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Social Media for Gov’t conference: vibe in the room last year vs. this year

Chatting with fellow ALI conference attendees Andy Krzmarzick, Ari Herzog, Maxine Teller and John Stauffer after today’s sessions, I made an observation about this same event one year ago vs. today, plus a hypothesis about why this difference might be.

Observation: last year’s conference had an excited – almost giddy – optimistic energy about social media in government, with lots of feisty audience questions, interaction and buzz. Today’s session (and another social media for gov’t-wide workshop I attended last month) was far more subdued (despite some terrific and inspiring presentations), with fewer questions and lots of “we can’t even access social media tools at work – we’re blocked” comments.

Hypothesis: the pig is moving through the python. Let me explain…last year, my guess is that we saw mostly early adopters, pioneers, web 2.0 insurgents and evangelists presenting and attracted to this kind of event. This year, my guess is that we’re starting to see more mainstream folks, who are either curious and/or anxious about how to comply with the President’s Transparency Memo. Another guess is that the reality of what many would-be early adopters are up against (policy, naysayers, security obstacles, inertia, isolation) has had a year to play out and become more tangible.

If you’re attending this conference, what’s your take? – particularly if you attended last April…do you sense a shift? I could be completely off, so I’d love to hear what others think. And I don’t necessarily think my hypothesis – if it’s true – is a bad thing. When we move up the learning curve from unconsciously incompetent (e.g., clueless) to consciously incompetent (e.g., anxious), it’s a sign of growth. The key will be to keep climbing to consciously competent (e.g., effective) and beyond.

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Scott Horvath

That’s an interesting observation and I certainly see how this year’s conferences would feel much different. I’m going to keep this in mind because I’m giving a presentation on podcasting down at NAGC (National Association of Government Communicators) in Orlando, FL in April. It’ll be interesting to see if the government communications folks in the audience are just as subdued.

But as soon as Government agencies get unblocked from various services, hopefully from a top-down directive to unblock, then we’re going to see the same excited buzz again. Shortly following will be a tsunami of government participation. I just hope that we [Government] don’t flood the tubes with a bunch of sites we don’t really need…much like what happened in the 90s. Actually that still happens today. Maybe we can learn from our past mistakes once we do have the green light to access any of these services.

Bill Greeves

Hey Katy – I was only there for one day (damn you, you evil non-2.0 responsibilities!) but I definitely saw some of what you observed. But in others I didn’t necessarily see a giddy excitedness but rather still some fear of the unknown. However, I was heartened by the fact that many of the people there (particularly at my table) were genuinely interested in trying to understand – they took notes, asked questions etc. Honestly, I think part of the problem is the sheer amount of stuff being hurled about these days as “2.0”. Everything new, everything collaborative, everything different in some ways has been label as 2.0. Right or wrong, the point is it is beginning to permeate the work culture and it is impossible to ignore. So perhaps rather than ignore, people are using some of those thing that are no doubt hurdles instead as actual barriers – almost making these hurdles (as you mentioned – policy, naysayers, security, etc.) larger than they are or need to be in an effort to stem the tide or provide some breathing room. But the presenters at the conference showed that these barriers can and are being overcome every day at every level of government. One of my new mantras is going to be “look people…if the DoD can can make this relevant and make this happen, so can you!” As is evidenced by the membership and participation in things like Govloop, MuniGov, etc., there are a large amount of people who are “getting” this stuff and can help explain it and get it institutionalized in the cultures of our organizations. Progress on something this massive is going to be seen in two ways I think. There will be the bottlerockets who whiz out in front and show us what can be done and then there will be the massive blob of everybody else who slowly but surely oozes forward. Either way – progress is made. Granted it may be slow progress in some sectors, but massive change typically doesn’t happen overnight. I gotta believe that folks like all of us here who are active in it will continue to educate/co-erce and proselytize anyone willing to listen and eventually we’ll get everybody moving in the right direction!