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Microsoft Public Sector: The Bright Side of Government?


My colleague Steve Lunceford from Deloitte called my attention to a new Facebook Fan Page that Microsoft Public Sector (government group) started, called “The Bright Side of Government.” From an initial glance, it looks pretty cool. First, there are a lot of nice features, including YouTube videos from Microsoft principals, and links to local and state governments using emerging technologies in new ways. There’s a theme to the page that’s greater than the Microsoft brand. And there are some links to other sites like Twitter and LinkedIn where people can connect deeper or converse with the people behind the site.

In the recent past, I’ve been somewhat critical of the Federal government’s Facebook Fan Pages; perhaps this “cause branding” tactic is something that Web and Public Affairs folks in the government should look at. For example, rather than have an EPA “Fan Page” (Who’s truly a fan of the Environmental Protection Agency? How many people wake up in the morning excited about new environmental regulations or inland waterway policy?), have a page devoted to news and information, and yes, fandom, over a larger movement: “Green for America, Green for Everyone” (or whatever).

Second, there is a call to action on the Fan Page. At the time I looked at the page, the status update stated: “Is your city/county/state/agency on Facebook? Share it with us so we can add it to the Bright Side Stars tab!” One of the biggest challeges I’ve faced as co-chair of the Government 2.0 Expo is finding local government success stories in the realm of social technology and new media; The bright Side of Government may become a resource people like me who are trying to plan well-balanced and thoughtful events in the Gov 2.0 space. People and groups that develop unique resources and generously give them to the community develop strong brand engagement with their communities.This isn’t a fair post, because I’m not looking at other companies. Who else in Microsoft’s sector (Intel, Apple, Cisco, Google…) has something similar, or worse? What about brands more generally, how does this effort by Microsoft Public Sector stack up?

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Does Government Create Incredible Experiences Or Avoid Bad Outcomes?


This morning, marketing blogger Seth Godin asked the question, “How much of time, staffing and money does your organization spend on creating incredible experiences (vs. avoiding bad outcomes)?” This really hit home to me as someone who spends time thinking about how marketing broadly defined fits into government missions.

Under the framework of what we call Government 2.0, I’ve written a bit lately about how government can use social networking and new marketing to tell citizens and other stakeholders about the great things they’re doing. I think that proactively putting out compelling content is a great tactic, and how small, innovative, engaging events can create very memorable brand experiences. I’ve also been publicly critical of the lame Facebook Fan pages that Federal government agencies have, among other “lame” aspects of Gov 2.0 – From my vantage point, a lot of effort seems to go into avoiding bad outcomes, rather than creating incredible experiences.

There are good reasons for some of the “avoiding downsides” stuff, but where are the limits? No one ever seems to know how to answer that question for me. People tell me to praise them because, well, at least they have a Facebook Fan page – it’s new media! But at what date am I allowed to criticize you because you never took the slightest risk with it? To quote Godin:

“Here’s a rule that’s so inevitable that it’s almost a law: As an organization grows and succeeds, it sows the seeds of its own demise by getting boring. With more to lose and more people to lose it, meetings and policies become more about avoiding risk than providing joy.”

I avoid meetings like the plague (unless they’re at happy hour), but I know a lot of people who have to attend lots of them as part of their jobs in Washington, DC. So I ask, particularly to those who are interested in “change” and Gov 2.0 and participatory government and all these other related topics: How often is the topic of your meetings about creating an incredible citizen experience?

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Why Don’t Social Media Companies Have Good Blogs?


For all the talk of how every person is a brand that needs a blog, how
marketers need to be part of the conversation, and how even the White
House needs to be more authentic and transparent and participatory, it
strikes me that one major group of organizations is not really like
that at all – the social media companies.

Why aren’t companies like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, StumbleUpon,
MySpace, YouTube, and so forth blogging? Why don’t they have short
podcasts or vlogs that are must-watch and generate lots of word of
mouth? Isn’t that the “new marketing” I keep hearing about? I guess
Kevin Rose of Digg has Diggnation; I’ll give that credit as a
corporate-branded video blog. But where are the others? Seriously,
how much would people love a once-a-week post from Zuckerburg? Or
someone walking around Twitter with a Flip doing quick interviews?

No, I think the people that control the very tools that empower us to
be open and transparent communicators are themselves largely closed
and obscured from the public. What are the implications of that for
us? And who am I missing? Which social media companies have truly
informative, transparent, valuable blogs for their communities?

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GovLoop Hires Government 2.0 Evangelist for Community Management as it Hits 20,000 Members


Following the recent major news of its acquisition by Minnesota-based GovDelivery, Inc., the premier social network for the government community, GovLoop.com will annouce tomorrow that it has filled a key leadership position – that of community manager.  And it has hired a visionary, tireless advocate for the application of social networking tools in the government – Andrew Krzmarzick.

Andy (He’s casual! Tweet him at @krazykriz or email him at andrew@govloop.com) will be responsible for encouraging outreach, partnership, and engagement to help the GovLoop community grow and deliver greater value to its members.  The expansion of GovLoop’s team reinforces its momentum of this so-called “Facebook for Government” and puts it heads and tails above any competition – including most of the government’s own internal tools, which often don’t cross between levels of government or different agencies within the same government.

In the last four months, GovLoop has added 10,000 new members, bringing the total over 20,000 – that’s more people than the Department of Energy employs, or more people than can fit into Boston’s TD Garden (you know, where the Celtics play).  It’s possible they might have over 100,000 members by next year at that rate!

Andy related, “I’ve watched with admiration…as the [GovLoop] community has grown and the members have connected with one another to share information and ideas generously.  I see its potential as a place where people in and around government can turn in real time to get linked with the people and information they need to perform their jobs more effectively.”

The president of GovLoop, Steve Ressler, has known Andy for quite some time, and when you can work with people you mutually admire, that can be a very strong move.  Since I know and admire both of them, I think this is a great move by the world leader in government-to-citizen communications solutions GovDelivery, Inc. (and GovLoop) and I expect great things from this social network for govies moving into 2010.  I have been a member of GovLoop.com for a long time, and you should be one too!

See also coverage of this story at Dorobek Insider.

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Fallacious Celebrations of Facebook Fans


This post was originally published on BrianSolis.com on September 16, 2009.

Guest Post by Dr. Mark Drapeau – read his blog, follow him on Twitter


Source: Shutterstock Images

Publishing “top 10″ lists is unfortunately a staple of modern journalism.  But alas, writers must drive readers’ eyeballs, even when discussing serious topics like the government.  And so we find a new list that mixes Web 2.0 with the government: “Top 10 agencies with the most Facebook fans.”  For the record, this list is topped by the White House with 327,592 fans, followed by the Marine Corps, Army, CDC, State Department, NASA, NASA JPL, Library of Congress, Air Force, and Environmental Protection Agency.  Congratulations to all these hard-working agencies.

But what exactly are we celebrating here?  The fact that government agencies are embracing new technologies that the citizens they serve actually use?  That’s nice I suppose, but everyone from Papa John’s Pizza to America’s Next Top Model (200,000 more fans than the White House, cough) to someone I met once at a party during Internet Week has a Facebook “Fan Page” now, so surely we are not celebrating the mere presence of them.  In fact, when everyone in my social circle’s social circle asks me to become a fan of their long-standing charity, their favorite television program, or their single-person consulting firm, everything becomes a blur of meaningless, cheap invitations that become remarkably easy to decline.  There is no value in simply having a fan page anymore.  There may be street cred in not having one – time will tell.

Are we applauding the government’s fan numbers?  The article leads with, “The White House currently has more fans than the Washington Redskins.” The most powerful global seat of power in perhaps the most recognizable office building in the world has more fans than the local football team?  Earth-shattering.  Let’s consider how popular the White House is.  Facebook now has 300 million users; thus, approximately one out of every 1000 Facebook users is a “fan” of the White House.  The other 999/1000 are not.  And since many Facebook users live outside the U.S., one must assume that many White House fans do as well.  Should every U.S. citizen using Facebook be a fan of the White House?  Is that the goal?  Who knows.

Still, the White House shouldn’t feel too bad about those stats.  Rounding out the top 10, the EPA has convinced one of every 100,000 Facebook users to become their fans.  Bravo.  Let’s keep this in perspective.  Soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo has two fan pages that total four million fans.  Julia Allison, who isn’t even a real celebrity, has over 15,000 fans – if these numbers are in any way meaningful she’s roughly as popular as the State Department, the agency heading up U.S. foreign policy.  These numbers seem even worse when one considers that there are hundreds of U.S. Federal Government departments and agencies, many of which haven’t a presence on Facebook or anything similar.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh.  Let’s assume for a minute that these agencies are genuinely touching microniches and that the fans, whatever their numbers, are indeed fanatical about these agencies.  What are they doing with that raving fan base?  Not much.  Sites like the Army and CDC and State Department primarily re-post their own news from their own websites.  I didn’t see any original writing.  I didn’t even see aggregation of information about, say, foreign policy from other sources.  I certainly didn’t see any innovative contests from the Marine Corps, or crowdsourcing from NASA.  And while there are fan comments posted on the pages, it’s not obvious at all what is being done with that feedback, if anything.  Make fun of Tyra Banks all you want, but her show’s fan page has 286 discussion topics, hundreds of photos, headshots, names, and bios of people involved in the show, and listings of upcoming events.  They’re so organized at America’s Next Top Model that we might consider asking them to inform people about the resurgent H1N1 flu virus.  We might also consider hiring Bravo’s producers as government public affairs consultants.

If you think I’m joking about that, you probably have no business working with social media for the government.

The larger issue here is that the connection of any of these Facebook fan pages to agency goals and strategy is murky at best.  As someone who spends a bit of time thinking about “Government 2.0,” it’s difficult to decipher how this is helping the government.  True, the pages are somewhat informative, and to some degree they reach a citizen audience where they are.  But it’s not novel and it’s not social and it’s not engaging.   The execution is flawed, the tactics are questionable, the strategy is vague, and the goals are unclear.  And all the government pages in the top 10 list effectively look the same.  Monkey-see, monkey-do.

My personal Facebook page has about 2,000 connections, but this by itself is nothing to celebrate.  The meaningful question is not about who has more fans, but about who can authentically and transparently – and usefully – interact with citizens to provide value and become the pulse of conversations.  Here are some questions I have for governments and agencies running Facebook fan pages:  What are the names of the people running the pages?  What are their titles?  What city is their office in?  Where do they blog?  Which events are they attending this year?  (Can I meet them there?)  How are you going to get your fans engaged in your mission?  How can I tell you my stories about military service, or foreign travel, or amateur astronomy?  Would those stories be helpful to you?  How are you using social media like Facebook to get citizens involved in their government?

These are questions that departments and agencies, and private companies for that matter, should be asking themselves before they deploy official new media platforms like a Facebook fan page.  The answers to these questions and others should be visible on day one.  When the first White House memo of the new administration outlined the principles of a transparent, participatory, and collaborative government, this should have been obvious.   It appears not to be so.

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Would You Sign a One-Year Twitter Contract?


In a new post, tech blogger Robert Scoble posits that media darling Twitter is under-hyped and underappreciated as a business tool.  He suggests that Twitter is worth $5 billion based on the idea of selling business analytics and other professional services to clients, and has numerous, somewhat-hidden advantages over competition like Facebook.

It’s an interesting post to read.  But while it’s true that nightclubs, salons, bike stores and many other small and medium businesses are “using Twitter” that doesn’t mean they’re using it well, or it’s a priority, or generating revenue or word of mouth. And it doesn’t mean they’ll still be using it in 2010, or 2011.

Think about your subscriptions to cable television or mobile phone service, where you pay $50, or $80, or $130 per month and often commit to a three-month, one-year, etc. contract with Comcast or some other company.  Will a large number of businesses be willing to pay $100 or so a month for business analytic services from Twitter, Inc?  The real question for a business in my mind is, Would you commit to a one-year, $1200 contract with Twitter??

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Happy Birthday, Dear…Somebody


I use Facebook a lot for networking these days.  There’s over 100 million users, which means a lot of old friends, new friends, work contacts, local acquaintances, and more are on there posting information about what they’re doing and where.

It’s certainly impossible to keep track of what all your contacts are doing. Just on Facebook, I have about 2,000 “friends.” But there’s a bunch of people you don’t talk to very much that are still very important from time to time…if you’re on their radar.

One “trick” I use is to scan the list of who’s having a birthday every morning. If there are people having a birthday whose names I recognize, but haven’t talked to in a while, I definitely go to their Wall and post a “Happy Birthday” and maybe add a little extra. Seems small, but a little bit of meaningful interaction is better than zero. And who’s going to complain??

Everyone wants to see who wished them a happy birthday. Use it as a small gesture to keep the small pieces of your social graph loosely joined.

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The Efficiency of Celebrity Obituaries


Are celebrities dying at a higher velocity these days, or am I just discovering information about their deaths more efficiently?

I think the latter. This is information I didn’t know I needed to know, until I found out about it. With online software platforms like social bookmarking and microsharing increasing in popularity, you no longer have to spend lots of time finding information – the information finds you.

Obituaries are interesting, because  they are generally sudden, unanticipated news events. You could not possibly be looking to see if your average celebrity has passed away the minute before it happens. Today director John Hughes is being reported as deceased, and I was not thinking about this before this afternoon.

One could think of real-time celebrity obituaries as a metaphor for natural disasters or other sudden events of large impact – so-called Black Swans, in Taleb’s terminology. These are events that impact many people that cannot be anticipated or forecasted with much certainty, if any. The social web makes this information known to you in nearly real-time, however, which is about the best you can expect.

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Twitter Adds ‘Poking’ Feature to Spite Facebook


San Fransisco, CA – Twitter CEO Evan Williams announced today that Twitter will add a ‘poking’ feature to its popular micromessaging service, enabling people to communicate using even less effort than before.

Williams, or ev as he is AKA’d on Twitter, broke the news via a 140-character ‘tweet’ to his more than 500,000 followers around the world. He then gave the inaugural Twitter-poke to dating columnist and New York-based social climber Julia Allison, who immediately gushed on her lifecasting blog NonSociety, “That’s hot.”

“People have been complaining for some time now that 140 characters is just too long to convey some thoughts,” William said in a later interview with Sarah Lacy of BusinessWeek (AKA saracuda). “People’s tweet streams have long been clogged with brief quips like ‘Thanks!’ and ‘OMG ROFL’ – we decided to offer our users the opportunity to replace words of questionable value with a poke. We strongly believe that this new feature will grow to be loved.”

For social media mavens, poking has been a controversial feature of social network Facebook for quite some time. There, people can see friends’ profiles that often include contact information, photos, events, and other personal information. But people also had the ability to electronically ‘poke’ people they weren’t friends with, expanding their networks in unanticipated directions.

A source inside Facebook who spoke with us on condition of anonymity shared internal research showing that 14,478 relationships – of varying length and girth – and as many as 125 marriages have resulted from pokes.  Nevertheless, ‘poking overload’ has resulted in many extremely attractive people blocking people from poking them, continuing the co-evolutionary battle of the sexes.

A discussion about poking quickly took place on Twitter, although influencer Robert Scoble (AKA the scobleizer) chose to debate complete strangers on FriendFeed (which doesn’t allow poking, incidentally). In one highly retweeted tweet, lethally generous industry analyst Jememiah Owyang commented, “because poking is free, Twitter users are likely to abuse the new feature.” In response, Williams tweeted, “We’re all about loving our users and giving them a platform to love each other, not about making money. Oh, and I heart Zappos.”

In a 5,352-word article posted today on his website, NYU professor and new media guru Clay Shirky commented that, “The problem isn’t poking overload, it’s filter failure.”

Not unlike Blair and Serena scheming for optimal prom dates, Twitter and Facebook have been mindfucking for quite some time. Facebook, holding a beautiful bouquet of red roses, politely asked to buy Twitter, but gold-digger Evan totally dissed Mark. Mark, feeling hurt, then did what any fresh-faced, innocent young man would do in this situation – visit Oprah. And then my friend Jenny told me that she overheard Mark totally say to Oprah that he’s copying Twitter, so he doesn’t need it anymore.

In the drama of adding poking to his site, and indeed, visiting Oprah himself last week, Evan could now be turning the tables on Mark. But what if the new Twitter feature backfires with massive overpoking? And what if Mark and Evan have adjoining VIP tables at Mighty??

Celebrities have differing viewpoints on poking. Ashton Kutcher (AKA aplusk – get it?), a major adopter of Twitter and yet another Oprah BFF, had no immediate comment – but his fans did. “I’m going to poke the shit out of him,” shrieked a tweenager wearing a Gossip Girl t-shirt. “He’s so hot and I want to let him know it.”

Other celebrities such as Juliet Landau, perhaps most famous for playing Drusilla on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer from 1997-2003, are reportedly expecting a poke-driven positive surge of renewed interest.

Williams for his part says there are no immediate plans for poking safety features like blocking, either, because the poke was made available as a ‘beta’ product.

“Perpetual beta is common in the Web 2.0 world,” commented Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, one of the most popular sites for news on social networking technology. Personally, he enjoys poking a lot: “Poking helps me connect with a whole new group of people who have nothing whatsoever to say to me, but still want to get in touch. And developing and nurturing these kinds of relationships is the cornerstone of social platforms like Twitter.”

Williams hopes to monetize just these relationships. Cashmore: “Any small edge that a company like Twitter can get could make a difference in this competitive market. Poking is a feature of necessity for Twitter to create economies of scale for global gossip networks.”  A skeptical viewpoint was expressed by Pulitzer Prize-winning “long form” writer Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, however. “Why did they reinvent a poke with a poke? Just more evidence that all the really creative people on Earth live in Manhattan between Grand Street and 23rd.”

An employee of Twitter familiar with the company’s financial situation told us that Twitter had a good chance of being profitable by 2014. When asked if poking was part of a move towards a more concrete business model for the company, he looked right into our eyes and answered with complete seriousness, “Absolutely.”

Yammer and Present.ly, competitors in the Enterprise 2.0 microsharing niche, did not immediately respond to questions about whether they would provide poking to their corporate clients.

This satire was originally published at the emerging news and opinion site True/SlantSubscribe to my True/Slant RSS feed here!

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Personally and Professionally: Are You Accessible?


One of the most interesting things about social media is that it makes people who previously seemed inaccessible less so. That applies to not only celebrities like Shaq and Ashton Kutcher, but also to people who are celebrities in your field of work; niche celebrities.

I’ve had a number of great experiences in which I’ve made connections with people within the government, in the media, and in other walks of life. It would have taken much more effort to do this in the past – being personally introduced, cornering them at an event I knew they’d attend, and so forth. But the method in which I approached them made the connection no less important – and when a new relationship benefits both parties, everyone is happy. Soon, no one will care if they initially received a letter typed on stationary or a Facebook message.

If you’re really new to social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, this is a profound shift in relationship- and network-building. But don’t worry – even the veterans are new to it. So read about how others are using new technology to build social networks and dive in.

Now, those who are already in positions of power and influence (let’s imagine Henry Kissinger, for the sake of discussion) may not think that being accessible is in their best interests. I know people who are at the height of their profession who think just like this. And maybe our thought-experiment Kissinger can get away with it.

But at some point, so many people will be commonly accessible through virtual universal ‘phone books’ like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (and their successors) that there may be some backlash against those who aren’t. And who can predict how quickly that might happen? While these senior folks are content with their trusted coterie of friends and colleagues, other opportunities are passing them by.

So no matter what your age or experience, whether you are settled into a career path or changing the road you’re on, make sure you’re accessible. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.

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