Beginners Guide to Government 2.0 — Some Suggestions from a Practitioner

from http://treadaway.typepad.com/notice/2009/02/beginners-guide-to-government-20.html

I have talked before on a few occasions about how I think Government 2.0 will be a defining theme in our business over the next few years. It’s an inevitable change because the 2nd wave of the Web (notably social media, true collaboration, societal acceptance of user generated content, etc.) has taken hold. The Web is no longer new… it’s discoveries no longer novel… and now it is time to take advantage of the technologies to earn greater efficiency for the public at large.

If you are a government official with the authority and budget to get going on the Web, where do you get started? Everyone and their grandmother are social media/Web 2.0 experts, yet you need to make a good decision.

I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine if we’re expert or not, but I thought I’d nonetheless share a few random thoughts and tips about finding the right person or company to help with your needs. In no particular order:

1) Today, in February 2009, there are few if any Government 2.0 experts. There simply haven’t been enough contracts available for anyone to legitimately think of themselves as expert. And no, running one tactic of Barack Obama’s viral marketing campaign doesn’t make someone an expert either. Sorry. Which leads me to my second point…

2) Most successes with Web 2.0 and social media have been done in the private sector. This is what you want. Find someone who has solved a problem for a major company or three. Government, complicated as it is, can be learned. You will have a hard time (especially in 2009) finding companies or people with Government 2.0 experience. If you make that a requirement, you are not likely to find the most talented person or company you can.

3) Folks who didn’t do anything with the social Web before 2000 aren’t forward thinking enough for you. Same goes for LinkedIn users after 2003 and Facebook users after 2005. Government agencies who shell out good taxpayer money should have the benefit of people who can see long term trends and dive right in.

4) Don’t get a strategist. Get someone who can both think through your problems efficiently and implement strategy.

5) Training is important. Once setup, a lot of Web 2.0 projects can run on autopilot if someone on staff wants to monitor success and failure. Hold consultants to a high standard that includes training and an exit plan. You don’t want to pay a consultant ad infinitum, and you shouldn’t if you’ve hired the right person or company.

6) Accept the possibility of a few failures along the way. Flexibility is key to ultimately getting the efficiencies, cost savings, and customer satisfaction improvements you seek. Don’t freak out if the going is rough early.

7) You will probably get what you pay for. So beware of the overeager who you aren’t paying very well.

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Allen Sheaprd

Great article to which I would add: survey your customers. Who is using the tools, how do they like them and what do they want?

After test driving the idea in house – make it available to the public. Unix was created in house by AT&T to solve problems and not as a product. Hence, like wikipedia, people felt free to make changes and fix it. Like FaceBook or anchient graffitie of Rome, people love to leave their mark. So make it easy.

Either no log in or accept a Gmail, Twitter account so people do not have to create yet another account.

“Do not leave the world as you found it – add something to it”

pandemic group on GovLoop


Good post.

I would however slightly disagree with point #2. I’ve been to many conferences and actually I believe the government is not behind the private sector in web 2.0/social media. There are some good examples (like Best Buy) but there are some good examples in government as well (TSA, Intellipedia, amongst others).

I think everyone is learning right now from large private sector companies, the media organizations, and government. It’s more of an art than a science and you need to pilot and learn from your experiences. There is no magic bullet. But there is added value.

Pam Broviak

I agree with @GovLoop that in some cases Government is actually ahead of private companies. A lot of my time is spent in virtual worlds which I believe can also be considered to be a part of social media. Government, particularly at the federal level, has “gotten” virtual worlds and successfully engage with citizens using that medium while companies still struggle to get it right.

In a way, I think Government is a natural for social media because our audience is ourselves (we are all part of government). So when Government pushes out information or messages it is never taken as someone hocking their product; instead people take it as a positive push of information sharing and transparency. On the other hand companies tread a fine line with social media. They need to figure out how to engage their customers without sounding like a commercial.

I also realize that some agencies use consultants, but I believe that many agencies have fully qualified people on staff who can successfully implement a social media campaign. Kansas DOT and Washington State DOT have implemented social media very well. I think it would be helpful for agencies to like theirs to share the story about how they moved through this process.

Chris Treadaway

This is a great conversation that is giving me some ideas for future blog posts… glad I joined this community. 🙂

@GovLoop & @Pam — Agreed that some government agencies are getting the job done with social media and Web 2.0. In my experience speaking with folks in government, I’ve met people all over the map. Some know about all the Web technologies and products and know how to use them collectively to solve real business, marketing, and operational problems. Others aren’t even familiar with something like Twitter. So in some cases, government agencies really need a consultants’ help just to get started and understand the possibilities.

The other thing I’d add is that social media projects are really just next-generation Internet Marketing projects. To succeed, you have to monitor & improve upon the same metrics as you had before (CPA, CPM, CPC, CTR, PPC, PV, SEO, UU, Lead Gen Cost, ROI, etc.) but your effort can be distributed across ad networks, social media sites, Web 2.0 properties, etc. When I used to run Internet Marketing campaigns for web sites advertising on Google Adwords, I typically tracked between 35-45 different discrete statistics per day. Sometimes I’d look at it on an hourly basis to see when people were engaging with our sites. Now you not only have Adwords, but you have another half dozen properties that you need to manage, optimize, etc. The complexity is significantly greater the more you do, and it’s very, very easy to throw money down a sinkhole if you aren’t careful. Success in this is a combination of choosing the right Web 2.0/social media technologies for the task at hand, monitoring results, running A/B tests continuously to figure out what is most effective, etc.


Daniel Bevarly

Chris some interesting points are raised in your post and response. On point #2, however, I would also suggest it’s not necessarily that most success with Web 2.0 and social media have been done in the private sector. On the contrary, it is difficult to compare apples to apples between these sectors.

For example, a rhetorical question might be what is being measured, and what restrictions (legal or political) are in place that would rule out an equitable comparison between the two? We know the common denominator is about engagement and collaboration, but what that looks like for one sector can be very different in the other as you probably know.

Communities that police themselves are commonplace in the private sector, hence internal resources, i.e., costs, can be minimized. Communities on autopilot in government? At your own risk. Hence, government agencies have to seriously consider the amount of resources to dedicate to using these solutions and that gets back to ROI.

Many legal issues also prevent or prohibit Web 2.0 models in government. It’s about structure and standards that have been put in place way before the Internet was even an idea. So, instead of being able to reinvent new rules, a privilege of the private sector (which admittedly, also helps expand and create new boundaries for all) government finds itself trying to fit new media models into pre-media environments.

But that is where the creative government folks come in. And we’re seeing it on a daily basis. New, innovative thinking in the public sector even in the face of real and perceived challenges. Employees who know their agency model and communication processes and are trying out their new ideas, and like you say, accepting a few failures along the way.

What’s great about government, is that when best practices are identified, they are usually easily replicated, at least in structure. Many agencies can benefit from a single agency’s success.

On point #3, I wasn’t sure what you meant. If you were describing the minimum quals for a consultant or practitioner, then it sounds restrictive. IMHO, social media solutions in government will have better chances for success if they are implemented by professionals who understand more about public administration (policies, processes and procedures) than about the technology.

While technology is helping to meet the challenge. It is not a technology challenge that is being addressed. It is a communication challenge that seeks to reverse more than 40 years of disconnect and drift between citizens and their government and bring the two back together again. This will come incrementally, like all changes in government, by meeting the emerging communication and information needs and preferences of today’s constituents and certainly those of the future. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your thoughts and ideas for advancing social media in government.

Chris Treadaway

Great points… and a very thoughtful post. I dealt with a lot of legal restrictions at Microsoft so I have an idea of what you mean re: legal restrictions.

With point #3, I was providing a framework for separating experts “of convenience” from people who have enjoyed and experimented with Social Media from its early days. I think Government 2.0 will appeal to a lot of people looking to make a quick buck, and I think it can be difficult for decision makers to discern between true experts and people who pick up Social Media because it is the issue du jour.

I think we’re saying the same thing about technology + public administration… you need both to make Government 2.0 successful. I think the # of people with proven expertise in the combination are relatively rare… and the ones who have it will be in very high demand. For those who don’t find that type of person, finding a good person who understands the business value of the technology is key… public administration expertise will have to come from the person requesting the project.

Excellent thoughts and I similarly look forward to following you here on GovLoop. 🙂