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Why Social Media Matters to the Next Generation of Government Leaders

Originally published as part of the FEDManager’s “Ask Young Government Leaders” series.

@govloop: “The arbiters of cool are about to hit the stage.” #ogi

In less than 140 characters, @GovLoop – also known as Steve Ressler, co-founder of Young Government Leaders (YGL) and creator of the “Facebook for Government” – used Twitter to announce the impending arrival of the next generation of government leaders.

On July 22, 2009, Ressler and six of his techno-savvy, twenty- and thirty-somethings took the stage before a packed luncheon crowd to stake their claim to a new state of affairs in the public sector. They were part of a panel entitled “Young Government Leaders and Social Media” at the Open Government and Innovations (OGI) Conference in Washington, DC. Fellow panelists included:

* Malena Brookshire, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
* Tanetta Isler, U.S. Postal Service
* Andrew Krzmarzick, Senior Project Coordinator, The Graduate School
* Dan Munz, National Academy of Public Administration
* Lovisa Williams, U.S. Department of State

The first question for the panel came from moderator John Ohab, an Emerging Media Strategist for the Department of Defense, who asked “Why do government agencies need social media tools in regards to younger employees?” The “tweets” below capture the essence of participant responses:

@salemonz: Williams: it’s how younger people work. It’s foreign to them to not have SocMed access. It’s what they used in college.

@debbieweil: “What do you mean I can’t use Facebook at work?” say new young fed employees

@rdamashek: YGL: Steve – social media as virtual coffee break for many, control water cooler interaction, Andy – focus and go to stream, mission use

@debbieweil: Lunch panel: “Why Twitter is Better Than Water” by panelist @Krazykriz http://bit.ly/6wf6e

@rdamashek: YGL: Malena – this is the way we live, we do work, network, increase productivity

By the way, if you are not familiar with Twitter, it’s a micro-blogging or social networking site that allows users to share thoughts and links in fewer than 140 characters. The conference featured two giant screens to display the comments – or “tweets” – from attendees who used what’s called a hashtag – in this case, “#ogi” – in order to quickly view one another’s reactions to the event.

Another question that Ohab posed to the attendees was, “Where is the line between personal and professional activities?” Again, let’s turn to the Twitter stream to learn their answers:

@rdamashek: YGL: how achieve balance between work and personal life, Tanetta – very careful of usage, maintain fine line

@debbieweil: Lunch panel key point: GenY / Millenials don’t think they’re wasting time on social media: they’re working and collaborating

@NoelDickover: GenY / Millenials don’t work 8 hour days – #socmed comingles work and personal actions – they engage in both all day long

@sporing: RT @GSPMgwu: Many people think of SoMe is an unproductive thing but for our generation it is what we use to be productive! – YGL

Ohab also asked “How can social media be used as a tool to recruit young prospective government employees?” and “How can we make government cool again?” Here’s what respondents said:

@rdamashek: YGL: how to recruit skilled folks? Dan – managing disconnect between public service and individual mission focus of specific jobs

@rdamashek: YGL: Andy – facebook.com/teach, teacher connectivity to support new media, YouTube.com Coast Guard channel, telling story

@kdpaine: how to make gov’t cool. 1 do a gov’t wide video conference, subject: why we serve. 2. clone teach 4 america. 3. center 4 innovation

@rdamashek: YGL: Andy – IRS site on second life, videos of day in the life

@csukach: Tanetta Isler, YSL: it’s important for govt to reward intelligent risk takers

@salemonz: Ressler: this gen is a very activist gen. Making gov’t “cool” again will help. USAJobs as it is won’t attract new people

When questions were opened to the crowd, Dr. Michael Nelson, a Professor of Communication, Culture and Technology at Georgetown University, asked the panelists “What classes or course work best prepared you for your present work in government?”

@salemonz: Munz: not any one class, but any course that made me think outside the box

@salemonz: Brookshire: not any one class, but experience of my grad students who started to share info

@govloop: @lovisatalk is art grad. im sociology like @mixtmedia

@rdamashek: YGL: Lovisa – how to prepare for jobs that don’t exist now, professors that teach how to think

@rdamashek: YGL: Andy – multi-disciplinary, who is the new learner? learn by teaching, allow students to be able to teach one another

@rdamashek: YGL: Tanetta – learning by doing, no classwork

@kpkfusion: Interesting that young leaders describe most important academic influences as experiences, not classes.

In the end, audience participants appeared to appreciate the insights shared by their younger colleagues, as demonstrated by a few final tweets after the panel session:

@debbieweil: Audience member stands up to say lunch panel of YoungGovernmentLeaders.org has been most rewarding session at (it was terrific IMHO)

@washingtronic: Great panel on young govs. Feeling proud to be a gen y fed. I hope there were some human resources ppl listening. Tear down the cubes!

@wmburke: I contend that what made the YGL lunch panel so great is the authenticity of the panelists- just being themselves, not trying to fit in

The next generation of government leaders may stake their claim to titles like the “arbiters of cool” and come across as a bit too casual, but those traits are simply the flip side of the authenticity described by @wmburke. And that authenticity enables them to establish trust quickly and work effectively in teams. Hopefully, their growing presence in government will encourage agencies to harness tools like social media to unleash their innovative spirit and usher in a new era of open, participatory public service.

If you would like to see all of the tweets from the event, please visit the conference website at http://www.opengovinnovations.com. They may also be found on GovLoop.com. The author, Andrew Krzmarzick, is a member of the YGL Executive Board. YGL is a professional organization of men and women employed by or for the government who are “young” in their service and/or “fresh” in their perspective. YGL’s mission is to educate, inspire, and transform the current and future leaders of government. They conduct “Road Shows” at government agencies to provide an overview of their organization and to share insight regarding the perspective and goals of the next generation of Federal leaders. You may learn more about Young Government Leaders (YGL) at http://www.younggovernmentleaders.org.

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As one of the older folks in government who can’t imagine working in a place without the social networks and technology; I find it frustrating when administrators automatically give the latest tech to the younger hires and relegate the older tech to us. They always say “wow, you blog and tweet or you know how to use interactive whiteboards”.
The list goes on….

Walter Neary

Well stated, FPrioleau. Undoubtedly some poor workplaces will face age discrimination claims as SM becomes much more common in workplaces. And of course that’s not the main reason to be inclusive. Everyone, regardless of age, brings *something* to the table in any setting. The 20- and 30-somethings that I admire embrace the contributions of all generations.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Folks – Here’s a companion post that makes the case for social media as the bridge across the generations – what I call “Generation C.” In your defense, I have a presentation that urges agencies to NOT see social media as only the realm of the younger employees. It’s important to retain a multi-generational workforce and social media will be one of the enabling tools.

Malena Brookshire MPA, CGFM, PMP

“Generation C” – I love it. I agree it is important that agencies do not drive a deeper wedge between employees of differeing generations. The message and goal should be centered around bridging the gaps and identifying common-ground. While it is definitely important to understand generation differences, agencies should not focus on them.

Pam Broviak

It is frustrating to hear so many assume that it is only the younger generation that uses and gets social media. So far my experience in our area of the country (midwest) has been that the primary users and/or supporters have been 40 to 60+ year olds. When I tried to talk to my 20 something daughter about using Twitter, her response was, “Oh mom, Twitter is for old people.”

In my journeys in virtual worlds, I primarily meet people 30 to 60 years old. (Although I have to admit this is unverified information since we are all young-looking digital avatars.) Actually I really enjoy virtual worlds because of the inability to form opinions of someone based on their perceived age, race, gender, wealth etc. When you interact there, you usually do so with all that aside which is really nice. And I love the idea that someone in their 20s can express their ideas and opinions in a group setting and be treated with the same respect and consideration given to someone in their 30s, 40s, or on.