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Online, Interactive Digital Engagement Governance – a.k.a. Approaching Social Media Governance as a Method

This will be the first in an ongoing set of entries about Interactive Digital Engagement Governance. Contact me or Navigation Arts in McLean, VA for more information, or for ideas regarding planning and implementing such a methodology at your organization.

The concept of governance isn’t new at all to organizations building websites, whether inside (as with intranets and corporate portals) or exposed to the public. Simply put, the creation and management of web-enabled content requires everyday guidance for those who manage the content, and a process for assessing impact and making decisions about website and content issues. This guidance can come from roles-based training, online help and instruction, content management processes and policies. But how to you start an online governance effort in a Web 2.0 context – what’s the methodology?

Let’s be clear on the scope – we’re talking about governing the entirety of your online presence and digital engagement with constituents; i.e. all the people and systems (i.e. “Actors”) who engage with your content, through various channels. This includes employees, through use of your internal websites as well as their activities on the Internet, participating in social media, uploading content, creating bookmarks. This includes the content management lifecyle, not only as content is authored, reviewed and published – but also as the content is subject to feedback, discussion, monetization, syndication, repurposing and other extended use.

Governing your online digital assets can get very complex and expensive, very fast – especially as it’s released on the Internet, where it’s subject to countless forms of intended or unintended use. Blogs, RSS feeds, iFrames, email, content scraping, URL shorteners – list goes on and on with respect to the devices of torture your content might be subjected to, in public.

The repercussions of NOT governing your online content, both behind and outside of the firewall, can be equally complex and expensive. Therefore, we need a reasonably affordable, though comprehensive and scalable online digital engagement governance methodology – to build a repeatable, executable governance model that actually works.

Some of the background for this emerging methodology, in its various flavors, comes from many years of Intranet and Public Portal, Content Management and Social Media implementation for various Government Agencies and commercial entities. Common issues emerge from all of these past implementations, as they’re faced with intersection of the Web 2.0 channels.

Here’s a proposed methodology in a nutshell:

  • Create the Governance Business Case
  • Confirm the Governance Model
  • Create a Governance Plan
  • Establish Governance Requirements
  • Establish Governance Authorities
  • Validate and Socialize
  • Implement and Monitor
  • Evolve

“Governance” is essentially an integrated capability, i.e. something that an organization uses for its benefit that has a defined scope in terms of roles and organization, processes, information assets, tools and investment. Compare to other capabilities an organization might establish, like “Information Assurance”, “Application Development” or “IT Support”. Governance is a multi-faceted capability, implemented in different ways according to the context. For example, the context of “IT Support” has its own set of governance requirements; a good methodology and set of models exists with ITIL. The context here is the management of web-enabled digital content as it’s exposed to people, systems and their online dialogue. Interactive Digital Engagement.

To successfully create the Governance capability, a Business Case is required. This documents the scope of the capability, lays out the resource needs and estimates, aligns the investment requirements with the rest of the organization, and most importantly, describes how benefits are recognized and reported. The business case will help support reasonable investment, within corporate constraints, and clearly indicate how performance will be assessed.

Note that there are two main scopes of performance for the Governance program. First are the benefits it conveys to other programs; for example, “reduction of risk profile indicators” (Program Management), “reduction of negative complaints” (Customer Support), “increase in search engine visibility” (Online Marketing). Second is the performance of the actual Governance capability, i.e. “decrease in number of content policy violations” and “decrease in number of policy-related decision escalations”.

What’s the “Governance Model”, then, that will support the Business Case, and will drive implementation of the capability? It’s an organized set of governance components and relationships that need to be created, and that will function in an integrated manner. While your governance model will obviously be customized to your environment, the high-level facets should include:

  • The Authorities (i.e. Policies, Guidelines, Business Rules, etc.)
  • The Organization & Roles (i.e. the Governance Executives, Content Managers, etc.)
  • The Processes (i.e. Escalation, Impact Assessment, Decision-Making, Policy Updates, etc.)
  • The Governed Elements (i.e. what is governed; Actors, Content, Processes, Interfaces, Functions)
  • Governance Tools (i.e. what do people use within processes to help achieve governance, like forums, libraries, guides, FAQs, workflow monitors, etc.)

So, to execute the methodology and implement this capability, we need a Governance Plan. The Plan basically outlines how, when and with what resources the methodology will be invoked. Straightforward project planning, and it’s obviously important the project plan align with the overall organization investment planning. It’s also equally important that a portion of the Plan is aligned with implementation or management of a “Governed Element”; for example, rolling out governance with implementation of a new web channel, or aligned with release of a set of new content.

This essentially enables “prototyping” of the governance model with real feedback; there’s really not a good way to test a governance capability like this without engagement of actual stakeholders in an uncontrolled setting.

The beginning of the Plan will focus on Governance Requirements – these are functional and non-functional (i.e. performance, availability, security) requirements for the building and operation of the governance model – obviously traceable back to the Business Case. Requirements should also include some Use Cases and perhaps a Test Approach – i.e., examples of how this governance model will actually work, in real-life settings. As well, requirements should provide some focus on the specific kinds of “governed elements” addressed – like blog comments, uploaded documents, 3rd-party forums, content distribution processes, community groups. This exercise will help shape and detail the Plan for implementation, and inform other stakeholders (like the IT Community, the HR Department, Legal, etc.) – that that their help and input can be appropriately harnessed.

Governance Requirements will shape and help create new Governance Authorities. While the Requirements drive implementation of the Governance Model, the Authorities express the limits, rules, guidance that people need to operate effectively within it. Many existing authorities probably are relevant (like corporate legal, communications, security or systems lifecycle policies), but many will likely need to be updated or created as a result of this initiative. Types of authorities include:

  • Mission Statement
  • Copyright Laws
  • Laws regarding Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Section 508 Accessibility Guidelines
  • Community Principles
  • Policies
  • Mandates
  • Standard Operating Procedures
  • Terms of Service
  • Business Rules
  • Training Guides
  • Online FAQs/Help
  • Voting

Future postings will continue to explore this Interactive Digital Engagement Governance Methodology, focusing on Validating and Socializing the Governance Model, Implementing and Monitoring it, and ultimately Evolving it.

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