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How to BE a Government Consultant and Use Social Media: A Guide

As “Government 2.0” becomes more and more popular, especially here in the Washington area, there seem to be an increasing number of people calling themselves social media or “Gov 2.0” consultants. As such, I’ve also seen a small increase in the number of people who are only interested in hawking their wares because social media is the current buzzword and who will move on to the next buzzword as soon as social media loses its luster. Now, consider this blog post a public service announcement for all you consultants and contractors out there (including all you Booz Allen guys too!) – I don’t want you to become the next Gov 2.0 carpetbagger.

So here’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to let you in on the secret and tell you how you can BE a good consultant in this world and add value to the Gov 2.0 community (it’s not all that hard!):

1. BE helpful – Always always try to provide some value. Read other people’s blog posts, wiki edits, forum questions, and tweets and help out if you can – even if it’s just sending a helpful link, providing a good point of contact, or giving a restaurant suggestion to someone in a different city. Not everything is a marketing opportunity – just try to be a helpful person whom others can rely on. For the most part, everyone involved in Gov 2.0 is incredibly helpful to one another and we all want each other to succeed. Those who aren’t stick out like sore thumbs.

BE honest – If you don’t know something, say it. If you suddenly start promoting another organization’s wares, disclose that you have a relationship of some sort with them. If you’re interested in conducting a marketing call, say that’s what you’re doing. Nothing’s worse than thinking that you’re going to have a lunch with someone you met on Twitter and they lug in a PowerPoint presentation and start running their capabilities briefings.

3. BE responsive – If someone emails you, email them back. If someone comments on your blog, comment back. If you comment on someone else’s blog and they reply to you, continue in the conversation. You have no idea how much people appreciate a simple, timely response to a question, until you deal with someone who isn’t. Don’t be that guy.

4. BE realistic – Don’t promise the world. Don’t promise your client thousands of Twitter followers in two weeks. Don’t say that social media is going to solve all their problems – it won’t. Just because you’ve helped one organization use social media doesn’t mean that the next one is going to work the same way. Each organization and each organization’s mission is different – their results in using social media will be too.

5. BE around – Social media is all about openness and transparency and authenticity. You have to take part in the conversation if you ever hope to influence it. Don’t proclaim yourself a Twitter expert if you’ve been on Twitter for two weeks. Use the tools that you’re advocating your clients use. Be active within the social media and Gov 2.0 communities, both online AND offline. Go out and meet the people with whom you’re talking online. Out of sight, out of mind – you have to be be around, both physically and virtually.

6. BE passionate – Please please please, believe in what you’re selling. Is Gov 2.0 what you do for your job or is it something you’re passionate about? Don’t tell me – talk with me for about ten minutes and I’ll be able to tell right away. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a passionate person who cares deeply about my mission over someone with a slick Powerpoint presentation any day.

BE authentic – Just be a human being, please? Talk like a human being, not a living, breathing, walking product or service offering pitch. Be able to have an entire conversation with someone and connect with them as a person. Build a real relationship instead of a sales lead. It will be more valuable in the long run.

Be knowledgeable – Know what you’re talking about and back it up. Don’t speak only in marketing-y consultant-ese. Get to know your companies strengths and weaknesses, and be honest about them. Stay on top of current Gov 2.0 events and demonstrate your knowledge through consistent engagement. Get to know the mission and unique processes and policies of the people you’re talking to. Try to imagine the challenges that they’re dealing with and think about how you can help them overcome them.

9. BE humble – You’re going to be wrong, and you’re going to mess up. That’s just the nature of this business. Admit your mistakes and move on. Don’t blame someone else or make excuses – say you messed up and you’ll do better and if you’ve been all of these other things, people will forgive you.

10. And lastly, but maybe most importantly, BE assertive – As Tom Webster points out in this fantastic post, I can tell you to BE all of these things, but unless you’ve got the internal support of your management, it’s going to be difficult to put these tips into action. Be assertive with your management team and make the business case that there’s value in building and maintaining these human relationships instead of the traditional fire hose approach to marketing.

If you do these things, I promise you that you will BE a better consultant, add more value to the community…and BE a much more likable person too!

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Frederick P. Wellman

I would add one more. Never, ever, ever call yourself a Social Media Guru cause that is just stupid. I spend all of my free time when I am not actually working or trying to be a good parent and husband thinking about this stuff and I have so much to learn it makes my head hurt. We are all figuring the ways to use these new tools each day so be realistic about your level of knowledge from the start.

Gerry La Londe-Berg

Thanks, Steve. It’s amazing how common sense and decency can be so useful and offer such guidance. I like the way you framed the issues. => Gerry

Steve Radick

That’s a great one Fred – I think that would fall under the “Be Humble” category, but yeah, I would totally agree with you. Even worse are the people who call themselves a “social media ninja!” That’s a really easy way to lose credibility with me!

@Gerry – yes, one guy commented on my external blog post about this that this should just be called “The Life Manifesto!”

Andrew Krzmarzick

Steve – great post. You’re right. We’re seeing more and more straight marketing stuff from contractors – even here on GovLoop. I am going to start citing this post as a key reference tool to guide people toward a positive approach to social networking. Thanks, as always, for your insight.

Steve Radick

@Andy – thanks – I’m glad you found it useful! I’m passing it on to all members of my team too, lest they start falling into the “consultant marketer” trap!


Great post. What I think is useful here is that there are no simple “tricks.” Nothing you can do to solve a magical problem in a week. You don’t build a good relationship over night…you earn it over time through the way you act. And you’ve earned a good one senor Radick…

Steve Radick

Thanks Steve! The cool thing about writing this post is that while I was writing it, I realized that, like most things with social media, you could strip out all mentions of the technology here and apply these ten tips to consulting in the 60s and 70s and all of these same basic principles could still be applied.