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Cheeky Challenge: Five Big Answers About Government 2.0 in 2011, Part 1

A few days ago, Mark Drapeau posted a blog here on GovLoop and several other places around the web, asking “Five Big Questions About Government 2.0 in 2011.” In my response to that post, I took issue with Mark’s blanket statement that “government practitioners’ use of social media is not very sophisticated, does not take advantage of the latest tactics and tools, and does not necessarily improve the dialogue around big issues citizens really care about – the economy, jobs, national security, health, and the environment.”

I suggested that Mark had merely joined a chorus of voices that quickly criticize government agencies without giving equal time to the demonstration of bright spots or pockets of progress in the government 2.0 movement. As a result, I am endeavoring to write a five-part series that counters Mark’s “five big questions” with concrete examples in response to each question — agencies and employees that are advancing the kind of government that should make fellow citizens and civil servants proud.

Q1: Who are the public faces of government agencies online?

1A. General Service Administration (GSA): USA.Gov’s GovGab Blog Team

Do you know these faces? They are (clockwise from top left): Jake, Joanne, Marietta, Arlene, Ginger, Carolyn and Stephanie. These faces may not be “famous” like some of the local celebrities Mark cites as brand ambassadors, but they are dedicated civil servants who pitch in to provide consistent content for citizens every day of the week via the GovGab blog – one of the first and most frequently updated of any government blogs. Recent GovGab posts include helpful information about e-filing taxes, a travel warning for Egypt and a guest post by an IRS colleague which highlights that agency’s online recruitment efforts.

1B. Department of Defense (DoD): Armed With Science Podcast

You might recognize a couple of these faces from the Government 2.0 movement. Most noteworthy is David Wennergren (lower right). You might also want to meet (clockwise from Mr. Wennegren): U.S. Army Col. Mike Wehr, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Defense for Energy Tom Hicks, Navy medical researcher Dr. Wayman Wendell Cheatham and USAF Chief Scientist Dr. Werner J.A. Dahm. Why? Well, if you’re interested in stabilizing Afghanistan, developing alternative fuel technologies, improving health care for men and women serving in the Navy and enabling even greater capabilities for our Air Force, then you want to thank these gentlemen. Of course, you won’t see their faces in the podcast, but you will hear the voices of valiant men with brilliant minds. Oh, and I would be remiss without a special shout-out to host John Ohab (who is trying to make this video go viral).

A3. U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Facebook Page

Meet Melanie, Lakegan, Michelle, Kawa, Diane and Kent – all employees of the US Geological Survey who are lending their time and insight to engage with over 3,000 Facebook fans. A couple months ago, Scott Horvath shared with the GovLoop community that USGS was going to try a new approach with their Facebook page. Their goal: invite individual employees to help citizens “learn more about the science we’re involved with at the USGS–climate change and land-use, ecosystems, natural hazards, water issues, energy, minerals & environmental health–and more.” Since they launched over the holidays, I suspect they’re really just getting started, but this is an incredibly promising project and pushes the boundaries of citizen engagement beyond the traditional communications and public affairs folks in agencies.

So there you have it – my first of five big answers to @cheeky_geeky’s provocative post.

How is your agency, city or state providing a public face
to the important work you perform every day?

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18 Comments

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Profile Photo Scott Horvath

Thanks for mention here Andrew. We are just still getting started, although I think we’re progressing at a place that works for us. The idea of using Facebook for professional purposes is a question that many people have. When most people hear about Facebook they think “my kids chatting with their friends,” “for playing Farmville,” or “waste of time.” Certainly that does exist. But, just like others exploring social media for the government, I’m convinced that there are legitimate ways that we can be using Facebook. Army does it and they do it well. Why should it be any different for others? You just have to find your niche and roll with it. That’s what we’re doing. We’ll follow it to where it leads us.

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Profile Photo Mark D. Drapeau

Thanks for the effort Andy, and I’m sure this will be a valuable series for the audience. But the very fact that you need to take special effort to find examples of “answers” to my questions just proves my point – such examples are not the norm but rather the exception. If they were the norm, everyone would think my post was insane and my questions stupid. The exceptions to the rule prove the rule.

We’re talking about two different things. I’m talking about the average, the median, the middle majority. You’re talking about the extreme examples on one side of the bell curve. Those examples are fine, but they are not a refutation of my points in the slightest. Of course there are positive examples; if there weren’t you wouldn’t have Government 2.0 (or GovLoop) in the first place.

As for this particular question, who are the faces, in order to be a “face” people have to know who you are. So it’s difficult to make the claim that people who aren’t “celebrities” on some level are the faces; to some degree they are one and the same. They are trusted mini-celebrities within a niche. Scoble was influential because he was probably the single most trusted voice at Microsoft. Is Dave Wernergren (or whoever) the obvious, most trusted voice from the Pentagon in the social media space because he recorded a podcast once? The effort has to be human, public, pervasive, and consistent both during work and off-hours. Look at Mayor Booker.

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Profile Photo Noel Dickover

Maybe its just me but a better example for social media leaders in DoD would be the regular soldiers who are connecting with their families (if you want a leader, try ADM Mullin – he actually cares about this stuff). This really, if you want to get to one of Mark’s other questions, is what real people care about. If you doubt this, go look at the Web20Guidance Forum responses by Military Families as to whether they think soldiers having access to Gov20 is valuable:

http://web20guidanceforum.dodlive.mil/2009/08/06/use-of-web-20-capabilities-by-military-families

As for a connection to Gov20, this was DoD’s first effort to get citizens to participate in providing input to DoD policy making.

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

@Mark – Two points:

(1) These are only three examples, but I could name several others – from the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program to the State Department’s DipNotes blog where folks like citizens and ambassadors are sharing their stories. How is that any less a face…and I think that there are scores more of these kinds of examples at this point…that are more and more becoming the norm.

(2) Also, I am trying to wrestle away your definition of the “face” of an agency. It shouldn’t be the most well known or most visible people. It should be people to whom the average American can relate – people who are their neighbors and family members and friends. Not all agencies are going to have visible people like Hillary Clinton or Admiral Thad Allen as their public face. And very few agencies have folks like Mary J. Blige pitching for them…nor do I think they should (all the time). There might be instances or initiatives where there’s need for some star power, but the better goal is to empower the people who are performing the day-to-day functions of government.

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

@Noel: I completely agree – and the people I mention above are the “soldiers” of the agencies. They are not necessarily the people who are being quoted in traditional media or calling the shots, but the folks who are on the front lines fulfilling their own sense of duty to America. And the only way we’re going to change the perception of public service is if more of the efforts and experience of these hard-working people are made known beyond their agency. So I appreciate you strengthening my point! Feature the front-line civilian fighters as the face…and help people to care as much about those patriots as they do about our soldiers!

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Profile Photo Noel Dickover

@Andrew – “the better goal is to empower the people who are performing the day-to-day functions of government.”

Completely agree. Creating celebrities is the wrong approach. Peer to peer communications by those in the trenches with those needing services is a far far more useful model.

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Profile Photo Mark D. Drapeau

This is not about “creating celebrities” at all. Being well-known is a necessary byproduct of being a trusted, persistent public representative of an organization. By extension, if very few people relative to the size of your niche know who you are, you are not such a face of the agency, or you are a poor one.

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Profile Photo Noel Dickover

@Mark, there are two ways agencies are interacting – they are using Agency accounts, such as (on twitter) @eDipAtState for the organization I support, or as an individual account such as @PJCrowley or @AlecJRoss (also at the State Dept). Both approaches make sense depending on the goals. I guess my objection is that everyone at an Agency should be using social media to be the “public face of the agency” (your words). What we’re seeing instead is the breakdown of the traditional public affairs function (which IS the public face of the agency) as we move toward a peer to peer discussion approach. In that sense, ADM Mullin is no longer the public face of the agency – it might very well be private McSnuffy. This is the problem I see with your whole first question – the public face of the Agency will still be the public affairs person (@PJCrowley for State, for instance), but that doesn’t tell you much.

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Profile Photo Justin Herman

Andrew, along the lines of what I DMed you immediately after reading this, “Bravo Sir – bravo.”

Sometimes I read blog posts, and I look back at the ample examples that negate them, and I wonder. But you didn’t just think it, you took the time to show it, and in the process pointed out some great pockets of innovation.

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Profile Photo Mark D. Drapeau

@Noel Good comments. I guess what I am saying is that I am surprised that there is not an “Alec Ross” of every agency. Clearly it has done them some good. Additionally, when you combine a few of them (Katie Stanton, Jared Cohen) with an official presence (PJ Crowley), that is a very, very effective combination that does a lot of good online and offline. State is probably in my view the A+ #1 agency engaging in that way.

So my article was really saying, Where’s the Alec Ross of Commerce? Of Interior? Of the Fed? Of Fannie Mae? And so forth. Most organizations aren’t close to what State and some others are up to.

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

@Mark What happens when Alec Ross, Mayor Booker and similar folks – who likely have a much shorter shelf life in their respective positions – leave? How do we build a more sustainable approach to providing a public face to citizens? That’s why I really like the models I highlight in this post, especially #1 and #3.

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Profile Photo Mark D. Drapeau

@Andy I always hear this argument and it never makes sense to me. (1) Everybody leaves. Everybody. The President leaves. Staff leaves. CEOs leave. (2) Deal with it. I don’t think social media is that different than anything else. Have a succession plan. Have multiple leaders. Train people. Jared Cohen left State; nothing barely happened because there are others. You can’t replace him but you can make sure the same essential functions get done. (3) Mayor Booker, the Governator, that’s more difficult. But most people are not the #1 person in the agency so they are by definition more replaceable.

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Profile Photo Mark D. Drapeau

Also, even if (say) Mayor Booker is completely irreplaceable and will definitely leave, I still don’t think that’s an argument for NOT having him do what he’s doing.

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Profile Photo Noel Dickover

@Mark, I think the short answer is some agencies are far more forward thinking about the use of social media than others. If that’s your point w/Q1 I definitely agree. I also agree that the State Dept is different than most in that it doesn’t just have a thin veneer of folks who care – instead its starting to get embedded into the fabric in some ways (still a way to go, but there are LOTS of advocates now). But for every @AlecJRoss, I think still think you need lots of less visible players for #socmed use to be embedded. Leaders in this area are critical, but I would rather judge success by the line workers’ use (which brings me to Andrew’s question).

@Andrew – political appointees always have more visibility and a shorter shelf life than the civies. This is just the nature of how things work. The sustainable question in my mind revolves more about whether the status quo of the agency “expects” its political appointees to use these tools. This, I think, is what’s slowly been happening at State – you’re seeing lots of politicals having twitter feeds in addition to lots more line workers using it. Whether this lasts to the next administration, whomever that is, obviously remains to be seen.

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

Agreed, @Mark – Mayor Booker needs to keep doing his do…AND the city ought to be educating and deputizing other employees to engage with citizens using these platforms (in an official capacity with strategic, planned social tools).

@Noel – Yes >> “…you need lots of less visible players for #socmed use to be embedded.” And see this post about the problem with political types: https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/2010-the-year-that-politicians. Though I talk about elected officials specifically, I would extend my concern to a lesser degree to appointees.

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Profile Photo Joe Sanchez

Andrew, here’s one of the challenges: “Their goal: invite individual employees to help citizens ‘learn more about … [fill in the blank].'” While I recognize this statement is specific to the USGS, I believe this is an approach that other federal agencies are also using.

I will defer to the federal employees that are supporting these individual efforts but within their respective agencies, are there strategic comprehensive public outreach (relations) / communications plans that guide their actions and messages? I commend these employees for their passion, involvement, and actions because they are working to make a difference but having said that ….

Where in corporate America do you see “individual employees” tasked with helping customers learn more about corporate products, initiatives, etc.? While individual employees in these organizations are engaged in many corporate activities, they are seldom “the face” of the organization – with some exceptions. Instead, their actions and the events that they participate in are part of larger strategic public relations campaigns. As an example, I would venture to say that more Americans may be familiar with Volkswagen’s “Sign and Drive” campaign than with the federal government’s “Open Data” initiative.

Communications has long been one of government’s challenges. Often government initiatives are begun with a keynote address and a well-publicized kick-off event but then what follows from that initiative often becomes subsumed amongst other government priorities and/or as Mark Drapeau put it, “People leave.” The communications that accompanied the launch event become diminished over time.

Therefore, I respectfully submit that the key question should not be “How is your agency, city or state providing a public face to the important work you perform every day?” but instead, “How is your agency, city or state communicating the value (the difference makin

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