Thursday, November 20, 2008

How do you sell the idea of a social media strategy in government?

Nick over in the WA egovernment blog Web 2.0 showcase, posted an excellent article back in August entitled, Selling the idea of a social media strategy.

This focused on approaches for encouraging government departments to look at social media - at least as a research tool to understand what people were saying.

Nick referred to an article from Jeremiah Owyang, How to overcome social media scare tactics.

The basic approach Jeremiah recommended was to understand how the market was using social media, set a goal and, where possible, experiment internally where failure costs less.

This is a good approach, but the third step is not always appropriate or desirable.

For example, my agency has been participating in a public forum for some months as a pilot online engagement strategy. The approach taken followed the first two steps recommended by Jeremiah but not the third.

Firstly our communications group had already spent over a year following forums and blogs as part of our monitoring of public channels. This was part of the agency' broader ongoing work to understand the general mood and key issues of our customers.

Secondly the agency set a clear goal as to what it aimed to achieved through forum participation - and communicated this in the forum so that other participants could understand the basis on agency engagement.

However, due to the nature of the discussions taking place, and the technology available within the firewall, it was not practical for the agency to trial a similar approach internally. Plainly speaking, your staff do not always act in the same way as your customers, particularly on different technology platforms.

Moving back to Nick's article - selling the idea. I was actually surprised at the level of support to establish the pilot.

The research previously conducted via reading blogs and forums had helped build the agency's understanding of these channels and reduced concerns around entering unknown waters. Through this it had also become clear that the online discussions were robust and that sometimes complex questions or issues were raised that the agency may have found difficult to fully address via the intermediary of traditional media.

Therefore the agency's decision to conduct a pilot was based on a number of factors, such as a genuine need to broaden our understanding and commitment to a medium growing in influence (amongst others).

As a particular bonus, what the agency learns via the experience will help if there are future needs for crisis management via the online channel.

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