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An Insider or an Innovator for Twitter in DC?

There’s been a lot of reading between the lines of Twitter’s job posting for a DC-based government liaison (and even one instance of actual follow-up reporting). One post really caught my attention – because I disagree with it so vehemently.

My friend Alan W. Silberberg, a Gov 2.0 innovator and founding organizer of Gov 2.0 LA, argued that, “Twitter needs a government relations expect who is also a social media expert. Not the other way around.” His five-point post went on to urge a traditional (if exceptionally well-qualified in the type) Beltway insider for the new post, which Twitter envisions heading up an emerging public affairs shop.

Wrote Silberbeg (who said he is not applying):

Because of the Giants amongst us like Microsoft, Google, Facebook – Twitter’s entry into the Government space has to be taken carefully. The Giants have armies of lobbyists, lawyers, pr firms, etc. The Twitter person needs to be able to navigate these waters with firm decision making. Time spent getting up to speed will only hurt the company, and its investors like Union Square’s Fred Wilson. This goes back to my first point. Twitter needs to hire someone known in the Gov 2.0 space – but also known in DC. IN Government. No offense to my peers and friends applying for this job – but it clearly says that they are looking for a DC area person who already has Government experience. That really means connections, access and understanding of the policies and ethics surrounding these changing times.

I’m not going to do a point-by-point, because Alan’s arguments are sound from the perspective of traditional government relations.

But our times urgently call for the non-traditional. I often say that my social media-fueled campaign for Congress last year was a few years too early.

Hiring anyone but a visionary for Twitter’s first government-facing employee would be be a few years too late.

As a friend in state government recently said to me, “We have the next 10 years to shape the next 30.” Our government is a massive public engagement fail, and aping its nature of privilege and insider connections would be a disaster.

Another friend, Shaun Dakin, anti-robocall activist and dot-com era veteran, is applying for the post and today gave his reaction to Silberberg’s post and the job description’s inclusion of “entrepreneurial” qualities.

Wrote Dakin:

People used to working in Gov’t and big companies (I was there, big time, with Fannie Mae and FedEx) are used to WAITING for permission to do things. They do research. They go to meetings. They brainstorm. They rarely DO anything.
Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, don’t really ask anyone for permission. They just do.
… Critically, I think, they know how to get things done with few resources.
Perhaps Twitter thinks that whomever is in this role (he or she) will be really “starting up” not just a new office but also a new line of business for Twitter.
So, my recommendation to Twitter would be to look hard at if the person has had to DO.

In the past couple years, hundreds of driven and innovative political and government media and engagement strategists have qualified themselves for this position. I hope Twitter picks from that number.


Steve Lunceford: Interview provides new details on search for Twitter’s government liaison

Silberbeg: Gov 2.0 and Twitter Finally Tweet-up!

Dakin: My Response to Alan Silberberg on the Huffington Post

Me: Gov 2.0 is a Leveler, or It is Nothing

from Wired to Share

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Good point…In the end, you need a little both. Someone who’s entrepreneur enough to just get stuff done. But also patient enough that they understand that just b/c they met with a Congressional agency or Federal agency and they are excited…they won’t be active tomorrow on Twitter

Adriel Hampton

Tidbit about political use that hasn’t reply fit in my thematic posts – if one candidate uses Twitter in a race, all the contenders will do same. Has anyone seen different?

Sara Estes Cohen

I came into the DC scene social media guns blazing two years ago fresh from a masters thesis in social media/emergency management and was shot down SO HARD that I could have left DC several times, never to be heard of again.

It wasn’t until I backed off and started to learn the lay of the land (figuratively and politically), and that I stopped using the term “social media”, but instead focused on retooling my efforts to fit the interest of my naysayers that I started to get somewhere. I’ll admit, it was two steps forward, 1700 steps back, constantly, but eventually I started to see some movement, and then everything jumped when Obama came into office…

My point is, despite how obviously helpful and innovative Gov 2.0 is to all of us, we are still amidst a world of those who are either a) disbelievers or b) too embarrassed that they don’t understand it to admit that it’s a good idea, and must therefore continue to move cautiously among the political landmines that our work is constantly setting off.

Whomever this new Twitter person will be – they have to have an innovative and entrepreneureal spirit (and the ability to continue through adversity), and a VAST knowledge of our political system as it exists now.

When speaking to someone about how they can leverage social media, I spend the first 50 minutes getting to know what they do, how they do it, who they talk to, how they talk, etc. before ever mentioning social media. To understand how to leverage Twitter for Gov, someone has to know what people do in Gov.

(sorry for the rant) – afternoon coffee =)

Adriel Hampton

Never apologize for a good rant 🙂 Change takes intense and prolonged effort – glad to hear you’re making progress!