Thursday, October 29, 2009

Government 2.0 - Utilizing social media for agencies, elected officials and lobbyists

The most recent Madison, Wisconsin social media event, titled Government 2.0 Utilizing Social Media, was presented by Wired Wisconsin. It focused on social media usage for government agencies, elected officials and lobbyists. The program is an effort to get governmental agencies up to speed on social media channels and the tools to engage their audiences.

Government has some parallels to business
The presentation primarily paralleled social media strategy for business to business markets on many points. Having a lawyer, Liza Barry-Kessler, also speak about policy and the special legal issues involved in the government sector was unique, and not something seen too often in the B2B space.

The introduction was by Thad Nation, Director of Wired Wisconsin and principal of Nation Consulting. Wired Wisconsin is a nonprofit coalition of concerned individuals, businesses and organizations working to put the state of Wisconsin on the cutting edge of technology. With goals of education, collaboration and activation, it seems an appropriate platform to use and endorse social media in all sectors of the business.

Nation commented,“There is a challenge for government agencies to catch up to where most businesses and individuals are at this point of time. The goal of the session today was to provide an overview to start the learning process.”

Some of the top issues Wired Wisconsin stands on are access to wireless technologies, broadband deployment and consumer privacy. If you happen to be one of those rural residents without any, much
less consistent, access to broadband you should pay attention to the activities of this organization who is working to extend broadband reach.

Agencies need to embrace social media
Emily Lenard, the Associate Director of Wired Wisconsin gave an informative session on why these agencies need to embrace social media and some strategies to do so. As is the case in many public sessions on social media, there was a diverse group of attendees in terms of experience. Lenard, with an engaging style, did a good job of explaining how this channel can bring two-way conversation into the forefront. It can help people who, due to location, might otherwise miss the conversation. It can be an asset to listen to what the public has to say about an issue as well as help organizations achieve goals.

She also recognized that constituents in voting districts can use social media to share concerns, complain, and even disparage an elected representative. However, the same channels and tools allow you to share your side of the story and balance the information. Many of the audience's concerns were around time management, moderation and/or treatment of comments and reactions.

Some of the benefits Lenard pointed out are
  • Address feedback as it happens
  • Reach out, react and interact with people not otherwise able to speak with you
  • Allow for dialogue - two way conversation
Focus on organizational goals first
Perhaps the biggest issue is encouraging the agencies to focus on organizational goals first. Secondly, begin to listen through a social ecosystem assessment of the people who would use their services or the type of service. Once you have some information you can then determine if social media can directly or indirectly help you. It’s clear that social media will let them connect with a wider audience. Based on statistics Lenard presented, one minute out of every 11 minutes online is spent using social media sites.

How to use social media in a nonprofit

Wired Wisconsin is actively using social media in their public relations efforts. They have a twitter profile, Facebook, Youtube, podcasts with a RSS feed for their blog. Lenard explained that they have used Youtube to post their videos for free and feed to other social media sites such as Facebook. They have an ongoing program to interview all the state politicians on their stands for issues pertinent to Wired Wisconsin and post them on their Website. Other suggested uses for social media offered by Lenard include:
  • Press conferences
  • News
  • Events
  • Issue presentations
  • Action alerts
  • Interviews
  • Programs
Legal aspects of social media for public agencies
When it comes to the legal side of social media and the additional baggage of a governmental agency it gets more complicated. Liza Barry-Kessler, Privacy Counsel LLC, spoke about legal aspects, which at its core, are the same for all social media practitioners.
  1. Treat personal and campaign (insert business) communication like advertising
  2. When using state resources - make sure you are communicating about work only
  3. Make sure your staff understands what you consider appropriate versus inappropriate (for language, content, and info sharing).
  4. You can't control constituents (customers) but you can control how you respond.
Do you need a social media policy?
She also answered the question, ‘Do you need a social media policy?’ Barry-Kessler position was that there might not be a need to write one for a small office if you have active conversations with limited staff. She agreed that you might want a policy for a large office with volunteers. She also made it clear that family members need to disclose relationships when they are talking about you on social media.

What none of the speakers covered was anticipating “when” not “if” someone says something wrong. In my opinion, each organization (business, nonprofit, or public office) should have an escalation procedure to follow. This would help if they encounter a problem that gets more complicated. At least staff would know the when and who of getting management involved.

In terms of content the strategies presented for government are consistent with personal and business use of social media. Especially the best take away from this session for attendees was - placing anything, such as conversation, on the public internet allows it to be found.

According to the final advice of attorney Barry-Kessler, "Private info only stays private if it is not revealed."

Do you have some thoughts on how government should enter the social space?

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