Using the disruptive web to your advantage

I’m excited to be off to Toronto today (vacation) to deliver a pair of workshops to students at Humber College. As you likely know by now I am very particular about my presentations. I spend countless hours agonizing over images, placement, word choice and the relationship between the different elements; here’s what I’ve come up with (apologies but I can’t seem to embed a Prezi here).

(Aside: Yes, I take vacation days to deliver pro bono workshops to students about the intersection of social media and the public sector.)

Given that this has eaten up most of my time this week, I wanted to (again) share some key messages from my presentation. In many ways this presentation is the natural extension of some of the ground I covered last week (see: Thoughts on the Disruptive Web), it runs the gamut from the philosophical and the practical and back and while my speaking notes are quite extensive (each workshop is an hour long) what follows is the hard and fast of it because, quite frankly, my flight is less than 8 hours away.

Use the Disruption to your Advantage

You need to get out ahead of the curve and build your brand. If you don’d define yourself, someone else will (or, perhaps, they already have).

Find your Niche

Draw a Venn diagram and pencil in 3 of your interests; this is your niche. This is your new wheelhouse. Google the three terms together. Start reading, make notes. Who are the big players? What are the big ideas? Where is the controversy?

Find the boundaries between these three things are explore them; be a Trickster. Mash things up that others tell you have no business being mashed up and see what shakes loose.

Start Writing

When you write, include hyperlinks to the things you’ve read recently that have informed your opinions. Whenever possible comment on the works of others and leave a link back to your own site. Avoid bullshit comments like “great post”. First of all those comments don’t add value to the conversation, second it doesn’t help you build a rapport with the author. Tease something out, build on something they wrote, or challenge (not troll) them.

Start Sharing

Have a plan on how to push your content to all the big services. Explore a service like If This Then That (see: What Organizations Can Learn from If This Then That) to automate your cross publication. Be predictable, check in regularly. Something that doesn’t do well on Facebook may play well with Twitter. And don’t underestimate other subscription options, especially email.

Start Connecting

Spend time being helpful to other people online, share things you think may be valuable to them (not just things you write) and ask them to reciprocate. Ask people to guest blog, offer to guest blog, find places to syndicate your content to that help you reach your niche audience.

Set up Google Alerts

To let you know when people are talking about you (your name) or linking to your site so you can engage them (or defend your position).

Find 1,000 True Fans

A true fan is someone who can’t wait to see your next work. They subscribe to it, read it, comment on it, push it to their social graph and help you amplify your reach.

In other words, they help you find other fans. 1,000 people might sound like a lot but it’s a completely achievable number. Govloop – a large US based online social network for government workers – already has over 60,000 members and if you are writing on issues in the public sector it is a perfect place to start. The community managers actively curate and promote content via their main page, RSS feeds and daily email newsletters. It’s in their interest to help you connect with your true fans.

Understand the Risks

If you choose to try your hand at influencing old systems with new technologies you will likely be challenged along the way. The culture inside large public institutions is often at odds with the culture outside of it.

There is evidence however that the culture is changing, that we are transitioning from the early adopters to early majority (see: Mapping Internal Policy to the Hype Cycle), but there is still a lot of distance to cover. The government of Canada has recently launched a Deputy Minister’s committee on Social Media and Policy, HRSDC ran a call for concepts related to social finance that has been called a crowdsourcing by many exercise, and yesterday’s budget announcement had a number of social media elements.

Walk the Line

In short there is still much work to be done and if you want to engage in it you need to be prepared to alienate some, be ignored by others while also exciting and engaging those whom are interested. Ultimately the choice is yours, but I can say with conviction that the public service – that all public services – are in desperate need of new blood, new thinking, and new energy.

Is that something you are up for?

Originally published by Nick Charney at


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