Tag Archives: communications

Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas

July 14, 2011

23 Comments

Ninja

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Seth W.

Let’s get this straight – a few years ago, you read The Cluetrain Manifesto or Groundswell or one of the other hundred social media books out there, you started reading Mashable, you created a Twitter account, and you developed a bunch of presentations you used internally to help get buy-in from your organization’s senior leadership for your social media ideas. It’s now two or three years later, and you’ve become the organizational “expert,” “guru,” or “subject matter expert” in social media, your social media blog receives a lot of traffic, you’ve championed the use of Enterprise 2.0 tools internally, and you’re managing your organization’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Everything’s going according to plan, right?

Eh….not quite.

Here’s the thing – over the last few years, you’ve probably gotten a few raises, won some awards, maybe you’ve even been promoted one or two times. I hope you’ve enjoyed your rise to the top because I’m here to tell you that the end is near. If you’ve ridden the wave of social media and branded yourself as the social media “guru,” “ninja,” or “specialist,” I hope you’ve got a backup plan in place because what once set you apart from the crowd now just lumps you right in there with millions of other people with the same skills, the same experience, and the same knowledge. A few years ago, you were innovative. You were cutting-edge. You were forward-thinking. You were one of a few pioneers in a new way of thinking about communicating. Just a few short years later, and you’re now normal. You’re just doing what’s expected. You’re one of many. Social media specialists are the new normal. Oh, you were the Social Media Director for a political campaign? Congratulations – so were the other 30 people who interviewed for this position. What else have you done? What other skills do you have? People with social media skills and experience on their resume aren’t hard to find anymore. It’s those people who don’t anything about social media who stand out now.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the end.  Instead trying to be a social media ninja, try being a communications specialist. Try being a knowledge management professional. Try being a recruiter. Try being an information technology professional. Because guess what – THAT’S what you are doing. Instead of talking about how you have thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans, talk about what those fans have helped you accomplish. Instead of talking about the number of blog subscribers you have, talk about how much revenue that blog helped generate for your organization. Instead of talking about the number of members of your Yammer network, talk about how that community has positively impacted your organization’s workforce. Start talking about social media for what it is – a set of tools that people with real professions use to do their jobs. Don’t try to be an expert at using a hammer. Try to be the master builder who can use the hammer, the saw, and the screwdriver to build a house.

When everyone’s a specialist, no one’s a specialist. What makes you stand out now?

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Dear IT Guy, Can You Actually Use the Tool You’re Creating?

August 27, 2010

34 Comments

Do the top developers for Google’s Android operating system use Blackberries?  Do the IT guys developing Windows 7 use Macs?  Do the folks at WordPress use Blogger to host their personal blogs?

These are purposely ridiculous questions – wouldn’t the best developers use the actual tools they’re responsible for building?  Wouldn’t they do their job more effectively if they were actually a user of the product they’re developing? Doesn’t the product have more credibility if the people behind it are believers in the product’s features?  Out of everyone, shouldn’t the development team, at least, be the biggest advocates of the very software they’re implementing?  Shouldn’t they be the ones drinking the Kool-Aid?

Unfortunately, IT departments at large companies and government agencies are too often doing the equivalent of developing Android apps at work and using the iPhone at home. Sharepoint developers implement Sharepoint, yet they don’t use it to manage the implementation. The guys installing your organization’s blogging software don’t realize that the “Add a Picture” button doesn’t work because they don’t have blogs.  The team responsible for increasing awareness of your Enterprise 2.0 platform haven’t even created profiles of themselves.

Now, take a look at the official support areas for WordPress, Telligent, MindTouch, Jive or any of the dozens of social software vendor sites.  Notice anything? The developers are often the most active members of their respective communities and they’re using their own software day after day in the course of doing their jobs. If there’s a glitch involved with posting a new comment to a forum, they’re going to be the first ones to see it, diagnose the problem and fix it.

Sadly, I’ve been seeing these situations increase with the emergence of the Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 initiatives. IT departments are increasingly being asked to implement wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, video-sharing, and dozens of other varieties of collaboration software – software they may know how to code, but often have no idea how to actually use.  They’re just told to “give us a wiki” or “develop a blog for me.”  Actually using the blog or wiki isn’t a requirement.  As as I was told by one programmer a year or so ago when I recommended he start a blog to inform the rest of the community about the latest enhancements and maintenance activities,

“Every hour I spend playing around on a blog post is an hour I spend away from coding!”

Well, that was helpful – thanks! Instead of getting frustrated and ending the conversation, I should have instead elaborated on the benefits that a developer enjoys when he becomes a user instead of just a developer.

  • Higher quality product – you can identify bugs and feature improvements before they become problems for other users.
  • Increased credibility – If, as a user,  I ask how to upload my photo, guess whose response I’m going to be believe – the guy with an empty profile or the guy who’s been active on the community for the last year?
  • Increased “forgive-ability” – Look, we know that these sites will go down occasionally, especially when they’re first being developed.  We can deal with that…if we’ve been reading your blog and know that it’s down this Saturday night because you’re installing the new widget we’ve been asking for. If the site goes down and all we get is a 404 error page stating that the site is down for maintenance…again, we’re going to be less than pleased.
  • Content Seeding – Clients are always asking,  “how are we going to get people to actually work on this site and add content?”  Well, before you even launch, if your project team (including developers, community managers, comms people, etc.) actually use the site you’re building, you’ll create a solid base of content before you even start to open it up to more people.  Adding to existing content (even if it’s not related) is always easier than creating something new.
  • Common Ground – you become a member of the community instead of the guy behind the curtain making changes willy-nilly. You gain trust and respect because they know that you’re dealing with the same issues they are.  You’re struggling to access the site on your phone too.  You’re not getting the alerts you signed up for either.  You’re not able to embed videos correctly.  You go through what they go through.
  • Greater ownership in the final product – The community becomes YOUR community, not something you’re just developing for a bunch of “users.”  You become invested in it and want to make it faster, add new features, win awards, etc. because you’re a part of it.

For all you non-developers out there, would you like your IT staff to be more visible?  Would you be interested in learning more about what’s happening under the hood of your Intranet/Enterprise 2.0 platform?  What other benefits do you see to getting them more involved?

For you developers, what’s preventing you from getting this involved in the communities/platforms that you’re responsible for creating?

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Taking Gov 2.0 to the Ballpark

September 25, 2009

28 Comments

Sports franchises face many of the same challenges in implementing social media as government agencies do

Sports franchises face many of the same challenges in implementing social media as government agencies do

I recently had the honor to join Frank Gruber, Shashi Bellamkonda, Mike Tunison, Gayle Weiswasser, and several other social media and microtargeting professionals (sorry I didn’t get everyone’s Twitter names!) to meet with Stan Kasten, President of the Washington Nationals, and several other team executives to discuss how sports teams can better use social media to increase awareness of the team’s activities both on and off the field, better engage with their existing fans and potential fans, create more fans, generate more positive media coverage, and ultimately, help sell more tickets and build a better baseball team. We were all brought together to brainstorm what the Nationals were doing well, what they could be doing better, and what they hadn’t thought of yet. If you aren’t familiar with my background, this was a dream come true for me – bringing together my love for social media and communications and my love of sports. I’ve always been a huge sports fan and used to work in public relations for a minor league hockey team, so I was extremely excited for this opportunity.

However, despite sitting in a conference room at one of the nicest ballparks in the Majors talking with some of the league’s most powerful baseball people, I couldn’t help but feel like I was again sitting in a nondescript cubicle in some office park talking with the Branch Director for a government agency.  From the opening introduction – “you have to understand, we’re dealing with a very unique situation that’s different from your typical organization,” to the challenges they face, “we have to work under Major League Baseball’s strict communications policies so we’re really limited in what we can just go and do,” – the similarities between sports teams’ use of social media and the government’s use of social media really struck a chord with me.

  • Both are trying to reach a very broad and very diverse group of people that crosses all demographics
  • Both operate under a broader entity that creates and enforces the policies and guidelines for communications, including the use of social media
  • Both are primarily operated by conservative and traditional leaders who rely on the command and control communications model
  • Both deal with VERY passionate and very partisan (both positively and negatively) stakeholders
  • Both typically have relatively small communications budgets
  • Both are usually so concerned with the overall mission that communications doesn’t receive the attention or commitment it requires
  • Both deal with media who crave all the information they can possibly get
  • Both operate in a system where they should communicate with other organizations with a similar mission, but instead find themselves in competition with each other
  • Both are determining the best way to educate employees (or players) outside of the traditional communications function who are actively using social media to communicate directly with the public

While there are most definitely some differences, when it comes to social media, the fact remains that we had the exact same conversation the other night with the Nationals that I’ve had dozens of other times with government agencies. Neither the challenges nor the solutions are all that different. During the meeting, I mentioned some of these similarities  – if the government can use social media to do share classified information across Agency firewalls using Intellipedia and the Air Force can allow their airmen to engage directly with the public via social media, there’s no reason similar strategies and tactics can’t be applied to a sports franchise. Sports teams have too much gain from social media and too much to lose by not engaging – it’s a no-brainer to me.

The sports community is a very insulated community – teams and leagues generally look inside the sports industry to hire their communications and marketing professionals, but maybe they should take a look at the Government 2.0 industry to find that next pool of communications talent and innovation.  After all, we’re dealing with many of the same issues they are.

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

July 21, 2009

47 Comments

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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