These four rules help government agencies plan for social campaigns, because they force us to answer key questions about our audience, our message, the tools at our disposal, and the resources available to us–the four constant variables in every activity that includes a social layer.
The Goal of a more Participatory Government
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the IAP2 Spectrum, and how it can help social media professionals in government conceive of, develop, execute, and evaluate their activities in a more thoughtful way. I’ll have a series of blog posts coming out this summer on the topic that I hope will be of interest and that I plan to use as the basis for a book on the topic.
The goal of the spectrum–and of this series–is to help government agencies develop, implement, evaluate and iterate citizen engagement programs. The goal of a more participatory government has been an explicit priority in the current administration, but it has also been an implicit priority since our nation’s founding. The spirit to participate in government ranges from people joining hyper-local neighborhood associations to attending million-person marches, to visiting their elected representatives in their Washington, DC, offices.
As more of those offices, as well as the programs run by federal agencies, move online, the social tools that people use to share and explore their interests are enabling both deeper engagement as well as quicker ad hoc engagement. And while nearly everyone understands that adding social components enables both wider and deeper participation, without a solid understanding of how the tools work, managers will find themselves unable to develop a thoughtful strategy, implement it efficiently, evaluate it effectively, or iterate successfully.
The goal of my series is to identify which tools and tactics are best suited to each level of participation and then look at what managers and social media strategists need to know to perform all their tasks.
A Better Way to Think About Social: Layers, Media, and Platforms
Before delving into participation, however, it’s important to understand the very fundamentals of adding a social component to government agencies and operations. The three terms that will arise over and over are layers (as in adding a social layer), media (as in what media are people using to access the layer), and platform (as in what platforms will agencies need to develop layers for when the design a program)?
A layer is either a piece of software or the artifact from that software, for example: a Web site, application, tool, or visualization. Facebook is a layer, as is Twitter, Instapaper, Google Maps, IRS.gov, Adobe Reader, or iPhoto.
A medium is a device on which a layer rests. Paper is a medium for literature (or advertising), phones are a medium for photos, maps, and video conferencing (among others), computers, tablets, televisions, radios, telephone poles, community center bulletin boards—these are all media that support various layers.
As a clarifying side-note: I would use the word ‘platform’ to describe the intermediary between a medium and its layer: iOS is a platform that stands on some media to support various layers. Android, Windows, Linux, the Web, these are all platforms that can run on some media and not others to enable various layers.
The Four Rules of Layers and Media:
- Media enable and constrict layers.
- Some layers exist on many media, others exist on few (or even one)
- All layers are encoded and take time to learn both to read and to write.
- Media give rise to layers, which in turn give rise to new media.
These four rules help social media strategists plan for campaigns, because they force us to answer questions about our audience, our message, and the tools at our disposal, and the resources available to us–the four constant variables in every activity that includes a social layer.
Media enable and constrict layers.
The first rule helps us in two ways. First, it is a warning always to be mindful of the digital divide. If we’re planning a campaign and the target audience accesses the internet primarily through smartphones, we’ll want to focus on those layers that use the medium.
Further, we are asking for content few smartphone users are likely to create (long textual responses, as an example, or forms that require pop-up windows for explanation), we shouldn’t try to create a mobile app—we’d be better off either creating a browser-based tool or extension.
The important lesson here is to select the medium based on the audience and the layer in response to the medium.
Some layers exist on many media, others exist on few (or even one)
Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are all available as mobile apps, in addition to rendering very nicely on laptops and desk tops. SMS messages, however, are confined to phones, and while video can play on phones, interactive media are still largely confined to more robust media. The importance of this rule is to remind us that if we try to add layers to a campaign, sometimes that will require that we add media as well—and there are costs to that both for the agency and for the end-user.
All layers are encoded and take time to learn both to read and to write.
The saying is that social media are free like puppies, not free like beer.
The newcomer to Twitter may have trouble understanding a tweet like this one that showed up recently in my feed:
RT @hbl_g: Thanks @mkelly007 for @PreparingWilCo case study in new #Gov20 guidebook for #LocalGov here: http://t.co/b9U1X3F0 #eDem #smem
Even an experienced hand might need to look up relevant hashtags when writing about an unfamiliar topic.
The point is, social media professionals will always need to listen to their audience, and they will also need to give their audience help in understanding them when they write about new topics.
Media give rise to layers, which in turn give rise to new media.
The smartphones of five years ago had email and calendars, but not mobile apps or social media tools. As the social layers became more ubiquitous, phones learned how to support those layers. In the future, we may have new media running social layers (e.g. our power meters, our shoes, watches, cars, refrigerators) as the tools emerge that use the kinds of data or sensors in each of those media.
As social media professionals, we need to keep abreast of what various media’s capabilities and help form the layers that run on those media.