Canfield, owner of Communication Results, has to say at the end of Rick’s post:

“Organizations are best served by collaboration, not control. PR, Marketing, HR, IR, Corp Communications all have a vested interest in effective social media activities, while IT and graphic design can be an important allies in seamless execution. If everyone feels ownership, everyone benefits.”

Emphasis above was added by me – I think everyone has to feel ownership, but they shouldn’t necessarily have ownership. Organizational use of social media impacts everyone across the organization in different ways, from IT security to HR to legal to marketing and ceding “control” to just one of these groups seems to be both short-sighted and unrealistic. What happens when you say that Public Affairs has control of social media, but then IT decides to block all access, citing security concerns? Who resolves that issue? Do the Directors of IT and Public Affairs arm-wrestle? Steel cage death match? Frank and thoughtful discussion?

The answer to who should control social media is everyone and no one. Here at Booz Allen, we’re bringing together both social media leaders and select representatives from across our various teams to form a committee, primarily to ensure that open, cross-team collaboration becomes the norm, not the exception. One of the primary roles for this committee will be to ensure that everyone feels ownership, but that no one is actually given ownership.

How’s this different from an IPT? Well, for starters, I’m proposing that all committee meetings be livestreamed internally where anyone from any team may watch/submit questions. We’ll be blogging internally about what we talk about. Meeting agendas and minutes will be posted to our internal wiki. Everything will be done in the open, encouraging participation, contribution, and truthfulness and discouraging passive-aggressive behavior, back channel discussions, and hidden agendas. The committee’s goal isn’t to determine who owns what; rather, it’s to ensure that everyone understands that no one owns anything.

Organizations should look at social media governance as a way to re-think traditional ownership roles in their organization. When this type of governance is based on open discussion and mutual respect instead of turf-protecting and power grabs, who owns what becomes less important and who KNOWS what becomes more important.

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Looking Back at My 2009 Social Media Resolutions

January 2, 2010

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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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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 🙂

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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