Tag Archives: best practices

Social Media Isn’t Always the Answer

As one of Booz Allen’s social media leads, I’m thrilled to see more and more of my government clients starting to ask questions about social media and if/how it might help them.  I love logging into Twitter and seeing so many different conversations centered around Government 2.0.  I love thinking about the potential that social media has in fundamentally changing the way our government operates.  I also love telling my clients that they’re not ready for social media.

Let me explain.

I’ve seen Intellipedia, TSA’s Evolution of Security blog, DoDLive, the DoD’s Blogger’s Roundtable, FEMA’s YouTube channel, GovLoop, and many other examples of “Government 2.0.”  I’ve also seen plenty of failed blogs, dormant wikis, and other failed attempts at using social media.  The reasons for failed social media range from the obvious (ghostwriting a blog and not allowing comments) to the not so obvious (middle managers not allowing wiki contributions without first getting them approved).  However, these are simply symptoms of a larger issue at work.

Here’s the thing – unless your organization is ready for transparency and authenticity, and has instilled a culture of sharing, you’re going to have a lot of trouble successfully spreading social media.  This is where I often tell my clients to take a step back from the tools of social media and focus more on the processes of social media.  I compare this type of thinking to a football team that goes out and drafts really talented receivers, but stick them into an offense that’s focused on running the ball.  The receivers (social media) end up failing not necessarily because they’re bad, they end up failing because they were placed into an offense (the organizational culture) that wasn’t optimized for them.

You see, social media isn’t about the technology – it’s about what the technology enables.  And even if your organization is ready for the tools, it may very well not be ready for what those tools will bring.  Before diving into the world of social media, take a step back and see if your organizational culture and internal processes will support what social media will enable.

  1. Are employees discouraged from contacting people outside of their chain of command?
  2. Are employees discouraged from challenging authority?
  3. Is risk-taking rewarded or punished?
  4. Are employees rewarded for collaborating with other colleagues or for authoring/producing original work?
  5. Do your employees have regular access to the Intranet?
  6. Does your leadership value the feedback of employees?
  7. Are employees prohibited from speaking externally without prior permission?
  8. Is the contribution and sharing of intellectual capital part of the employees’ regular routine?
  9. What’s more valued, entrepreneurship or following orders?
  10. Do employees derive more value from networking with colleagues or from using the Intranet?

Asking these (and there are many more – this is just a sampling) questions will help your organization (offense) be prepared for what social media (receivers) will enable.

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Knock Down the Social Media Dominos

Image courtesy of Flickr user rosendahl

Image courtesy of Flickr user rosendahl

If you’re on Twitter and follow Chris Brogan, you’re probably familiar with the “Chris Brogan” effect.  Basically, Chris has built up such a loyal following that whenever he tweets about one of your blog posts, tweets, etc., you immediately see a spike in your own Twitter followers and traffic to whatever he linked to.  In the social media community, Chris is a big domino, or as Malcom Gladwell put it in his book, the Tipping Point, a “connector.”  By reaching Chris, you’re not reaching just one person, but a whole army of people who are following him.

As a social media consultant for my government clients, this is a powerful concept, but it’s not new.  In the traditional media, why does the front page of the New York Times have more impact than the Des Moines Register?  It reaches more people.  It has more credibility.  It reaches a more influential audience.  This same concept applies, albeit in a different way, to social media.  The influencers are no longer restricted to just mainstream media like the Times or CBS News.  They are individual people now, not just age-old institutions.  Each niche topic area now has their own connector, their own Chris Brogan – someone who can reach a whole new audience that you haven’t been able to tap into.

An argument that I often hear is, “why should I spend the time hassling with some blogger with a few thousand readers, when millions read the New York Times?  Aren’t I wasting resources that could be used on securing media with a larger audience?

If I’m the public affairs officer for a smaller government agency trying to get the word out about a new program, I’m spending more time reaching out to the prominent bloggers in that topic area because I know that if I can get their support and they blog about how wonderful my program is, their readership will not only become aware of my program, they are more apt to support it because it’s coming from a trusted source.  And if I’ve identified the right bloggers, chances are good that the next domino, the beat reporter for the local paper, is also reading that blog.  They’ve now come across this great program that has the support of someone he or she trusts instead of receiving a pitchy, biased email in their inbox.

How many pitches does a reporter get each day?  How many does he actually follow through with?  What if he’s one of the readers of the blog that you’ve engaged?  Reaching out to an influential blogger is like knocking down that first domino.  By reaching someone like Chris Brogan, you’re also going to reach scores of other social media luminaries like Robert Scoble, Geoff Livingston, Jeremiah Owyang, each of whom has thousands of followers, including members of the traditional media.

So the next time you’re working on your media relations plan, make sure you’ve identified the people who are talking about your program, your agency, or your topic area and you have a plan for engaging with them (note I said engaging, not pitching to them – be a human being and just talk with people for once!).  Make sure that you’ve built relationships with these connectors, these social media dominos.

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