Tag Archive | "conversation"

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What Does Innovative Social Engagement Look Like?


As many of you know, I’ve been thinking about the topic of Government 2.0 a lot lately. Part of this topic deals with the multi-directional engagement between government and citizens. This is what the White House and others have termed a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government.

Unfortunately, the engagement for the most part is not very authentic nor meaningful. Boring “fan pages” on Facebook are one example I’ve written about, but there are many others. Often, engagement, when it does happen has so many rules associated with it, or such a high barrier to entry, or such a limited window as to be practically meaningless.

It seems to me that everyone can celebrate the fact that government entities merely have a YouTube channel here, a Twitter account there, or a Blogger profile some other place (the so-called “TGIF revolution“), or we can think a little harder about what the goals of citizen engagement really might be.

On the evening of Nov 2nd, I tweeted from my phone about a local restaurant, Co Co Sala, just as I was leaving. We had a nice experience, but the hostess had been a little, shall we say, disinterested in helping us? So I commented as much.

Less than a week later, the co-owner of Co Co Sala sent me an email and cc’d his general manager. He apologized for the treatment I experienced, assured me it was not policy, introduced me to the manager, and said he’d talk to his staff. It was a four-paragraph email. I’ve never met him before, and furthermore, my personal email is discoverable but not the most easy thing to find.

This is what real social innovation looks like. This is what customer service looks like. This is what true engagement with stakeholders looks like. I want to give this great lounge Co Co Sala a hearty shout-out for not only having a great product, but also really caring about their customers.

Now, imagine we weren’t talking about a restaurant here. Imagine we are talking about the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Patent and Trademark Office, or your Congressman. If you tweeted, would they see it? Would they care? Would they react in any way? I think the answer in many cases is no.

Let’s look at a sliver of data. According to TweetStats.com, the people behind the White House Twitter account reply to individuals less than 2% of the time, and seem to have never @ replied to any single more than once (i.e., they have never come close to a conversation). They re-tweet others’ tweets about 6.5% of the time, but they only seem to re-tweet other government accounts and the New York Times. Granted, there are more people tweeting about White House issues than Co Co Sala, but does the above data represent any caring in any way, shape or form?

The terrific TechPresident blog recently noted that actor Vin Diesel is the single most followed living person on Facebook – and that he recently passed up President Obama. Perhaps that’s because Vin Diesel’s Facebook fan page is awesome. He is engaged, his fans are engaged, and the tone is informal and fun. When did “serious and formal” become a substitute for “informative and meaningful” in government circles? Why is everyone scared of letting their guard down in public?

Posted via email from Mark’s Cheeky Posterous

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You Don’t Have To Follow Everyone You Like In Real Life On Twitter


I want to let you all in on a little secret: You don’t have to follow everyone you like in real life on Twitter, just because they have an account there!

Simple, right? Well, not really. A lot of people seem to have a disease whose symptom manifests itself in the form of a question, “Why don’t you follow me on Twitter?”

Guess what. I can choose follow people I don’t like in real life on Twitter. And I can choose to not follow people I enjoy speaking to in real life. Maybe you tweet so infrequently I forget you’re there. Maybe you’re boring. Maybe you don’t engage. Maybe I don’t even have to explain myself.

It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. You might just suck at Twitter. Let me give you one example. I unfollowed @MorningMika (http://twitter.com/morningmika) today. She co-hosts a terrific morning show on MSNBC, “Morning Joe” – I watch it all the time. But her tweets are boring. And she doesn’t engage her 13,000+ followers, almost ever.

So, follow people who add value to you. And link up with other people on Facebook, LinkedIn, the comments section of their blogs, whatever and whenever adds the most value for the least cost.

If using Twitter were the same as real life, it wouldn’t be very unique, interesting or useful, would it?

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Georgetown Professor Mike Nelson on Government Collective Intelligence at the ELC09 Conference


At the ACT/IAC Executive Leadership Conference (ELC) in Williamsburg, VA today, I got to hear from Mike Nelson, who’s a Visiting Professor of Internet Studies at Georgetown University. He spoke on a panel within the ELC “Innovation” track, and made what I thought was a great case for government innovating with social networking tools. [You may recall that I've previously written about how social networking is the underlying key to collaboration.]  The following is paraphrasing of Prof. Nelson’s thoughts.

We are drowning in a sea of information. In the future we will be encountering 50X as much information as we have now, and we’re already maxed out. How do we find the right piece of information, quickly, in any given future situation? The solution is, in essence, taking advantage of collective intelligence and using social tools to help share the best information with the people that need it. Working together helps to form a “group brain” that is a different paradigm than how we normally think about individualism and workflow. [My side note: How do we individually incentivize group thought?]

What’s the killer app for collective intelligence? This will change in the future, but right now it’s basically Facebook and Twitter, which can act as a powerful aggregation and filtering mechanism for finding the right information at the right time. Self-organizing systems of collective intelligence, as evidenced by organizations like IBM, are one part of solving the “collective intelligence problem.”

This quick post oversimplifies but hits the main points. It should also put Mike Nelson on your radar if he’s not already. Find out more about him here.

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Talking With a Real-Life Branded Avatar


Almost a year ago, I wrote a popular post for Mashable.com called Do Brands Belong on Twitter?, which turned out to be a controversial topic. The main thrust of my argument against brands with no names or photos attached tweeting was that it was very impersonal – brands have coupons, not conversations.

Well, I have more evidence for my argument, because last night I had the pleasure of meeting a branded avatar – in the form of a restaurant waiter. I was having dinner in the downstairs wine bar of the new J&G Steakhouse in the W Hotel in Washington, DC. My friend and I had a pleasant-enough waiter, but I knew there was something a little off with him. Sure enough, when discussing side orders to share, I asked if the potatoes au gratin were something really special, that we should try.  He replied, “Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] puts his heart into every dish at J&G Steakhouse.”

What? I just want to know about some potatoes! That was the funniest line, but the waiter’s demeanor was like that all evening. I commented to my friend that the experience was like ordering food from a PR firm!

Contrast that with Cyril Renaud, whose New York bistro Bar Breton I visited once, to get a hamburger (an amazing one, by the way) – he saw that I tweeted about the place and wrote me, and we’ve kept in touch a bit. He’s very authentic, and kept me thinking about the place long after I’d gone to it.Nobody likes talking with a nameless, faceless brand – on Twitter or in real life.

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Public Diplomacy 2.0


Tero Ojanperä wants to rule the world. Well, perhaps the September cover of geeky Fast Company magazine goes a little too far with that pronouncement. But despite all the media buzz about Apple’s iPhone and the fact that nearly everyone in Washington has a Blackberry attached to their thumbs, those two devices combined account for only three percent of the global phone market. Nokia, on the other hand – the company that Tero Ojanperä  is the Executive Vice President of Entertainment and Communities for – owns nearly 40%. If he who controls the medium controls the message, Nokia might very well control the future of mobile text, video, music, and other things you want to have on-the-go. And this in turn may affect international diplomacy.

But such global ambitions do not happen without good public relations and influencer outreach. Fast Company describes Ojanperä as a Warhol-meets-Bond-villain businessman wooing music industry executives at a fashionable Tribeca hotel. But this kind of public-outreach-meets-global-domination is certainly not unique to corporations. In fact, governments and empires havehad the lead on that score for centuries as they fight for and strive to maintain influence in the world, and Finland is no exception. Thanks to a new “sister city” marriage of Washington and Helsinki, a program called Invitation to Helsinki brought some District influencers to meet counterparts and exchange knowledge. With backing from Finland’s U.S. Ambassador, this brainchild of the Finnish Embassy’s cultural counselor Pekka Hako blossomed into a collection of relationships that may last far beyond the week-long trip that people like Government 2.0 Club co-founder Peter Corbett, Georgetown student body president Patrick Dowd, and political communications expert Blake Zeff took.

Read more about Diplomacy 2.0 in my full-length article at Washington Life magazine.

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Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: Crooked Monkey Style


T-shirtI hadn’t heard of the popular t-shirt company Crooked Monkey until I was invited to an exclusive party they recently held. You see, even though they get great press from actors wearing their shirts in movies and magazines talking about their fashion styles, Crooked Monkey is based in Washington, DC not widely known as the fashion capital of the country. And they wanted to do some local brand building.

This wasn’t just any party. Sure, there were attractive guests in a cool setting with great drinks and music all the usual stuff. It was what they did differently that made it the most memorable event Ive been to in a long time.

Lets start with how I even found out about the event a secretive email from someone I didn’t know telling me that my friend recommended me as a guest for the event. This is somewhere in between Facebook and Eyes Wide Shut.  Then, a request for my home address, to which was mailed a package containing an envelope with a paper invitation, and also a sparsely decorated white t-shirt, which I was required to save for the party two months later and bring with me to gain admittance. Finally, a bag of tart banana candies finished the package.

Further inspection revealed that the event was on a Sunday night (no night is safe from parties!) at a secret location to be given to us later. Keep in mind that I dont know the person behind the party, nor the other guests, and now also not the location. Still later I discovered by email invitation that the event would be in a warehouse in a not-so-savory part of Washington, DC and that we MUST bring our white t-shirts because wed be doing something with them on the night of the event.

When the day of the event came, I really couldn’t stand not knowing anything! I texted the contacts I had for the event to ask questions, but they revealed little. I emailed some socialite friends to try to figure out who else would be there we knew it would be all tastemakers of different sorts, but no one really knew who was going, which was exciting. I used Google Maps to investigate the location of the warehouse. I stressed about what one wears to such events (I think I chose well!).

Even the party itself was very engaging. An artist created a mural from our white t-shirts that we used for entry right in front of our eyes. An old-fashioned photo booth let us take pictures with each other, and the photo strips had (what else?) a Crooked Monkey logo on them.  Even the name of the event Photoshoot at the Warehouse gave the party an active quality.

Do you detect a pattern here? Crooked Monkey kept busy, elite attendees who get invited to tons of events mentally engaged with their event for weeks. They made us part of telling their story. They got us to talk about their brand before, during, and after the event.  And in the end, the event delivered with a cool venue, outstanding bar, fun atmosphere, and lots of fashion.

Photoshoot at the Warehouse is a great example of putting the public back in public relations and brand engagement. How great? Im writing an entire post about them – and I dont even like wearing t-shirts!

This post originally appeared on Brian Solis’ PR 2.0 site.

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Government Ambassadors For Citizen Engagement


To the average person, government is represented by an anonymous person on the other end of the phone, a pile of mandatory paperwork, and perhaps at best a friendly neighborhood postal carrier. If you ask the average American not living inside the Beltway to name a single individual who works in the federal government, how would they reply? My guess is that the broad majority of them couldn’t give you the first and last name of a federal government employee; In reality they would find it much easier to name their local pharmacist, garage owner, or supermarket manager. And from the perspective of the government, this is a shame. How might emerging social technologies help to bridge that gap, in combination with a modification in thinking about government public relations?

The ideal end state when a citizen is asked to name a government employee would be that a person working in a micro-niche of interest to them – finance, farming, foot-and-mouth disease – immediately comes to mind. Unfortunately though, interesting and talented people working at Treasury, USDA, NIH and other places are not well-known to the public, despite the great effects their work has on everyday life in America. Why is this? Partly, it is a vestige from the days when communications were controlled by professionally trained public relations staff and mainstream journalism teams. This was understandable – equipment was expensive, channels were few, and citizens trusted authenticated, official sources for their information. But this media structure that worked well for 40 years is now outdated.

In the Web 2.0 world, every individual is empowered to be not only a consumer of information, but a producer of it. Writing is searchable, discoverable, sharable, usable, and yes, even alterable. The proverbial “pajama mafia” of bloggers has morphed into a powerful society class of listeners, questioners, writers, editors, publishers, and distributors. And in some outlying examples from the federal government, such as the TSA’s blog, we see this same power being harnessed by individual employees (with their agency’s approval, naturally) – Individuals from the TSA not only blog, but interact with citizens who comment on the articles. But this form of government-citizen interaction is, honestly, a primitive version of how social technologies can empower citizen engagement with government.

The modern citizen is not a vessel waiting to receive press releases and government website updates. Even a sophisticated government website like the White House’s new blog can only expect to attract a subset of citizens a subset of the time. Why? Simply, there are simply too many avenues of information flowing towards these people formerly known as a captive audience. No matter how compelling your government information, they are not waiting to hear from you about it. Nor are they necessarily waiting to hear from the New York Times, MSNBC, or any other mainstream organization.

Read more about how governments can harness the power of social media to reach the modern citizen at O’Reilly Radar.

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Cheezburger Network as a Model for Citizen Engagement?


I was fortunate enough to attend a talk series at Google DC earlier today featuring Ben Huh, the CEO of Cheezburger Networks. These are the folks responsible for fun, engaging, user-generated content sites like FAILblog, LOLcatz, GraphJam, ThereIFixedIt, and ThisIsPhotoBomb.com – good stuff. They get over 11 million viewers a month, and have more people vote on an average LOLcat than people that vote in a typical Congressional election.

The government and other large organizations, who typically are not great at engaging their citizens and customers, might want to take this stuff more seriously. Their motto, to “make people happy for five minutes a day” isn’t a bad one. Wouldn’t you like to work for an agency that had that motto?

Someone actually asked Ben a question about the topic of Government 2.0, being in DC as we were. What is the role of concepts like these websites contain in a participatory government? Paraphrasing greatly, to build big, fun communities that can accomplish something, the government must make it very simple to get involved. They have to “narrow the number of variables involved in the decision process,” Ben said. Then, people who want to get more involved can take a second and a third step in a process if they want. I think the key takeaway for getting busy people involved in something within five minutes is: “low barrier to entry.”  Does your government website meet that standard?

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Conversations Are Intelligence, Not Invitation


Fox’s recent experiment of overlaying live tweets on an episode of Fringe was an epic failure unwelcome to Twitter enthusiasts and traditional viewers alike.  It’s hard to imagine anyone who understands social technology thinking that this was a good idea. It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone working in entertainment thinking that this would add to, and not detract from, a fictional television drama. Conversations that happen via social media are not necessarily an invitation for businesses to join them. They are, however, business intelligence that can be collected, analyzed, and adapted to. In one of the best simple articles I’ve read on this topic, media and entertainment entrepreneur Patricia Handschiegel writes that,

If TV wants to have a presence online or integrate its offerings online, it needs to think like a user. Not BE a user, not be “part of the conversation,” but understand what is valuable to the user and deliver it. You all should be on Twitter telling us when your shows are going to air and what we can expect, showing trailers, driving us to YOUR website for contests, special footage, etc…Your job is to entertain and inform your audience. Nobody cares what people think of your shows but you, and nobody cares what people have to say about your shows but you… Just because you can “hear” the direct conversations about your brand via the web today doesn’t mean you have to go bananas with it. Listen, use it for insight, adapt your offerings around it, etc. Brands of all kinds are taking all of this way, way too seriously. Your message has always been reshaped and shared among people — the only difference now is that you can see and hear it. This is not something to be afraid of. This is something to use to your advantage.

This is related to what I’ve previously written about on O’Reilly Radar how for businesses and brands (including personal brands) Twitter should mainly be viewed not as a conversation to be involved in, but as a mechanism for providing great content to people. This can be derided by critics as “broadcasting” but there is a happy medium between being in a multiplex chatroom “engaging” with people and merely broadcasting. Listening, understanding, and some interacting is important – but it is not an end goal in itself. This is also related to what I’ve recently written about on PR 2.0, something I call proactive social media (or offensive social media) – filling the information space with great content that people will find if they’re looking for information about your area of expertise or your business sector. This is the strategy that I am beginning to talk about with individuals, government employees, and large and small companies that ask for my advice about how they should best be using social media to interact with the public.

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Proactive Social Media: Filling the Information Space With Great Content


I recently gave a talk titled Free the People! at the Potomac Forum’s Government 2.0 Leadership, Collaboration, and Public Engagement Symposium in Washington, DC that generated enough interest for me to post my slide deck and write a summary for a wider audience. These thoughts constitute some of my early ideas about “offensive social media” for organizations (this talk was particularly geared towards a government audience, but the fundamentals apply to the private and public sectors more broadly).

Read the rest of this article at the PR 2.0 blog!

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