I think one of the most compelling arguments to engage in the social media world for government public relations folks simply lies in being part of the conversation that is occurring already. This has always been obvious to me but it really came to mind while I attended the Department of Defense All Services Social Media Conference at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars last week in DC.
At lunch one day I had a fascinating conversation with an exasperated government communicator working for one of the most controversial agencies in DoD. She can not convince her boss to embrace social media and especially the launch of a Facebook fan page primarily because he thinks people will be saying bad things about them.
I was reminded of my kids when they were toddlers and didn't want to hear me telling them to go to bed so they would plug their ears and close their eyes. It was as if by not hearing me yelling at them that somehow it wasn't happening.
Avoiding social media so you don't have to hear bad things about your organization is exactly the same.
My primary argument I thought she might use to convince her boss is that these conversations are happening anyway. Every day soldiers are sitting in HUMMV's or wives are attending Family Readiness Group meetings complaining now, they just don't have a place to share that conversation with the people who could possibly fix it.
In her case, by establishing a Facebook fan page they would be able to reach two of their primary client groups: stay-at-home mom's and younger single men who are represented in huge numbers on that site. By hosting an open candid conversation they could build a community and answer client concerns in a very public way.
You see, if you monitor your Facebook page for complaints you can then go in and reply to the concerned poster right on the site. By actively engaging your biggest critics and solving their issues not only do you have that one satisfied customer but you have reached potentially hundreds or thousands more with similar concerns for a tenth of the cost of a massive call center.
One of the great powers of social media in the Government 2.0 environment is creating value added customer interactions that a one-on-one engagement via phone or other means simply doesn't provide. Each positive outcome has an exponential potential to answer the needs of hundreds more than just the one person who started the conversation.
Government communicators, and businesses as well, have very simple tools right at their fingertips to reach countless more customers, clients and constituents now than we did just a few years ago. Adding social media outlets and listening posts to the menu of outreach tools like call centers, base websites and remote offices just makes sense when the potential exists to reduce the workload at those other outlets with substantially less costs.
By hiding from the things you know are already being said about you all you are doing is prolonging the frustration for both you and your customers. Just like my kids when they ignored my summons to bed time. They still went to bed, but we all ended up unhappy with the measures that had to be taken to make it happen.