Monday, May 18, 2009

Mind the Gap

Your organization’s web and communication teams likely did not include web 2.0 or social media staff from the start. Expectations for engagement and more accessible technologies are rapidly evolving and some communication shops – or many depending on who you ask – are playing catch up to become a more dynamic presence in the web sphere.

For the organizations that are adapting to the current state of communications and web presence, this can pose some challenges. Non-web experts who are familiar using social media tools may inform agency activities, non-public affairs types can develop content. So what?

New perspectives are great – until one side views the other as encroaching on their territory. Social media is supposed to be about leveling the playing field and providing access to organizations and information in a personal way. Expectations for engaging with the public is changing, a simple press release or Web site doesn’t always cut it. Now, consumers of information want access through various channels and on demand.

So why can’t we all just get it done?

I say the more people involved in different stages of the process, the merrier. Too often I find myself bogged down in routine response mode that I fail to see an issue in a new light. A fresh set of eyes and a new outlook can do wonders for an organization. Fresh perspective doesn’t have to be new blood - look within your own organization.

Bridge the gap – technical, web and content specialists should develop a relationship if one does not currently exist. As the saying goes, you are only as good as the weakest link. Every program that contributes to communication and social media strategies are equally important.

Without the technical platform there can be no message. Without the web team there can be no design. Without the content specialists, the well-designed channel would be empty.

If you haven’t worked with the other thirds (or fourths…) of the team, get together. You’d be surprised where you find common ground. You may even come up with a groundbreaking solution to a problem waiting for the few missing pieces to the puzzle.

Share your thoughts with the Social Media Subcouncil to help other organizations move forward in integrating Web 2.0 and traditional communication strategies. Visit the current list of best practices and governance models from government and the private sector. To stay up to date with the latest information, visit our wiki, follow us on Twitter , see us on GovLoop and take a look at the Social Media section of

Amanda Eamich is the Acting Director of New Media at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and member of the Social Media Subcouncil. You can connect with her on Twitter or GovLoop

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

So GSA Negotiated Terms of Service...Now What?

In the past few weeks, the General Services Administration (GSA) has signed Terms of Service (TOS) agreements with a number of new media providers. The agreements signed by GSA were negotiated with the assistance of a number of federal agencies. The goal was to arrive at a TOS federal agencies would be comfortable enough with to sign so each agency – and provider - would be spared from negotiating separate TOS agreements.

That so many agreements have been signed, and hopefully more will be coming, is great news for citizens, government agencies, and the providers, too. It chips away at a big part of a significant barrier to the federal government using the providers to connect with citizens where the citizens are, but it’s still just a first step.

Even though GSA has TOS in place that federal agencies can sign on to does not mean that anyone in any office can go to the provider’s website and open up an account like a private citizen normally would. The simplified process is that each agency will first have to sign the agreement with the provider (not every agency has done this as of yet). After that, each office or program will need to work through the regular chain of command and point of contact to establish the account with the provider.

Before you decide on the tool and after the account is established, remember something: It’s not the technology, it’s what we do with it that matters. Just because the door is open to using specific tools and channels to communicate with and engage our audiences does not mean that we should just for the sake of using them. While one program may be able to use a certain provider to great effect, a related program aimed at a different audience may be more effective using different methods.

One of the main reasons the Social Media Subcouncil exists is to create, collect, aggregate, and disseminate social media resources to assist government communication and web professionals use social media tools and providers effectively and consistently across government. We are here to help you better determine which channels will help you best connect with your audiences and how to use those channels most effectively. We haven’t gotten to everything yet, but we’re adding more and refining what we have all the time. So, please continue to read this blog, visit our wiki, follow us on Twitter , see us on GovLoop and take a look at the Social Media section of

Jeremy Caplan is a Public Affairs Specialist at the International Trade Administration and a member of the Social Media Subcouncil.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Social media – To be or not to be…How to get management “to be”

Many public and private organizations are already using social media tools as part of their communications planning to advance their missions and reach target audiences. For organizations still relying primarily on traditional media to get their messages out, curiosity about how to incorporate social media tools are high. Facebook, Twitter, Wikis, YouTube, blogs, podcasts, forums, etc… there are so many tools to be used. How should one go about using them wisely? Better yet, how does one get the “buy-in” from key staff in their agency to successfully launch such communication efforts?

Management skepticism: If management doesn't believe in social media, then employees who have been told for years that public communication needs to be filtered will be hesitant to try out a new medium which requires them to speak openly. In this scenario, management needs to encourage and reward participation to make social media work. If they don't, it will fail.” Unfortunately, passion for social media alone won’t get the job accomplished. All your wonderful and enthusiastic ideas still need to pass the litmus test for the go ahead.

How can you help introduce the use of social media in your organization?

1.) Understand the “resisters” and “doubters”: Know what the true concerns of those who are not yet receptive to the use of social media tools. Is it a fear of change, lack of understanding of these tools, etc? Identify what the sources of resistance are and address them accordingly.
2.) Educate: Educate your audience on what the tools are and how each is used. Provide supporting evidence on how similar organizations are successfully using social media tools to help get the creative juices flowing on how your organization can adopt these ideas to suit its needs.
3.) Do your homework: There is nothing worse than presenting a case for something without having done your homework. Research the tools, know your facts, anticipate potential questions or comments, and be prepared to respond to questions or concerns. Bottom-line: present a solid case to your audience.
4.) Pilot Projects: Start off small with some demonstration projects in a part of your agency that is willing to experiment with a tool or two. Hopefully, these pilot projects are successful and you can use the results to help gain support.
5.) Present benefits of the tools: Back up your suggestions with some benefits that are important to management, such as efficiency, effectiveness, furthering the organizations missions, etc.
6.) Be honest- Don’t over “hype” the use of social media to win support. Be sincere on the pros and cons and limitations of tools.

Making the transition from “filtering” communication to engaging in the “open” arena of social media may seem like a daunting task for some organizations. However, with some preparation and the “good ole” power of persuasion the transition can be positive and valuable. Have any additional tips or success stories on how you introduced social media and new tools in your organization? We’d like to from you. Please share how you overcame the “resisters” and “doubters” in your organization.

Marie Ulysse is with the Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration. You can connect with her on GovLoop.