Jan 3, 2010

7 Social Media Takeaways for Dot-gov

Seven of hearts playing cardAs we traverse to a new decade, here are seven takeaways to help small, medium and large agencies use social media to be more transparent, participatory and collaborative. Take what you can use.
  1. Community without guilt. There are many "experts" will tell you that there is one right way to "do" social media. They are wrong. There are tons of ways to use new communications tools and channels. Want to engage with your fans, followers, friends? Great! Want to use social tools to rebroadcast your message? That's okay. Just want to see what people are saying about you? That's fine, too. Most important, make sure you have a strategy together before jumping in. You can always adjust later.
  2. Social media is "plumbing." Don't adopt tool angst. While you need to know how different tools work (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, social voting), these tools are conduits to communicating and, hopefully, engaging with your audience. The key is to figure out what you are trying to accomplish (again!), and use the best tools to reach out and meet your goals.
  3. All you can eat doesn't mean that you don't HAVE to eat it all. People get overwhelmed with the variety and scope of engagement opportunities. It's better to choose fewer, strategic projects and do them well than to spread yourself too thin. I predict that there will be as many abandoned government Twitter and Facebook accounts as there will be new ones in 2010. Prove me wrong!
  4. Friction free. One of the reasons that Twitter is so popular is that it's friction free--in other words, EASY. It's super easy to sign up for Twitter, same with Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. This is the expectation that citizens now have for government services. Government needs to review our gateways to try and make it easier to use our services than to NOT use us.
  5. Listening is important. Don't overestimate the importance of re-broadcasting your same tired messages in new venues. The real value comes from listening--from finding out what people are saying about your agency, where you succeed as well as where you are failing. My favorite saying is "Everybody has a point," even when their delivery makes it hard to hear. If you are listening, though, you have the opportunity to learn, see trends, and improve.
  6. Communicate with economy and precision. One of the best things about Twitter is that it forces communications into 140 characters. This forces us to eliminate all the extra, flowery, self aggrandizing government language. It behooves us to do this not only when tweeting, but in our blogs, websites, manuals, letters, instructions, well, you get the picture.
  7. Wisdom of the crowds can be time and volume based. Twitter helps define what is important, according to Clay Shirky, by “algorithmic authority." The idea is that if "all kinds of people are pointing at the same thing at the same instant, it must be a pretty big deal." Looking at trends in Twitter, Google, and your own search terms on your site can give you insight about what people think is important, NOW. What can you feature on the homepage of your website? Can you tweet a link to a resource? Clear up a misconception?
Bottom line, it's the same formula: What are you trying to accomplish? Who is your audience? How do new media channels help you meet your goals? Measure all your efforts against these questions.

This post is inspired by David Carr's very good post in the NYTimes on Why Twitter Will Endure. Read that, too!


  1. We have been watching and waiting, but just recently started using Twitter and Facebook for our .gov messaging and interactions. There is no substitute for seeing what works. My experience with experts is they either know the medium, or they know your clients, but rarely do they know both, and it takes a marriage between clientele and tools for communications in these forms to work. Also, there are opportunities to streamline the messaging by linking feeds. For example, Selective Tweets on Facebook will allow you to have your tweets posted moments later in Facebook...so instead of two postings, you make one. Half the effort, half the time, with messaging reaching (potentially) two different audiences. Currently, we're working on metrics so we can measure growth in usage and key in on what our clients are interested in. What a great opportunity to break through what *we* think people want from us, and to actually find out what they want.

  2. So are gov workers sitting at computers and tweeting all day? What are gov't workers doing? I thought they were suppose to be working. Not chit chatting, twiting, blogging etc. Not sure I understand the concept of gov't work. (I enjoy typing. Anyone know where I can find a gov't job?)

  3. @Tom, thanks for sharing what you all are doing. Nothing beats experience like experience. :-) I'm interested in hearing more about the metrics you develop. Like is there a difference in clickthru on your Twitter messages vs. those same messages posted as FB status?

    @annon, funny! If you are interested in a federal job, check out www.usajobs.gov. Don't know if there are many twitter-typist positions, tho.

  4. @ari I think you nail one of the challenges of multiple channels--coordination. I know that it drives me insane when somebody decides to link, for example, their Posterous to their Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, etc., and then unsuspecting friends get spammed with circular updates!

    While that may be annoying for an individual, for a government agency it's unacceptable. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the traffic flow. Just because the vendors make it easy to rebroadcast, that doesn't mean it makes sense. My recommendation? Before you start multi-casting, map out the flow. Make sure you are feeding in a strategic way.


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