Tag Archives: social media

Gov 2.0 Isn’t Achieved via Instruction Manual

Over the last few weeks, I had an opportunity to speak with some of our nation’s finest, both domestic and abroad.  On December 3, I spoke to the members of the All Services Social Media Council and then on December 9, I spoke at the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) Public Affairs Conference. From D.C. to Germany, these members of our military never failed to impress me with their dedication to their mission and their love of their country.

Not surprisingly, they also held a common interest in social media – what it means to them, what it means to their organizations, and how (and if) they might be able to use these tools. Everyone was looking for some sort of guidance that would answer these questions. Should they create a Facebook page? Should their Twitter page be a personal account or an organizational account? What blogging platform should they use and how often should they blog?

Coincidentally, the new Open Government Directive, thought by many to be THE document that will answer some of these questions and provide government agencies with the direction they’re craving, was released last week.  The Department of Defense is supposed to be releasing their social media policy in the next month or so.  Other agencies are following suit and issuing their own policies and guidelines.

However, these documents, no matter how many deadlines, milestones, and tactics are included in them, aren’t going to provide a manual for achieving the vision of Government 2.0. Open government isn’t something that’s going to be accomplished via a laundry list of actions that can be checkmarked away.  There isn’t going to be a point when your organization flips the final switch and says, “Ta-da!! Now we’re Government 2.0!!”

Sorry – it’s just not that simple.  Despite the benefits the Open Government Directive will bring, it’s just a start. Government 2.0 isn’t going to happen because you’ve gone through and checked all the boxes from the Open Government Directive.  You can make your datasets available.  You can publish all the open government plans you want.  You can establish working group upon working group.  All of those tactics are great first steps, but think longer term.  Think beyond the 120 day deadline in the Open Government Directive and try to imagine what your agency looks like in this new world of open government.

How will you instill this culture of collaboration, transparency, and participation internally, among your employees so that this is standard operating procedure?  Will openness and transparency be encouraged in new hire training?  Will there be some sort of punishment for those who continue to hoard information and close it off?  Will employees be rewarded for being more transparent?

Achieving Government 2.0 is going to require some serious change management that goes beyond any one Directive and hits at the heart of the organization’s people, processes, and technology.  This is going to be an ongoing process change and we’re still at the start of it.

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Open Government Directive – Key Benefits and Challenges

Brooklyn Bridge - Courtesy of Flickr user Tattooed JJ

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tattooed JJ

I used to be a journalist, and it was an incredible experience. However, I eventually got tired of being on the outside. I could call attention to government issues as an “objective” observer, but I wanted to affect positive change. My ultimate goal was to help bridge the gaps between government organizations and the people they serve.

The Open Government Directive instructs our nation’s leaders to start building those bridges. The Directive takes the principles of openness, transparency, and collaboration and empowers agencies to start using them in their ongoing operations. Several Government 2.0 leaders have outlined the details of the Directive, so I want to spend some time talking about the key benefits and challenges.

Benefits

  • Investment in Our Democratic Infrastructure – Wikipedia defines infrastructure as “the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.” With an estimated 308 million Americans covering 3.79 million square miles, interactive technologies are the only way to ensure that “We the People” can continue to participate in the formation of a “more perfect Union.”
  • Emphasis on Collaboration – The megacommunity concept is the idea that the challenges we face – “such as global competitiveness, health and environmental risks, and inadequate infrastructure” – can no longer be solved by individual organizations or agencies alone. It describes the intersection of businesses, governments, and not-for-profit organizations and how they can converge to address universal problems. The same tools that allow us to communicate within our organizations and with one another online can be used to bring together these organizations around common goals. Channeling the collective knowledge and power of a megacommunity can have a substantial and lasting impact on our nation’s most complex problems.
  • No More Excuses – How many of you have worked with a leader or client that has emphasized the unique challenges of your organization—promoting “social media” to some degree, but reluctant to share meaningful information or invite audience participation? I’m guessing this applies to at least four out of five people reading this blog, and my advice to you is that every organization is unique. Whether or not this Directive applies to your organization, use it as motivation to address those challenges and find ways to truly embrace the principles of open government.

Challenges

  • Lack of Public Understanding – The rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship are changing, and we need to be educated—at every level—on how and why to engage through open government channels. The loudest voices are usually the outliers (a group I fondly refer to as “the crazies”), and I would anticipate that the outliers will be the early adopters in open government. However, we cannot let a few loud voices thwart our progress, or even worse, deter individuals with more common opinions from participating online. From the beginning, we need to consider how to promote awareness of open government activities and provide a compelling call to action that’s broad enough to reach a representative public.
  • Inadequate Mission Alignment – Inevitably, some agencies will go through the motions of developing Open Government Plans and building Web sites without identifying how the basic principles can advance their missions. Failure to align open government activities to an organization’s mission, goals, and objectives could prevent the agency from realizing the true value open government. The ensuing lack of responsiveness could also result in decreased public trust. The Directive instructs each agency to incorporate the principles of President Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Memorandum into its core mission objectives, but I would argue that the principles should be integrated into strategies and processes rather than the ultimate objective.
  • Poor Construction – The first bridges were made of fallen trees and other materials that could be easily dragged across streams to create a path. They served their purpose for hunters and gatherers, but they could not support a significant traffic increase. I think many of our current open government efforts are similar to these bridges. If we want to integrate transparency, participation, and collaboration into ongoing government activities, we will need to evolve our strategy and technology to support increases in conversation. Proper construction will take expertise, time, and resources.

What are your predictions for the Open Government Directive? Do you think agencies will meet the deadlines, and if so, do you think they will embody the principles of open government? I look forward to your thoughts.

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Gov 2.0: Taking a Look Back at 2009

I didn’t write a “year in review” post last year at this time, primarily because by the time I got around to it, everyone else had written theirs and I didn’t have much else to add. This year, however, I thought I’d get a head start by writing my post a little earlier. I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the Gov 2.0 milestones of this past year (click the pic) that I found to be most significant and put some context around them too.

Click for the 2009 Timeline of Gov 2.0

Click for the 2009 Timeline of Gov 2.0

If Obama’s election in November 2008 signaled the birth of Government 2.0, 2009 was the year that it learned to walk. From the Transparency and Open Government Memo to the planning of next year’s Mapping Success: Can Government 2.0 Work for You? conference, I, along with many members of the Gov 2.0 Community, have had an alternately successful and frustrating (but never boring) year. 2009 went from unbridled optimism to eager anticipation to a little dose of realism, but through it all, the community of people and the relationships that have been forged across agency lines continued to grow  stronger.

That sense of community, that sense of, “we’re all in this together,” is one of the the five Gov 2.0 trends that have really emerged in 2009.

Gov 2.0 is driven by the community – I count among my friends many of the people I’ve met at various Gov 2.0 conferences, seminars, workshops, Twitter, and the blogosphere.  These friends include people from across all agencies, across the globe, other consulting firms, and members of the media. By and large, this community really came together in 2009, working together to share their stories and  help one another out.

Gov 2.0 isn’t just for the geeks and the Gen Y’ers – Traditional stereotypes were proven wrong time and time again in 2009. Whether it’s the “old” Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff tweeting, the “conservative” Department of Justice blogging, or the “bureaucratic” General Services Administration developing a website that asks the public to solve their problems, Gov 2.0 doesn’t fall into a neat little demographic of those who do and those who don’t.

Gov 2.0 is about more than just social media – As Tim O’Reilly told me in this tweet, Gov 2.0 is about so much more than just Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.  It’s about transparency, about employee engagement, about creating new technology, about collaboration, about, well, any of the hundreds of federal, state, and local government initiatives that have been using technology this year to transform and improve the way government works.

Gov 2.0 isn’t all sunshine and butterflies – Near the end of 2009, a group of Gov 2.0 enthusiasts got together and started talking about challenges, obstacles, and risk-taking that go on every day in the government. These issues are just now starting to be talked about and shared.

Gov 2.0 is still all about the mission – Under all the tweets, blogs, mashups, and wikis, the common thread through 2009 was a focus on accomplishing the mission. The most common questions my government clients asked me this year were, “What’s the business case?  What will [insert new techie suggestion here] actually do for me?” Despite all the pitches and publicity, all of these initiatives have all been put in place to help the organization accomplish their mission, whether that’s increasing awareness, educating the public, improving intel analysis, improving efficiency, etc.

For me, 2009 brought about a LOT of opportunities, but maybe even more questions for 2010.  What will be the new DoD social media policy?  What does the future of GovLoop look like?  How will the government procure contracts in the new year?  Can state/local governments leverage the experiences of the federal government to bring change to their organizations?  I’m not sure what the answers to these questions are, but I’m looking forward to being a part of the community that discovers them in 2010.

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Rethinking Public Relations Education

How should social media be incorporated into a PR degree?

How should social media be incorporated into a PR degree?

I was speaking to a group of college students the other day about SMCEDU, and I asked them, “how many of you are learning about social media in your communications classes?”  About a third of them raised their hands and said that they’ve discussed the impact of social media on traditional news, about how Twitter and citizen journalists are breaking the news. Some were in media relations classes where they were learning about the differences between pitching reporters and bloggers.  But, for the most part, social media had yet to become a substantial part of their communications curriculum.  I asked them if they thought that was a problem, if they thought they should be learning more about social media in their communications courses?”  Their response ranged from the dismissive – “why would we have a class on learning to Twitter – only old people use it anyway?” – to the inquisitive  – “it’d be great if we could learn more about how these tools are being used by companies so we’d know before we got hired.”

Social media education curricula was the topic for the first #smcedu chat held a couple of weeks ago, and has been a consistent topic of discussion among all of the members of SMCEDU – teachers, students, and professional sponsors. This got me thinking…left to my own devices, how would I integrate social media into the communications curriculum at the university level?  (*admittedly, I don’t have any education training, nor have I ever taught a communications class)

I thought I’d start by looking at the current course listing for Communication majors at my alma mater, Bethany College. You may first notice that there is no “Social Media 101” or “Principles of Social Media” course listed, and I’d never advocate for that either.  That’d be like adding a class for “Business Email 101.” Social media shouldn’t get it’s own special class – social media IS media. What I would like to see though, are the principles and terms of social media interwoven throughout all of these classes.

In “Introduction to Mass Communication,” I’d like to see more discussions about how personal communications can easily become mass communication because the Web has hyperlinked everything.  Students should explore the changing models of mass communications – how int he past, content used to be broadcast to the masses, and would then be shared person-to-person.  Today, content is often shared person-to-person first, to be followed by dissemination to the masses.  Why?  How?

In “Human Communication,” I want to see the students dive down into the intricacies of how relationships created and maintained using social media are different than those that are solely face-to-face.  How does social media enhance or degrade these relationships?

In “Visual Communication,” the students should understand the visual impact of content on the Web.  How did we go from fancy, tricked out websites being a best practice to something as plain and boring as Twitter?  How and why did the banner ad die?  Why, when asked if there were ads on Google, did one teenager at the Web 2.0 Summit say, “no – are there supposed to be?”

In “Digital Skills and Information Gathering,” how do you differentiate between what’s fact and fiction online any more?  How many sources are need to verify?  What’s the definition of a source?  How do you use tools like Wikipedia and other social media as breadcrumbs to find more credible sources?

When I took “Media Writing,” I learned the AP Stylebook and how to write press releases.  Students should absolutely still learn these skills.  But, they should also learn how to write like a human being, in a conversational tone, not as a public relations machine.  They should learn what a good blog post looks and sounds like.  They should learn how to take a key message and put it into their own words, into their own writing style instead of conforming to a style guide.

Media Law” should still involve a LOT of discussion of past cases and legal precedents, an exploration of the First Amendment, thorough reviews of the Pentagon Papers trial and other landmark cases.  But, there should also be a lot of “what if?” questions that tackle today’s social media landscape that hasn’t, in a lot of cases, gone through the legal rigor that other media has.  Let’s study Cybersquatting cases like LaRussa vs. Twitter, Inc. – let’s discuss the impacts of cases like that that don’t have a long legal history, but will surely help define the environment in which these students are going to be working.

I’d rename “International Communication” to be “Global Communication,” and I’d focus not just on the differences in communication styles between Western and Eastern countries, Asian cultures and Hispanic cultures, but on how it’s just as easy to communicate with someone 10,000 miles away as it is with your next door neighbor.  I’d have my students study the differences in how Americans communicate with each other online vs. how Eastern countries do it.  Do the basic communications differences that apply in face-to-face communication apply online too?  If not, why?

In “Communication Ethics,” this class would bring up discussions about attribution in an online, shareable communications environment.  How do the old rules of copyright and intellectual property apply?  Do they apply?  What about basic human interactions – if you ignore someone who sends a DM on Twitter, is that akin to ignoring someone who reaches out to shake your hand?  Where’s the line between criticizing the service your receive from a company on Twitter and attacking the person?  If I say,”I think @comcastcares is an idiot who doesn’t know which way is up, am I attacking Comcast or am I attacking Frank Eliason? Note: Frank is awesome 🙂

I would also add a class on “Principles of Customer Service” and make “Creative Writing” a prerequisite as well.  You see, social media shouldn’t be a class – it’s interwoven throughout a lot of classes.  And this isn’t just for communication classes, this would apply to political science majors (Barack Obama’s campaign anyone?), economics majors (how has the ability to share data globally and instantaneously impacted the speed at which the market changes?), sociology (how has social media changed the way families and friends communicate with one another?).

I don’t want to hire a social media guru or ninja – I want to hire an innovative, entrepreneurial communications professional who understands how to use social media.

*In a future post, I’ll do a deeper dive into the PR 101 class, and give you my thoughts on how I’d structure an entire class.

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