Tag Archives: web 2.0

Justifying Social Media to the Big Wigs

More and more, I’m being contacted by one of my colleagues who is looking to “sell their client on Web 2.0.”  These requests more often than not, come from people who don’t know a blog from a wiki and are worded roughly along the lines of “my client asked me to come up with some recommendations for getting into Web 2.0 – can you send me the slides that you use to get them on-board with it?”


First, realize that there are no “magic bullet” slides that I can give you – there are numerous resources available, from CommonCraft’s excellent “in plain English” series of videos to the numerous 101-style sites out there.  Depending on the client, any one of them might meet your needs.  However, no matter how fantastic your material is, you’re not going to get far with any senior leader unless you have an understanding of these tools yourself.  You might as well be explaining quantum physics to your client.

In addition to directing them to the above resources and offering to meet with their client directly, I’m also going to start pointing them to this post by Jason Falls.

I won’t stop preaching that social media isn’t about the tools. It is a method of communications, a channel not unlike or more or less important than public relations, customer relationship management, advertising, corporate communications and the like. But I am going to start people out on a slightly different path from now on. I’m going to show them how the tools can make a difference in their day.

Jason’s first point above is one that I’ve been harping on with my colleagues since I started our social media practice.  His second point got me me thinking about what I’m going to write about now – in what ways can the government use social media to make a difference in their day, TODAY?  What are those things that they can do with very little effort where they can start see the value in social media?

  • Use social bookmarking to overhaul your media clipping process.  I worked with one team who had been investing a considerable amount of time in scanning the media for coverage related to their client, copying and pasting those articles into an MS Word document, formatting them consistently, uploading that one file to a shared drive, and then emailing their team with the location of the latest media coverage.  I walked them through how to use both RSS feeds and del.icio.us, and showed them how they could use simply tag their relevant media coverage using whatever tags and descriptions made sense to them.  They could then create an RSS feed for those tags that is placed onto their internal Intranet site.  Whenever an article is tagged with say, “November Media,” the link along with the description of the article is now automatically fed to their site.  This simple change in process has made their media clipping process that much more efficient – no more manual scanning of hundreds of websites, no more copying and pasting, no more formatting, and no more manual uploading.
  • Use an open source microblogging service like Yammer or QikCom.  If your organization already uses Instant Messaging, microblogging offers the potential to turn those one-on-one conversations into group collaboration.  Think of it like an IM platform where every IM you send is open to everyone else in the network.  You may say that your IM application offers the ability to create a chatroom – the difference here is that messages are open to everyone, not just the people you choose.  By using a platform instead of a channel, you can take advantage of the knowledge that exists in your organization without needing to have that personal connection with everyone.
  • Add RSS feeds to your website.  Creating RSS feeds are simple, and they’re easily added to an Internet or Intranet site.  This is a cheap and relatively simple way to allow your users to choose how they wish to consume the content on your site.
  • Set up searches on Twitter and Friendfeed for your organization’s name.  As Robert Scoble says, the news is in the noise.  Doing this will allow you to identify, track, and hopefully respond to, potential issues before they become full-scale problems.
  • Use Skype or ooVoo for free video conferencing.  Skype is probably the most popular Internet telephone tool – it allows you to make and receive regular and video calls over your broadband connection.  All you need is a webcam and a microphone.  ooVoo is a little bit more than that – as Jason said, “it’s a video conferencing tool that allows you to call people over the Internet, but also see them, share files with them and even conference in up to five others to have a group chat session.”  Show your client one of these tools – you don’t think they’d be interested in something like this?
  • Add a “Comment here” function to your Intranet site.  Similar to RSS feeds, this should be a fairly simple add for your IT staff too.  You don’t have to change what content you put on your Intranet – just place a “Comment on this article” button at the bottom of your Intranet content.  This supplements, not replaces, the traditional “Contact the Director” email button.  Your users will now be able to send in their questions and comments via email, but they’ll also be able to post their thoughts directly to the article.  This is a great “learn to walk before run” tactic.

There are many more ways in which government leaders can use social media right now to make a difference in their day – these are just a few easy examples where I’ve seen it work successfully.  We’re not talking about enterprise-wide IT systems here, these are relatively simple changes that you can make today and start realizing the benefits of using open platforms as opposed to closed channels.

What other easy ways can government start using social media and realizing benefits today?

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What Makes Government 2.0 Different from Enterprise 2.0?

One of the things that I have consistently noticed in my five years as a government communications consultant is that our new hires who come from the corporate world go through an adjustment period upon first supporting a government client.  That’s to be expected as there are a multitude of differences between public sector and private sector clients – from the mundane (different ways of hiring contractors) to the fundamental (no shareholders to worry about).  These differences extend into the world of social media too, specifically into social media behind the firewall, known in the private sector as Enterprise 2.0.

What makes implementing social media on the intranet of a government agency like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) different than say, General Motors (GM)?  I’ve worked with clients from across the government who are all seeing social media succeed in helping organizations communicate, collaborate, and share information better than they ever have.  From wikis in the Intelligence Community to internal blogs at IBM, many of my clients see these articles and want to use social media to realize these same benefits, but don’t know how to do it.  The first thing that I have to tell them is that just because another organization, company, or agency implemented blogs or wikis or whatever else, they won’t necessarily see the same results, especially if they compare themselves to case studies in the private sector.  There are several fundamental differences between implementing social media behind the firewall in the government as opposed to a Fortune 500 company.  Let’s look at my top six:

  1. Risks – From Mark Drapeau’s excellent Government 2.0 series on Mashable“When Coke’s recipe or Google’s search algorithm get out, there are certainly serious consequences, but ultimately, people don’t die. The government has a higher standard.” On Intellipedia, the Intelligence Community’s wiki, 16 agencies are sharing classified information related to some of our nation’s most protected data – you think that the leadership there might have some pretty justifiable concerns about information security?  Accidentally exposing proprietary information is one thing – accidentally disclosing Top Secret military movements or taxpayer data is another.
  2. Administration Changes – Every November, and especially every fourth November, every government agency has to prepare for the chance that tomorrow, they may have a new boss with a new vision for how things should work.  Organization charts are always out of date, no one ever knows what their corporate strategy is, and people are always getting shuffled from position to position.  The comments to one of my prior posts alluded to this as well – sometimes leaders who know they will be leaving their position want to leave behind a legacy.  These leaders are more apt to take risks, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  Getting and maintaining the top cover for an implementation of social media is virtually impossible in these cases – what happens after that leader leaves?
  3. Intra-agency collaboration – Most government agencies do not operate in a vacuum – they have to not only collaborate amongst themselves, but must also collaborate with various partner agencies.  How big of a net should you cast when implementing a wiki or blogs behind your firewall?  For example, let’s say that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wanted to implement a wiki – should that wiki be open to just TSA employees?  Or, should it also be open to other agencies like the FAA or other members of the Intel Community?  Wouldn’t you think that NSA and TSA might benefit from being able to collaborate with one another?  Where you draw the line?
  4. Bureaucracy – One thing that can’t be discounted in the bureaucracy involved.  Getting ANYTHING done often takes months of reviews, approvals, control gate presentations, etc.  I know of some government organizations still using Netscape as their Internet Browser because IE and/or Firefox haven’t yet been approved for their IT system.  Imagine the hurdles that have to be crossed to get blogs installed!  Combined with the various regulations and policies that have to be consulted and the administration issues mentioned above, there is often just not enough time available in the year to get these things done.
  5. Demographics – I don’t have any hard numbers on this (if you do, please pass them along), but in my experience, government employees fit into a very different demographic than those found in the private sector.  They tend to be older (have to learn these tools as opposed to having grown up with them), have longer tenure (are more set in their ways and resistant to change), and are motivated by different things (innovation is rarely on their performance assessments).  The cultural change that social media necessitates is thus inherently more difficult.
  6. Available Resources – If you’ve ever worked in a government environment, you know that there’s a constant battle for funding.  Every department is short-staffed and there’s never enough resources to accomplish everything, and as a result, innovative initiatives like social media tend to get dropped as the focus moves toward accomplishing the day-to-day work that makes up their organizational mission.  There just aren’t too many people who have the leadership support to take on the tasks necessary to make social media behind the firewall successful, like gardening a wiki or developing blog training courses.

Now, I put these six points out there not to discourage the exploration of social media behind government firewall – quite the contrary.  I want to identify the differences so that we can consider them and ultimately address them.  In one of my future posts, I’ll look at some ways in which these differences can be tackled, as well as what happens when these differences aren’t taken into account.

What other differences do you see?

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