How to talk to managers about social media

UPDATE on May 18: I’ll be delivering the presentation mentioned below in a free webinar on June 17, 3:00-4:30 EDT. Register now.

I’m constantly asked “how did you convince your management to let you do this stuff?”

That’s when I get a little sheepish, because my management has been pushing me for at least two years, not the other way around (have I told you the story of how, two years ago, our web team told our Deputy Administrator no, he shouldn’t do a blog?).

But I do get to talk to groups of managers around EPA and elsewhere to help them understand why they should, at minimum, be learning about social media.

Two key points when talking to managers:

  1. Focus on mission. Managers have a job to do. Help them understand you’re not pushing for a cool toy, but rather for them to incorporate useful tools into how they achieve their mission.
  2. Be clear this is a culture change, not a tech issue. We’re changing how we trust employees, how we invite the public into the conversation, and the way we write. All the emotions normally associated with change apply here: fear, confusion, wariness, excitement, anticipation, worry about doing it “wrong.” People will make mistakes, and you must be up front about that. But the benefits far outweigh the occasional mishap.

And here are some tools I use:

  • The presentation I use when briefing EPA mgr groups about social media. Feel free to use any of it. You can even download it from that site and edit it.
  • Blog post from Marie Ulysse of the Social Media Subcouncil: “Making the transition from “filtering” communication to engaging in the “open” arena of social media may seem like a daunting task for some organizations. However, with some preparation and the “good ole” power of persuasion the transition can be positive and valuable …”
  • I also like two engaging videos that either I ask them to watch ahead of time, or show them during the presentation:Information R/evolution: discusses and demonstrates how the way we think about information is changing. I especially like this one because it doesn’t rely on specialized knowledge

    Did you Know? Current version is 3.0. Provides several facts about how the world is changing, esp. online. Some folks still prefer version 2.0, although the stats are now a little outdated

    Also good is The Machine is Us/ing Us, but I don’t think it’s as useful unless you know some technical info like what RSS is.

What tools do you use when talking social media to managers?

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Adriel Hampton

I find that showing examples of others using it successfully without destroying the space-time continuum is fairly successful, which is why GovLoop and other practitioner networks are so valuable.

Scott Burns

Thanks Jeffrey, these are excellent resources.

I keep hearing a lot of concern about how to manage the comments that come in through social media. That seems to be the most common concern.

I recommend looking at the White House Facebook page. They are hosting a page where folks posting comments are a mix of complimentary, constructive, insightful, hateful, and crazy. Kind of like real life. If the White House is willing to do it, that should make anyone that is uncomfortable with the concept more comfortable.

You don’t have to respond to every comment. Just be there, in the space, asking for feedback. Then, demonstrate from time to time that the feedback is not falling on deaf ears.

The technology is new, but the public interest is the same as it is offline… if government demonstrates that it is listening and is willing to engage people, people are more willing to listen and engage even if they don’t agree all the time. I think the emphasis on technology distracts managers from the key issue which is, “do we want the public to be engaged with our agency?” The technology makes it possible, but first you have to want it / be open to it.

It’s great to see how many agencies already embrace the opportunity. Soon we’ll all be talking far more about how to use these tools well and less about getting started.

Patrick Allmond


Before you even talk to managers about how do you determine if it is even appropriate for the organization? That is the first question I determine the answer to when working with organizations. Sometimes the answer is no. As cool and as hip as some of these tools are, there are really no benefits for some groups.


Jeffrey Levy

Patrick, I should clarify: this post is about an introductory discussion with managers, to begin their learning process about social media. I do think all managers should know about all tools available to them.

But once they learn about the tools, I agree with you; they may not be appropriate for all groups or for all projects. That’s why I focus on mission first, then the tools. If there’s no mission to match with a good tool, don’t use social media.

Ingrid Alverde

This information is opening my eyes to great opportunities for those of us in the governement ranks to really communicate with our constituents. Thanks for sharing these great tools!

Ryan Cherlin

Great post. I think the key in making this transformation will be convincing those who hold on to traditional views of communications. Change can be scary. While it is important to make the case for social media, I think it is equally important not to employ scare tactics without demonstrating how these tools can easily be used. Here is a link I found interesting. http://www.schulersolutions.com/resistance_to_change.html