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Musings on Web 2.0 Culture Change

I had the privilege of speaking today at a conference on social media in gov’t hosted by the Potomac Forum.

Listening to the other speakers, as often is the case, I heard similar concepts to the ones I use, but put in different ways.

I thought I’d share here some of what I distilled. None of this is especially original, but maybe I’ll put it in a way that will help folks who read this (you know who the 2 of you are!):

1) Using social media well is a culture change. It’s not a technology challenge. Yes, tech issues must be solved. But you’ll never succeed if you start with tech.

2) Be ready to fail. You will, someday. Guaranteed. But fail well: learn, regroup, revise, try again.

3) Be ready to succeed by defining what success means for each project (success looks different depending on the project). For example, our goals for EPA’s blog Greenversations included things like putting a human face on our agency and sharing personal stories connecting employees’ work and regular lives through environmenta issues. Our goals for a regulatory blog, a scientific wiki, etc. will be very different.

4) When it goes well, write down why. And tell others. Here on GovLoop, Twitter, etc. Esp. if you’re in gov’t, sharing means that the taxpayer pays for that knowledge fewer times.

5) Experiment. You’ll never know every possible outcome in advance. That’s why you try things.

6) Accept that people will come up with ways to use your social media projects in ways you never expected. There are 6 billion people out there, which is a much larger crowd than your agency.

7) Develop some strategy, but don’t wait for the perfect 400-page, $200,000 project plan. Come up with a few bullets and get going.

8) Embrace criticism (blog comments, anyone?). Rarely will complaints be utterly without value. “Your writing sucks” is useful. “Your agency has abandoned your mission” is, too. You’re not obligated to change everything because of every comment. But you may just discover some nuggets if you can get past any nasty language.

9) Know the policy framework. Not doing so risks running into brick walls at high speed. And when you do that, you often bounce backward. Whereas if you know the policies, you know which walls are brick, which are sponge, which are 3 feet high by 3 feet wide and which are 30 feet high and 2 miles long. Bonus: knowing the walls tells you where to push for change. And knowing the “why” behind the policies often leads to finding good solutions within them (for example, how to deal with accessibility).

(Update: thanks to Amanda Eamich for commenting that this blog post makes a great point about how all the players need to learn each others’ language and perspective. This would’ve been my #10 if I’d been smart enough to include it.)

I’ll stop there in the hopes that the tendency to do top 10 lists will get you to suggest what #10 should be.

(Update: I’ve put my presentation online, titled “From 30,000 Feet to 3 Feet: Running a Federal Blog“)

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John Dumbrille

Great application of her ideas. Introduced to T Tharp via David Byrne’s music.
Never saw her on video -so interesting. thanks

Adriel Hampton

10) Allow yourself to be inspired by and to inspire others. I really think that why Gov 2.0 resonates for me is the vision for a better gov and being able to share that with so many people in and out of public service.
I really like your #4, which is why I blog. Instead of just having one great conversation with one or three or four people, I can document that conversation and it can either be a lesson or a jumping off point for others.
Loving your blog posts, Jeffrey – keep ’em coming!

Joe Flood

I have Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, which is very inspiring. Lots of concrete suggestions on being more creative and open to ideas.

Amanda Eamich

I’d love to have a favorite, but it would be the entire list. Right now, I’m focusing on #1 in my organization. For me, it’s a push and pull between the technology and communications (public affiars/messaging) mindsets.

On Valentine’s Day, there was an excellent guest blog post hoted on Chris Bogan’s blog. Subject: Why can’t we be friends? Check it out. As much as I hate to differentiate “communicators” and “web mangers/cio’s/etc”, we often speak different languages but we both want the same things. And guess what, we all have a significant role in communicating with the public and each other.

Jeffrey Levy

Wow, that’s a FANTASTIC blog post you linked, Amanda. In fact, I’m going to edit my post to mention it. And I added it to the Social Media Subcouncil delicious links list.

Tom Vannoy

One of my employees attended yesterday and had great things to say about your speech. Thanks for getting out there and talking about it and also for following up with the post.

Keep it going!

Jeremy Bingham

Jeff – I attended yesterday as well. Your speech was very refreshing, and it was also encouraging to see how much progress is being made across the federal government to embrace Web 2.0/social media concepts. It feels like there’s a definite groundswell building, which is in stark contrast to what I saw a year ago (heck, even 6 months ago!). Now I need to focus on figuring out how any of these concepts can help forward my agency’s mission. At least I’m finding lost of good examples to follow.