When my son turned three, we got him a bike with training wheels. He did quite well, but when it came time to take off those training wheels,
he violently refused. Even a three year old knew that going from four
wheels down to two would increase his chances of falling from zero to
That’s because training wheels aren’t actually training wheels. They’re impeding wheels. They rob you of the chance to
learn balance, which is the most important lesson in riding a bike. It
doesn’t matter how good you can pedal or steer, you have little chance
of success if you can’t balance.
So, my genius wife had the idea of getting a small bike with no pedals. You push off and glide along, then plant your feet when it gets
too wobbly. Since it was real low to the ground, my three year old had
no fear trying it out, and by the third day, was very proficient at
gliding. He learned how to balance.
Shortly after, we got him on a real bike without training wheels, and he took off like he’s been riding all along.
Why do I tell this story? Because I think government can greatly benefit from a “small glider bike” when first taking on social media.
Too many agencies are reluctant to try not just because they’re afraid
of falling, but because some mistakes lead to severe consequences.
So why not deploy a “transition” tool so the agency can learn how to “balance” before going public? Experiment privately within your agency;
don’t open it up until you figure out how to ride proficiently.
Both Twitter and Facebook have settings to create private accounts/groups. Invite your agency (try getting as many people as you
can, especially your skeptics) to participate and learn how to leverage
these tools to add value to your customers. There are so many facets
that take time to balance, such as
- frequency of posts,
- tone of content,
- when to respond to inquiries,
- when to delete a comment,
- how much time to spend monitoring,
- what types of information add value,
- when to use multimedia,
- how to minimize unintended consequences
- how to write in 140 characters (short messages apply to Facebook as well)
- when to promote other resources
- how to train your personnel
And on and on. Yes it’s okay to stumble sometimes, and chances are you will make mistakes. But you can cheat the learning curve by
stumbling privately and finding that balance before you go public.