All well-known systems engineering methodologies and enterprise system development programs leverage testing environments. Testing environments can be built and operated for very different purposes, ranging from prototyping and simulation, to pre-production load testing and usability or “Section 508 Accessibility” checks. Specialized SOA testing frameworks are sometimes required, for difficult infrastructure integration challenges. Most major systems that get deployed to large numbers of users also feature a training environment. This working copy of the “real” or “production” environment affords the user and company a lot of protection against mistakes, mis-operation of system functions, and basically allows you to test-drive a system, but reset and try again if something doesn’t work right or mistakes are made. Play around, learn and mess up – no harm, no foul, and the system assets, data and reputation of you, the system owner and others are all protected.
That’s one very difficult challenge to learning social media, for commercial or government employees. It’s nearly impossible to learn how to use social media tools and techniques in an environment that forgives all missteps, can be wholly reset and leaves no incriminating traces of your mistakes or potentially embarrassing, compromising communication skills after you’re done. The best way to learn how to post to Flickr, to learn the nuances of Twitter and engage in the myriad of online dialogue environments is to actually do it “in production”, as they say, which comes along with a lot of actual or perceived personal and organizational risk. That’s the reason most social media programs and users representing significant companies or governments are usually associated with the “Public Relations” or “Internet Marketing and Social Media” department – these folks are trained and expected to know how to engage in public dialogue, within the bounds of legal, regulatory and policy controls (when available).
Much is being written and discussed online currently regarding the state of Government 2.0, and how we’re quickly reaching an impasse where the ability to become a social media practitioner is simply neither supported nor available to employees working behind government firewalls and Internet usage policies. Social media simply isn’t very social or usable at all, to those for whom it would most benefit. As well, the public forum is missing out on a lot of really good insight and dialogue, because so many employers and employees simply can’t afford the risk, or don’t have the capability to learn, understand and test the risks, that come with posting material online.
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