Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Are you allowing others to steal your agency's oxygen online?

A favored term amongst political operatives and advisors is 'oxygen,, the share of the public discussion a politician, government or issue manages to obtain.

Sometimes the goal is to have the largest possible share, starving other commentators and viewpoints. Other times the goal is to to minimise the share of oxygen a viewpoint or issue gets, shutting down or sidelining it.

There's two things you need to capture oxygen, or deny it to others - good 'lungs', access to the channels needed to 'breathe' it in or out, and a willingness to use your air wisely - to speak out where necessary, contributing to public discourse actively.

These characteristics function as effectively online as they do in offline media - admittedly in a messier and less constrained way. While the internet does provide infinite amounts of airtime for those who wish to present a viewpoint, whether, how soon and effectively an organisation presents its own viewpoint can have a great deal of influence in shaping the subsequent tone of the conversation.

This is well understood by lobby groups, companies and not-for-profits - who actively establish and build their online 'lungs' and are prepared to speak and help their constituents speak up on issues of importance to their agendas.

Politicians too have been reasonably active at establishing their own lungs and voice online - now essential tools for any political career.

However many government agencies still appear unwilling to take the first step, to claim their own lungs online, establishing channels and accounts that they can use to monitor and, where necessary and relevant, engage the communities that they seek to influence - or that influence them.

Agencies who are unwilling to claim their oxygen online will increasingly find themselves suffocated by other organisations and individuals who do. Where agencies can't influence debates, present the case on behalf of governments or end up at the receiving end of perceptions distributed and amplified online, they stop being effective agents of government and managers of change.

If your agency is still resisting building its online lungs and voice, remind your senior managers that their role is to support the government implement its policies on the behalf of the public, not to stand on the sidelines and be acted upon - suffocated - through lack of access to oxygen.

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