Tag Archives: gov20

Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas

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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U.S. Navy Virtual Scavenger Hunt Charts Fan Interest

Is your Facebook Insights Dashboard filled with peaks and valleys? Do the same people do all of the commenting and liking? Do you have a lot of likes, but very little comments? Does your organization have several sub-pages with little or no traffic? If you answered yes to any of the questions, then you may want to take a cue from the U.S. Navy and reality shows everywhere and consider a scavenger hunt. You heard me right – the simple game you may have played as a little kid or a more advanced version you did in hiding a present for your significant other can help you in social media as well.  The Navy found this out last month when they launched the first Navy Virtual Scavenger Hunt to help increase engagement among their Facebook fans and teach them about Maritime strategy at the same time.

Take a look at the case study they pulled together below detailing why they developed the scavenger hunt, how they did it, their results, and their lessons learned.

[slideshare id=8199879&doc=navyfacebookvirtualscavengerhuntsnapshot-110603133357-phpapp02]

According to LT Lesley Lykins, the Navy’s Director of Emerging Media Integration, they are constantly looking for new and creative ways to educate their fans and more simply understand what is the Navy does for them every day. The Scavenger Hunt helped them do that. It allowed them to mobilize their substantial Facebook fan base (334,000 people)and get them to visit some of the other Navy command Facebook pages and learn more about what they do too. LT Lykins said the activity was definitely a worthwhile investment and has increased the level of engagement they’ve had with their fans on the Navy Facebook page. Even more importantly though was the impact it had on the Navy commands’ efforts – one Navy Public Affairs Officer shared, “ Our fan numbers spiked during the scavenger hunt and have continued to grow since then. Additionally, the interactions have slightly increased as our fan base has continued to grow.”

The Scavenger Hunt was so successful that not only have many of their fans have asked that they do it again, but some of the other Navy commands who didn’t participate the first time around are itching to get involved the next time too. To satisfy this demand, the Navy is continuing to develop other new creative ideas to showcase more commands in the future,  although they aren’t ready to release any of those details yet.

While the Scavenger Hunt was fun and creative way to engage their fans, it doesn’t compare to the day-after-day-after-day engagement they are able to conduct with their fans. The Navy uses Facebook and other social media channels every day to reach out and touch the Sailors, veterans, family members, people interested in joining the Navy, Navy advocates and so forth. This is what has allowed them to build much closer ties.  You can now feel just as close to the Navy and our Sailors whether you live in a land-locked state or a major fleet concentration area, and that’s something that just wasn’t possible before.

So, what’s the number one piece of advice for other government agencies interested in doing a Scavenger Hunt for their Facebook page?  According to LT Lykins, it’s to “think outside the box – we do not have to remain stuck telling our stories and sharing our messages the way it has been for the last 30 years. Our team says that if you aren’t willing to share the content on your own personal social media properties then it isn’t good enough to be shared on the official page. You also need to make sure you still maintain strong ties with other communicators in your field because a lot of this is planned and coordinated off of social media and through email and phone calls. Maintaining those relationships and communicating often helps build a stronger campaign vice simply tagging other social media properties. Finally, remember as an organization there should be a point to all the fun – we have an obligation to communicate what they Navy’s doing on citizens’ behalf, so once we get their attention we hope to make it worth everyone’s time.” (emphasis mine)

[FULL DISCLOSURE – Booz Allen is supporting the U.S. Navy Chief of Information (CHINFO), and Tracy Johnson provides direct support to the Emerging Media Office]

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The Federal Government Can Learn a Few Things from a New State Government Website

Have you checked out the new Utah.gov yet?  According to the press release, the site gets 1.2 million unique visitors a month and last year “processed more than 25.1 million secure electronic transactions through the official state website, mobile-optimized services, automated phone system, and point-of-purchase systems at retail outlets statewide.” Here’s a quick 2 minute video highlighting the new site and some of its features.

UTG2011 from Utah Interactive on Vimeo.

I know I’m a little late in writing about this so I’ll try not to repeat all the stuff that Alex, Andy, Luke, Abhi, and Kristy have already said. Take a look at their posts below – lots of good stuff in these links.

Instead of providing another review of Utah.gov, I’ll instead give you the five things that I hope federal government sites learn from this newest state government site.

  1. Topics not org charts. After eight years of working with federal government clients, one of the things that always drove me nuts has been the prevalence of the “don’t forget about my team” attitude. You know what I’m talking about – you’re working on a new website and everyone on the org chart wants to make sure there’s a link to a his team’s site on the front page. They want their logo added; they want the name of their program/team/initiative/effort front and center. It becomes a very public ego battle instead of a website focused on the user, the members of the general public.
  2. Fast and Accessible. Go ahead and perform a search on Utah.gov. Notice the real-time search like you see on Google? Now try the site from your mobile or tablet device. As I mentioned in a previous post, technology has to be fast, accessible, and reliable before any of your users will care about the cool new features.
  3. Integration. Active participation (and actual engagement!) in social media isn’t an experimental pilot program or one-off effort by the innovation group here. It’s been fully integrated into the website. In some government agencies, the team that controls the website is totally separate from the team that controls the social media accounts. On Utah.gov however, this has all been integrated into one digital presence.
  4. Technology can’t solve all your problems. Let’s go back to that search box. Try a search for the word, “Hunting.” See those first results that come up? Those aren’t generated by Google. Those were generated by the Utah.gov web team after hours of analyzing web metrics and user search trends. While Google’s famed link-based search algorithm may be the ideal solution for crawling the web, it doesn’t always produce the best results when incoming and outgoing links aren’t used as much, like on individual websites and Intranets. Realizing this, the Utah.gov team supplemented the technology with some old-fashioned common sense, and ensured the website users were able to find exactly what they were looking for, even if they didn’t use the precise terms the technology required.
  5. Hits don’t equal success. Utah’s Chief Technology Officer, Dave Fletcher, said that five years ago, Utah.gov had 700,000 unique views a month.  Last month, they had 1.4 million unique views. However, when asked how many unique views they were aiming for with this new site, Fletcher said, “our goal isn’t necessarily to get 2 million or 3 million unique views. I’m not nearly as concerned about traffic numbers as I am about creating an “experience that our citizens will be responsive to, and will enjoy. We are focused on supporting the business objectives of the governor – we want it to be easier for citizens to interact with their government.” Success is being measured by dozens of different metrics including the adoption rate of individual services, e.g., the % of people who are registering their vehicles online vs. offline, etc.

We’re less than 48 hours into the launch of the new site and I’ve already seen Hillary Hartley and other members of the Utah.gov team out there addressing some of the feedback they’ve been getting so I know there will be some changes taking place over the next week or so. That’s why I’ll be keeping tabs on Utah.gov from 2,000 miles away – I’ll be interested to see how their users have reacted to the new site and how they are (or aren’t) using it.

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Why Implementing the Plain Writing Act Will Take Decades

“In just a few more years, the current homogenized voice of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.” The Cluetrain Manifesto

“In just a few more years” – if only that were true. Unfortunately, this quote was written more than ten years ago, and we’re still plagued with bureaucratic jargon, in both the public and private sectors. I got to thinking about this book, and this quote in particular, when I saw that the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs finalized guidance for the use of plain language in government communication. This memo comes six months after the Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed into law, 13 years after President Clinton issued his “Plain Language in Government Writing” memorandum, and more than 40 years since President Nixon ordered that the “Federal Register” be written in “layman’s terms.”

As Joel Siegel at ABC News first reported late last year after the law went into effect, the challenge of changing “government-speak” to “human-speak” isn’t a new one, and there’s no guarantee that we won’t be hailing a new, similar law in another ten years. After all, agencies will not receive any additional funding for this, nor will they be penalized for ignoring the guidance or rewarded for improving the clarity of their writing. While Siegel highlighted some of the changes he’s already seen, my guess is that we’ll see an initial surge of revisions that get a lot of media coverage, followed by a majority of agencies falling back into the way things have always been done. Unfortunately, getting the government to write in plain language isn’t something that can be solved by law or by technology. It’s not as simple as creating an app or telling people “do it because I said so.” Here’s why:

  • Change is HARD. From my previous post, “in the government, leadership and, consequently, leadership priorities are constantly changing as administrations change. Because of this, employees suffer from change fatigue (if you don’t like how your department was reorganized, wait a year and it’ll change again), middle managers don’t invest in the change themselves, and leaders all too often push forward with their own agendas and goals, current organizational culture be damned.”
  • No Reward, No Punishment. Government employees aren’t just going to start writing in plain English because you told them to. Think of the alcoholic who takes Antabuse to punish himself if he takes a drink or the dog who gets a treat for sitting on command. Positive behaviors need to be positively reinforced and negative ones negatively reinforced. This is behavior modification 101.
  • History Repeats Itself. The government employee or contractor knows this isn’t their first plain language rodeo. They know that we’ve been down this road before. What makes this time different? They’re asking, “why should I invest myself into this effort when I know it’s going to fail just like all of the other times?”
  • Too Much Training Before, Not Enough Training After. I think most government employees aren’t even aware that they’re writing in bureaucratic gobbledygook. For years and years, they’ve had this writing style drilled into them by their bosses. I work for a government contractor and can tell you that on more than one occasion, I’ve received feedback like, “we can’t use contractions in this document – that’s not professional” and “try the word ‘leverage’ instead of ‘use’ – it makes us sound smarter.” After years of feedback like this, you actually lose the ability to speak and write like a human being. It’s not that the government is being malicious and purposely writing this way – it’s that many government employees literally do not have the ability to write for the average person anymore. The Plain Writing Act should make Plain Language training a mandatory requirement where these employees (and their managers) have to re-learn what good writing is.
  • Legal Hurdles. Would the world end if the lawyers were the ones writing the first drafts of these policies and regulations and then let the communications professionals edit their work, instead of the other way around? For too long, communications professionals like me have had to painstakingly translate highly technical content into readable English, only to see it get edited by the lawyers into the very thing I was trying to avoid. Again, this goes back to the reward/punishment argument earlier though. Put out a new document in plain English and get sued? That lawyer is in a heap of trouble. Put out a new document in bureaucratic and legal jargon so no one understands? Nothing happens. I don’t blame the lawyers in the Office of General Counsel – I’d try my hardest to cover all my legal bases too!
  • Good Writing is Still Considered a Nice-to-have. When budgets get cut, who goes – the communications/public affairs guy in the front office or the engineer in Operations? Say what you will about the government, but they’re almost always focused on the accomplishing the mission of their organization. Things like communications, strategic planning, and change management are often viewed as extraneous, “nice-to-have” things – not core components of the mission. Until the agencies view plain writing as integral to their ability to achieve their mission, I’m afraid it will never get any long-term traction.

President Obama took a step in the right direction with the Plain Writing Act of 2010, but so did President Nixon and President Clinton. That first step is the easiest. The really difficult part comes now. Can this Administration succeed where past administrations failed? Can they integrate plain writing into the culture and mission of the government and lay the foundation of change? Actually, this doesn’t sound all that different than what we’re trying to accomplish with Gov 2.0, does it?

Here’s the Final Guidance on Implementing the Plain Writing Act of 2010

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