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Machiavellian Social Media

Niccolo Machiavelli is probably most well known for The Prince, but I wonder what advice he might have for organizations in the era of social media. Maybe it would look something like this …

People and Tactics

  • Make sure you have the right people running your social media efforts;
  • Give those people robust rules of engagement;
  • If you can’t afford to actively manage the presence, at the very least defend your name against squatters;
  • Deal with dissenters quickly;
  • Whenever possible build your organization’s own capacity, prior to borrowing resources from others or hiring outside talent;
  • Study the successes and failures of others; and
  • Be diligent during quiet periods so you are ready when/if the shit hits the fan.


  • Number of followers/friends/subscribers is less important than loyalty;
  • Loyalty is strongest when it is earned over time; and
  • Underdogs who fight the status quo have a hard time moving up but enjoy greater respect if/when they are successful.

Change Management

  • Using social media to address organizational change is one of the most difficult things to do because people are naturally resistant to change;
  • Those who benefited most under the old system will be your biggest resistors to change; and
  • It is impossible for anyone to live up to everybody’s expectations; disappointment is inevitable, so the mission must be compelling enough to rally supporters when they are wavering.


  • It won’t always be good news. While you should avoid things that contribute to a negative reputation, ultimately you should pursue whatever is most beneficial given the circumstances of the day; but
  • Don’t break your word unnecessarily. It will cost you.


  • Sharing is great but be cognizant not to overwhelm your stakeholders with your message; and
  • It is desirable to be both true to the organization’s mission and be popular in the space; the former is more important than the latter.


  • Pursue organizational goals by engaging and you will earn respect, sit on the fence and you will lose it.

Avoid Ego Tripping

  • Don’t only discuss your organization’s efforts with yes-men, have a core group of trusted advisers who will always give it to you straight.

Luck (Fortune)

  • Luck is at most half the battle, every other inch requires effort, follow-through, and a relentless drive to be the best.

I particularly like the last one, you?


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Andrew Krzmarzick

Nick – you’re brilliant! 😉 Always appreciate your creativity…

I really like all of them…but this one gave me pause:

“Whenever possible build your organization’s own capacity, prior to borrowing resources from others or hiring outside talent.”

I’m wondering if the point of Gov 2.0/OpenGov as it pertains to culture change actually turns this one on it’s head…unless we define ‘build your organization’s own capacity’ as identifying non-traditional people within the organization to manage social media efforts…empowering people beyond the public affairs or information technology office to have greater input and engagement on these channels.

Also, I think there’s a huge benefit to and emphasis on “borrowing” from others…especially when it leads to greater efficiency by learning from others and building on their success (and failures).

Eager to get your thoughts here…

Nicholas Charney

@Andrew – it’s funny because Machiavelli actually speaks about “mercenaries” and how Princes should avoid hiring them because their loyalty is untested. I originally interpreted that as “consultants” (my own cognitive bias I suppose). I then retracted it because it is not entirely accurate. I think good consultants help teach organizations to be more self-sufficient. Bad ones create dependency.

Also I think Machiavelli meant borrow in the physical sense of the word, esp. regarding troops. So I wouldn’t “borrow” someone else’s communications person but would study their success and failures (which is how I think you are invoking borrow).

… it was a fun post to write =)

Andrew Krzmarzick

Dude…I’ll bet you have fun with all your posts! It’s obvious that’s true.

So…actually, that brings up an awesome idea:

What if agencies DID borrow from each other? Let’s say Agency A is having a tough time tackling a particular problem – they are approaching group think and decide that it would be beneficial to have a fresh voice in the conversation. So they call Agency B and arrange a temporary swap – let’s exchange lieutenants for 30 days and have them ask questions and present new solutions…what would be most cool is to institutionalize this idea through a “rotation” program where people are detailed once a year to go to another agency for the express purpose of generating innovative approaches to key activities and projects….similar to the US Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) program…but not just for grad students trying to break into government gigs.

Nicholas Charney

Work experience programs like that could be useful, I know that there has been some job shadowing being done at the centre of government here. I wonder though if 30 days would be enough…