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Why Posterous Is a Smart Tool For Informal Government Blogging


For a few weeks, I’ve been testing a tool called Posterous, and I’ve come to like it a lot. You can see my account here. If you’re not familiar with Posterous, it is essentially a very simple blogging platform. It may in fact be the most simple one; yet it is very feature-laden. And it has one relatively unique feature that could make it the most powerful tool for informal blogging by government employees.

That simple, amazing, singular feature is email as a primary interface. In other words, you can post blogs simply by emailing post@posterous.com or a similar address – you don’t even need an “account” or a “login” or a “password.” Even in the private sector, this is considered a cool feature. But for government employees, it could be a breath of life in an otherwise locked-down state of cybersecurity affairs.

You see, many government computer systems block domains like YouTube.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, and so forth. There’s a current debate about the degree to which government employees can access such sites because of cybersecurity and other reasonable concerns – after all, there have been some very recent instances of bad things being passed through these social media tools and onto your computer. But when you can interact with a blogging platform through email – and in principle even through your official government email account accessed through a traditional program like Microsoft Outlook – you can get the functionality without the risk, and without needing permission from the IT shop.

As information is more decentralized and as more computing is done on mobile devices, quickly communicating information will be more commonplace – and more in demand by consumers of it. So to citizens, government content will still be king, but the speed at which it travels to them may be queen. And being able to blog on-the-go can increase that speed. Recently I’ve experimented with blogging while walking eight blocks to a date, blogging incredibly fast in reaction to breaking news, and blogging during a conference and posting my “journalism-style” article precisely at the end of a talk. There are innumerable other tactical applications of this tool.

Posterous has a lot of great features that I like. Perhaps most important among them is that links to the content you post can be instantly pushed to other social services like Twitter and Facebook – even if they’re blocked in your office. Another great feature is that if you attach photos, videos, or documents to your email, Posterous automatically embeds them in your blog – and will also push them to services like Flickr, YouTube, and Scribd (which may also be blocked in your government office). Still another great feature is that multiple people from multiple email addresses can contribute to one Posterous page (say, for an office), and conversely one email can be associated with multiple Posterous pages (say, a formal public affairs page, and an informal tech thoughts page). In brief, you can be very powerful from your BlackBerry.

Posterous has been described by a Mashable writer as “unremarkable,” but frankly, that’s what a lot of government employees are interested in. The government has a lot of outstanding content, and their primary mission in many cases is to get it out; customizing the blog theme is definitely secondary. A standardized, simple blog platform controlled through email sounds like just what the doctor ordered, and it offers numerous advantages over something more complicated like WordPress; for example, it’s easier to teach people how to use! Oh, and did I mention it’s free?

Posterous would probably love it if people in the government wanted to jump on this bandwagon in a more official manner, too. If I understand the numbers correctly, Posterous currently only has about one million unique visitors a month – total. The U.S. Government has more employees than that. I’m not picking on Posterous – it’s only been available since June 2008 and has some tough competition in the blog platform world – but my guess is that they’d be very willing to work with the General Services Administration and other appropriate people (as have companies like YouTube) to make Posterous work with official government interests and missions. And the same goes for local and state government employees too, who often deal with IT situations similar to those of their Fed counterparts.

Many agencies are working on social media policies and guidelines for employees, and education and training are no doubt part of successful use of tools like blogs by government employees. But assuming that people are trained and empowered to create online content, can you imagine if even 5% of Postal Service or FEMA or Army employees had a Posterous blog, and citizens and journalists could mine that information about what was happening in the country, or the world? It would be amazing.

So, for the 99% of government employees that can blog in their private lives and informally talk about their careers and more generally about their lives, I recommend getting a personal Posterous account. And because many of the things I said about the government also apply to large corporations, I think there’s a huge opportunity there, too. Everyone’s workplace has different rules about what you can and cannot use your computer and mobile devices for, and you shouldn’t break them. But if you can interface with Posterous via email and help to achieve workplace goals by mobile live-blogging of conferences you attend, or posting photos of critical emergency situations, or provoking discussion over the issue-of-the-day, I say: Go for it.

(If you work in government or closely with it and use Posterous, I’d especially like to listen to your feedback as I help prepare content for the upcoming Gov 2.0 Expo in May 2010.)

This post originally appeared on O’Reilly Radar.

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Social Networking is the Means to Achieve Collaboration


Yesterday I live-blogged a bit from the terrific Government 2.0 event produced by FedScoop.com at the Newseum in Washington, DC. I wrote a post about how collaboration was not the means, but rather an end made possible by the means of social networking tools.  You can read my original writing and some initial comments here.  Below, I expand a bit on these ideas.

My post was initially inspired by one speaker’s (WFED’s Chris Dorobek) notion, shared by some others (Justin Houk commented that, “Taxpayers don’t want to think about those in government sitting around on twitter all day even thought that might be an effective way to collaborate.”), that social networking tools come across as too social or “fun” and that being social is not what people are truly doing (in the government) when they use them – they’re collaborating.  Thus, when marketing Government 2.0 to wider audiences, he feels that a term like “collaboration tools” is more appropriate.

In my opinion, while this might sound better to the traditionalist, untrained ear, I think it is factually wrong to say that things like Facebook or Intellipedia are collaboration tools.  True, collaboration often happens with these tools.  And perhaps one could argue that collaboration is mainly what people hope to accomplish with them in the workplace.  Fair enough.  But I think that collaboration is the end result of leveraging social networks, which is in actuality what the social networking tools are for.

In other words, social networks are the means by which to accomplish something.  This something might very well be collaboration.  It might also be putting together an office softball team, or a study group of employees all learning Arabic.  Is that “collaboration”?  I don’t think so.  There are many things that happen in workplaces based around social networks that are not strictly collaboration on work projects.  One big thing I’ve been thinking about lately is “leveraging social networking to accomplish important things” and no one can deny that personal relationships can influence collaboration.  How well you know someone, how much you identify with them, how much you trust them, their level of reliability or transparency – all of these are values derived from social networking that then, when leveraged, can influence collaboration.  Collaboration is not an end in itself, of course – it is a means to accomplish some end (finishing a draft report, etc.).  So, social networking is a means to collaboration, which is a means to achiving some work or personal goal.

I also completely reject the notion that there is something wrong with having some fun at work.  The idea that having fun with social software shouldn’t be allowed in serious workplaces is ridiculous.  And of course, anyone who’s ever passed around a joke-of-the-week email, celebrated a colleague’s birthday with a cake in the break room, or ended work at 4pm for an informal happy hour with the office would surely agree with me on this.  Work can be fun, and be productive, too.  The head of the OPM recently visited Google for a reason.

So, briefly, I think social networking tools are not necessarily collaboration tools.  They are social software that allows social networks to be leveraged to accomplish things you find important.  That might be collaboration on a National Intelligence Estimate, or arranging a carpool with people in your agency (getting to work, being more green), or finding a racquetball partner (staying healthy, living well) – all of which postitively influence the workplace, in government and in the private sector as well.   As Fred Wellman commented on my original post, “I can’t help but wonder if Chris [Dorobek] is seeking a more politically correct or business sounding name of the same tools with the goal of breaking down barriers to implementation and usage as opposed to a lack of understanding of the power of social networking applications in the business of government.”  I think there’s a lot of truth to that.  But I also think that, as an academic, this is actually not what we are doing.  This may sound esoteric, but from an academic standpoint I think it’s an important distinction.

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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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What good customer service looks like


I don’t let many strange men into my home, but this morning I received my first Peapod food delivery in a while. As usual, they were precisely on time, had everything I ordered, and the delivery guy was fun and friendly. I always contrast this with Comcast, the other place that frequently sends strange men into my home – they tend to be gruff, impersonal, independent contractors who don’t seem to care much about showing up at any particular time or really about my life at all.

Whether it’s Comcast versus Peapod or something like In ‘N’ Out (awesome service) versus McDonald’s (barely service), I blame the companies for creating that culture. I blame the strategists, the management, and the front-line people all. They do a terrible service for their brands. And conversely, the people with awesome front-line service that have a corporate culture of being awesome do a great service for their brands – here I am praising Peapod on a Sunday morning.

This is also why I think online customer service efforts like @comcastcares are fairly lame. Sure, it’s nice that they do it. But when a guy tracks muddy boots in my place and doesn’t give a crap about me, who cares what Comcast is doing on Twitter? Same for an airline that tweets me updated flight information but then greets me with a nasty, unhelpful person at check-in and charges me $25 for a simple bag. And anyone else too. Social media is about “social” and “media” – and most socializing still happens in person.

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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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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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Making Whuffie With Julia Allison


You can’t eat whuffie, but it’s getting harder to eat without it, as Tara Hunt says in The Whuffie Factor.  For the uninitiated, think of whuffie as an alternative to money – a reputation-based currency that started as a concept in a science fiction novel, now being applied to online business. Hunt’s interesting central thesis is that in order to successfully change social capital into market capital, company employees need to be authentic community members engaging in meaningful participation where their contributions often outweigh personal gains.

Typically, someone can raise whuffie by promoting something bigger than one’s own self-interests. This kind of community participation, as Solis and Breakenridge write in Putting the Public Back in Public Relations has become certral to marketing, branding, and influence: “Social media enables one to aggregate and promote your online brand while nurturing and managing important relationships.”

When I think of using online tools for public relations I often think of Julia Allison, who one year ago graced the cover of Wired ostensibly for her mastery of so-called “internet fame” and possibly translating it into real fame, and a profitable business. Since reading her relationships advice column in AM New York when I lived in Manhattan circa 2003, I’ve been familiar with Julia for a long time. More recently, with each of us shifting our interests to social technology, I’ve had the opportunity to hear her speak and meet with her. (Stealing a page from the fameball playbook, I even got the requisite photo with her and her dog during Internet Week 2008 – almost the same week of the Wired cover story.)

She is nothing if not a fascinating enigma; I believe we talked about the neuroscience of dating. So when pondering what I might write as a PR 2.0 guest column, I thought it would be interesting and instructive to look at the rise of Julia Allison as a “case study” in personal branding, and compare and contrast her career path with the tenets of raising whuffie.

Read the rest of this article at Brian Solis’ PR 2.0 blog.

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Summer Reading List For Millennials


Let’s face it, Millennials – you’re completely lost right now.  Some of you are just out of college and wondering what the hell a recession is.  Some of you are pushing 30 years old but reaching some kind of quarterlife crisis, having hit a ceiling at work, or wondering if you’re happy doing what you’re doing, where you’re doing it.  Some of you, unfortunately, are working three jobs to make ends meet, or are currently out of work for one reason for another.

Times are tough for many out there.  So even though I’m a young Gen-Xer who grew up with grunge music and Ethan Hawke, I thought I’d try to help you by writing up a brief reading list of unique, inspiring books that I’ve read in the last year.  All of them relate to each other in various ways.  In total, they’re an inspiration to be entrepreneurial, to seek markets for your individual talents, and to feel good about yourself for being different from the crowd in some respects.

The first book is The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Wired editor Chris Anderson.  This book is about serving microniches of customers or fans, the decreased costs of communications and transporting goods and information because of the Internet, and how you can become well known, make a living, etc. off a relatively small number of people who really love what you do and will passionately talk about your products, whether those products are songs, services, or widgets.  You can follow the author on Twitter here.

The second book is Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by business author Seth Godin.  This book is about leadership in the current era of personal branding, Web 2.0 marketing, and individuality and entrepreneurialism (even if that’s inside a large organization).  It’s about how people with leadership qualities can more easily than ever inspire people in a movement and lead their tribe, however small, to new places and opportunities.  You cannot follow the author on Twitter here, but I highly recommend his blog.

The third book is Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity by cartoonist Hugh MacLeod.   This is a very unique, fun book about the author’s personal experiences as a young advertising copywriter and budding cartoonist living in New York.  Life lessons about being creative and being yourself are written in short, biting chapters interspersed with the author’s terrific cartoons.  You can follow the author on Twitter here.

True, these books are for people from all generations (heck, I found them useful), but I think that will all the stuff going on in the world today that Generation Y might be the most inspired by them.  Whether you’re coming back to college for your junior or senior year, or you’re nearing your third decade on earth and think you’ve got your whole life mapped out for you, I still recommend these books.  At the least, they’ll tell you that you’re doing everything right in an entertaining, smart way.

I also want to give some mad props to someone who I not only personally like and have come to admire a bit, but who I think epitomizes many of the lessons from these three books, Gary Vaynerchuk (VAY NERR CHUCK, got it?)  Gary turned a New Jersey-based family liquor store into a wine emporium into a wine critic video blog into a personal blog about marketing into a keynote lecture extravaganza into a consulting firm into a ten-book publishing deal. Now he does it all with a ton of hard work and a tiny team of helpers.  I suggest watching his videos and catching him speaking in person somewhere;  There’s nothing like it.  His first book, Crush It! Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion, will be out in October.  I haven’t read it yet, but I have no doubt that it will be awesome.  You can follow Gary on Twitter here.

Please comment on these books if you’ve read them, or add books you think would be useful, below.  And let me know if these books have helped you or people you know out in life!

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The A to Z of New Media


Authentic: “corporate speak” will doom you to failure

Be yourself: make sure there’s a real person behind your efforts

Connect: meld the organization with old and new stakeholders

Direct contact: with stakeholders and the public

Evangelists: they spread word to their loyal followers

Frontier: unless you play on the edge you don’t know what’s new

Glocal:  it’s local but still global, and global but still local

Honest: and it’s okay to say no as well

Immediacy: enables real time communication

Jump in: don’t be afraid to try; others are

Keep at it: don’t give up, there’s a learning curve

Listening: hear what your stakeholders say

Mobile: take your Web 2.0 to go

Nimble: no manual – be ready to shift approaches

Old media: traditional routes increasing online presence

Personal: more meaningful one to one relationships

Quickly respond: or the perception is that you don’t care

Reputation: perception of the organization

Systemic: put content on multiple channels

Take risks: and enjoy the larger rewards

Useful: make the information pertinent

Viral: spreading information rapidly

Where have you been?: communities expect your participation

Xchange: stakeholder ideas lead to improvements

Youth: but don’t neglect others; 35+ fastest growing demographic

Zeitgeist: social media

Adapted from a Marriott handout at a Washington, D.C. event called “New & Social Media: Leading the Way”

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Negative Conversations With Your Attackers


I saw an interesting quotation this morning from a Social Media Club event in DC that focused on crisis communications: “Every negative attack is the start of a conversation.“  I’m not sure I agree.

“Conversation” is perhaps the hottest buzzword of Web 2.0 – your customers are having conversations, companies should participate in conversations, new media marketing is a conversation, if you’re not part of the conversation it’s happening without you, and so forth. Entire books have been written on the topic. Even I’m guilty of promoting this idea in the government space.

And conversations are fine. But is every negative attack truly the beginning of a conversation? Does every frown have the potential to be turned upside down? (And how does that scale?)

Having a conversation about some one’s negative reaction to your brand, company, government office, situation etc. is a nice strategy, but the concept of negative attacks leading to positive conversations is based on the assumption that people will always engage in rational discussions with you.

They don’t. Naivety, ideology, and stupidity are all common in society’s discourses. People make emotionally-fueled arguments all the time (this Fox News “discussion” about views on abortion and the President receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame isn’t a bad example). People often cling to strongly-held beliefs, even in the face of contradictory information, or data that oppose their views. Many conversations are irrational, or at best only partly rational. I would go so far as to say that partly rational discussions are the norm.

Economics is perhaps the field of study most heavily influenced by the finding that people behave irrationally. Traditional assumptions about economic behavior included participants in financial markets having perfect information and making rational choices related to adding value (i.e., obtaining money). But more recent research has shown that this is often not the case, and that this irrationality can spawn larger effects through complex systems.

Perhaps also with the field of communications. As hip as the concept of “communications as conversations” is, sometimes it’s best to not touch your detractors with a ten-foot pole. When peoples’ comments are irrational, when their views ignore available facts, when they’re too busy or too dumb or too angry to care what you have to say, a negative attack isn’t the start of a conversation. It’s the end of a relationship.

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