Government Social Media: If You Don’t Want to Engage, Don’t Bother

There has been an unquestionable explosion of government social media use in the last year. Last week, GovTwit, the Twitter directory of government agencies and officials reported 44.9 million followers for the 3,000 IDs it tracks, after starting in 2009 with just a handful of accounts. Still, towns, agencies and leaders not using social media still far outnumber the early adopters.
And much of the hand-wringing over official social media use is about the public – what if they say something we don’t like! Many of the agencies using shiny tools like Facebook and or Twitter don’t even allow comments on their Web sites, even sites they call “blogs.”
Fear and failure to engage are simple reinforcing citizen concerns that government doesn’t listen and doesn’t care.
According to an April Pew study on trust in government, “By almost every conceivable measure Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days.”
I, and, I hope, thousands of other Government 2.0 advocates, have not spent the last two years building a movement to have it end up as “The System 2.0.”
Some may argue that government needs to be on social media channels because of the large audiences. However, I cannot state more emphatically – if you’re considering a social media channel, but don’t want to provide citizen (customer) service and two-way engagement on that platform, you shouldn’t bother.
Using new media channels for one-way broadcasts and propaganda will only further alienate the people we serve. There are plenty of agencies using social media to engage and build trust. Join them, or don’t bother.

Pew: Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor – The People and Their Government

GovFresh: The politics of open government free speech

EPA social media response matrix chart

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Future Uncertain for Real-identity Web

The best-possible future for Gov 2.0 includes individually controlled social media sharing and the ability to turn verified identities on and off. Unlike the heydays of AOL or present of anonymous newspaper commentary, Facebook’s identity system had been helping to slowly change the culture of the Web to persistent use of real identity in social networks.
I fear that Facebook’s recent privacy stumbles may have a long-lasting negative effect in this move towards digital citizenship. I’m reading blogs about hacking the Facebook profile to disguise identity, and many of the people tweeting about deleting their accounts already have cloaked their identity on Twitter.
Should Gov 2.0 advocates be proposing a persistent real digital ID based on voter verification? Can Facebook or government be trusted with persistent digital IDs? Should this be a function of a private company, the U.N., individual governments, the open source movement? And is persistent digital identity a reasonable goal?


Who Controls Identity on the Web?

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Gov 2.0 Professional – How Can We Rock LinkedIn?

A million Twitter years ago, back in 2008, I first discovered the phrase “Government 2.0” while bumming around various LinkedIn groups. Yesterday, Government 2.0 group creator Ric Cantrell, a Utah state govie, invited me to help manage the group, now at 3,800 members. The Government 2.0 group on LI is also where I first met Steve Ressler, founder of GovLoop and co-founder of Gov 2.0 Radio.
I’m excited to really get back into LinkedIn, which was my taste of the wild west of social networking and tech-enabled government reform. From what I understand about the kind of changes the Obama administration is bringing to the federal workforce, I think more and more career civil servants are going to be looking into Gov 2.0, and, like me, many will find their first point of entry on LinkedIn.
Early today, I posed a quick question in the discussion group at GovLoop about how to make Gov 2.0 pop on LinkedIn. GovLoop now has more than 30,000 members, and community manager Andy Krzmarzick is interested in cranking up the power of cross-network collaboration between GovLoop and the several large government-focused groups on LinkedIn.
“There ought to be a way for us to exchange relevant content from each site and accelerate the “time-to-answer” for people posing questions and sharing information,” wrote Andy. “My hunch is that we have concentric circles here where there’s some overlap…but where we can bring immense value to those people who are not yet linked to one another.”
I agree, and I think there is huge potential in these vibrant networks. Each has a bit of a different makeup, and combined with the open networking environment of Twitter, we can really boost our collective knowledge and impact.
Are you a member of the Government 2.0 group on LinkedIn or GovLoop? How do you use the network(s)? Where is there room for improvement? What do you think is important for people who’ve just heard about Gov 2.0 and are diving in? What do you see as the best ways to share information and questions across these networks?
Thanks for your input and effort!


Government 2.0 on LinkedIn;

“Cross-pollination” discussion on GovLoop;

Quantcast demographic info for LinkedIn and Twitter;

Government 2.0 Radio on BlogTalkRadio;

Friend me on LinkedIn (adriel at, Twitter and GovLoop

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Game Mechanics: Being There (or, A Gov 2.0 Potential for Location-based Services)

The way I look at it, Gov 2.0 is more about innovation than technology. Activists in this movement have by now noted that it doesn’t matter how good the technology is if it doesn’t fill a need and if people don’t use it. Of late, I’ve been thinking more about game mechanics and how stimulating fun can help engage citizens and achieve goals.
One idea that I teased out a bit on a recent Gov 2.0 Episode is the use of location-based services like Foursquare or Gowalla in the context of civic art exhibits.
Most large cities, and many small ones, have a decent collection of outdoor art installations, permanent and not. In a totally technology agnostic move, what if your local art commission or board set up a game to visit all of the art exhibits and check in with a GPS-based app or take a photo with each piece? Like an art treasure hunt.
The fabric of community is connections. It couldn’t hurt to encourage those. How about a special lunch with a local artist for the people who complete the art hunt, a free museum pass, a video re-creation of the action?

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Untethered: Work, and Life, in the Cloud

This weekend, I got the chance to meet a longtime online friend face-to-face following his trip to a local Google conference. Alan Pruitt, who I met a few years back on a LinkedIn group for private investigators, is a licensed PI out of Yuma, AZ, doing due diligence backgrounds for major employers, and he also has two lines of business helping rural businesses figure out economic development. Pruitt, a former Marine and digital immigrant, is an evangelist of knowledge work as the answer to lost manufacturing jobs and he heavily promotes cloud solutions. But what struck me about talking with Alan is that he not only understands the potential of low-cost online business solutions, he’s built his own life and work on top of them.
Relaxed yet enthusiastic, with rolled up shirtsleeves, coffee in hand and iPad and new Android Evo 4G at his side, Alan explained how he’s buying a new home in Yuma with his wife, and traveling the west and the greater U.S. to spread his enthusiasm for a paperless, officeless work life.
He uses Evernote, ScanSnap and extra Gmail storage to keep two copies of all the documents he needs for his work, shredding each piece of paper as it comes in. He controls his work, he says, like a Lazy Susan. “I wheel it around, bite of a few hours of a project, them I’m back to what I’m doing.” Repeat. All his billing goes through a third-party, which takes 5 percent of his income to handle benefits and compliance. At the end of the year, he gets a W-2, not a sheaf of 1099s. “A nickle is nothing for that,” he says.
I’m a big fan of the 2004 book The Future of Work, by Thomas Malone, and its premise of how low-cost communications is returning individuals to the center of their working life, but, until talking with Alan, I’d not seen someone so clearly living the promise of the present.
In the latest copy of Wired, author Daniel Pink talks about the intrinsic motivation that we’ve ignored in how we work in contemporary America: “But what we’ve forgotten – and what science shows – is that we … do things because they are interesting, because they’re engaging, because they are the right things to do, because they contribute to the world.”
It’s this kind of drive that has Alan happy and well, and it’s this kind of drive that has transformed Manor, TX, from a cotton town to a hub of applied technology innovation (Manor CIO Dustin Haisler’s latest project is integrating education into the Gov 2.0 movement). It’s what the federal government is looking at in an amazing pilot project for a “results-only work environment” at the Federal Office of Personnel Management (GovLoop group here). It’s the kind of lesson that Alan is taking to rural America, and it’s where were going.
I’m interested in more stories. How is the cloud and low-cost communications changing your work and life? Have you made it as far as Alan in living your dream of a control of your work? What’s holding you back?

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Keeping Up with Gov 2.0 Radio

Just wanted to give everyone a quick update on the latest at Gov 2.0 Radio. We’re still a by-the-seat-of-the-pants operation, but our guests and great co-hosts more than make up for my scant production skills. I also want to take this opportunity to thanks all of our listeners, especially the folks who tweet about the show and join the live chats during each episode. You enrich the show for everyone. Thank you!

There are several ways for you to listen to the show:

Live on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET (tonight we’re hosting Dr. John Ohab from the DoD’s Armed with Science);

Replays and blog summaries at;

At the BlogTalkRadio Gov 2.0 show page, where you can also grab RSS feeds, episode widgets and more;

On iTunes, where each Gov 2.0 Radio episode is free to download;

At GovLoop, on the podcasts page, where you can also listen to Dustin Haisler and Pam Broviak’s Gov 101 Radio; and

You can always find the latest from Gov 2.0 Radio on our Twitter feed.

We’re a media sponsor for the Gov 2.0 Expo, which has brought us special guests this past week. Here’s a quick look at a few recent shows from our packed schedule:

Making a Social Media Splash – on our regular Sunday show, a conversation with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Amy Sinclair about how the agency uses Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and more to engage, educate and respond to the public;

Gov as Platform is Here to Stay – more than a year after having Tim O’Reilly on the show to talk about his DC Gov 2.0 conferences, we host Laurel Ruma, O’Reilly Media’s Gov 2.0 evangelist, and Alex Howard, the new O’Reilly Gov 2.0 correspondent, to discuss the movement’s growth;

The Pentagon and Public Engagement – Department of Defense advisor Price Floyd, a keynote speaker at the Gov 2.0 Expo, discusses the promise and challenges of social media for the military.

Again, thank you!

Big Tech’s Social Media Samurai

Social media is still smokin’ hot. Plenty of practitioners want to use arcane terms to describe their skills – ninja, ronin, maven, guru – and they often like to call each other “douchbags.”
But one name accurately describes Big Tech’s moves to procure in-house social media talent. Like the warrior samurai class, these influential new media folks are on the front lines for the ruling tech giants.
Google snapped up Chris Messina as their “Open Web” champion.
Microsoft got Mark Drapeau for social innovation and Gov 2.0 cool and Danah Boyd, who provides an academic take on the foibles of other tech clans.
IBM’s got a whole suite of warrior class social media experts and experimenters, from Gadi Ben-Yehuda to Rita J. King to Adam Christensen (the latter got up in arms this week over a survey that pegged Microsoft as “most social”).
Samurai. Because it’s clearly not expertise alone these folks are bringing. From Drapeau’s slashing tweets to Boyd’s seething exposés to Sacca’s feel-good vibe, they exist not only to train others and to showcase the genius of their employers, but to hamstring and humiliate the competition.
I’ve missed dozens of big names and great examples and analogies. If it’s more of a sports comparison (Microsoft as the Yankees), I’m open to that. Help me in the comments?

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My Online Life, In Others’ Words

A few friends in the social media and Gov 2.0 community wrote this week about my actions and thoughts regarding Facebook:

Ted Nguyen: (who shot the short video above): Why Are Social Media Experts Quitting Facebook?

Ari Herzog: Former Facebook User Describes Why He Quit

John F. Moore: Scared to Use Social Media?

Alex Howard: Gov 2.0 Week in Review – Facebook Communities and Government

The comments on these posts are interesting, especially the range of opinions expressed in response to Ted’s post (where I added a strong rebuttal – ill-informed privacy apologists are a threat to the fabric of our society).

Influence. It’s work.

This post is a little bit about social media influence and a little bit about life.
You hear the cliche it all the time – “there are no shortcuts in life.” And yet in the social media world it’s easy to promise shortcuts. The online influence world is populated and dominated by a muddy mix of bootstrap entrepreneurs, marketers of all kinds – especially the Amway types, gossips, visionaries, self-promoters and amalgamations of all the former. The tool kits of social media are in general very engaging and fun for short bursts of time. They promise ease and make success look simple.
But there are no shortcuts. It’s terribly difficult to engage and motivate others, whether you’re a manager, coach, personal trainer, business owner, parent, family member, priest, politician, cause activist or “social media maven.”
Last night, I was talking with Richard White, founder and CEO of UserVoice, a simple tool for organizing online influence and interest. A few months back, Oklahoma community activist Sid Burgess and I went head to head soliciting votes in a Gov 2.0 UserVoice poll. Others were also competing, but Sid and I took it to a different level – videos, slides, video rebuttals, top 10 lists, e-mails, short links, and scores of tweets and status updates. It was good tongue-in-cheek fun, but it was also hard, hard work.
Recently, a San Francisco park was in the running for a grant from Sears, with a daily online click campaign picking the winner. A park in Virginia was far, far ahead, and bursts of energy in San Francisco generated interest from high-traffic blogs and the large local newspapers. Significant energy went into that campaign, but it hardly made a dent on the leaderboard.
Motivating people and changing their behavior takes sustained and intense effort. It doesn’t matter if it’s online or off, it’s hard. Look at Carl Malamud, trying to change the way the U.S. stores and releases its legal history and records with the project. Look at Al Gore, trying to change the basis of the energy that drives the world economy. Look at anyone running for election, and yes, look at those vying for online influence.
No shortcuts.

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A Jilted Lover: My Evolving Feelings Towards Facebook

Anyone familiar with my writing over the past two years knows I love social networks and social media. Going back further, I was an Examiner blogger (archives of that effort are buried five to seven years back on this site) before the paper even had an inkling that online was its future. In 2008, I fell in love with Facebook. I used it to to incessantly update my status – causing some real life friends to hide my updates; I used it to promote the Barack Obama campaign; to rail against Wall Street bailouts; and even to protest a Bay Area Rapid Transit congestion pricing scheme.

In January 2009, I wrote, in a post oriented towards citizen-government engagement, that Facebook “is simply the easiest platform for sharing and collaborating on matters of importance.” I began leading “Citizen 2.0” trainings on social media for civic activism.

But while I was becoming more and more enamored with the site, its plans had less and less to do with me.

My next Facebook blog post was about how Twitter was a more open network, “much more of a real news feed than Facebook.”

It was less than two months later that Facebook converted its status updates to a Twitter-style feed, temporarily filtering updates that included the word “Twitter,” like it was a curse word. The social web was blowing up with updates about Facebook ripping off its smaller competitor, and I wrote, in a post entitled “Facebook is Evil,” “Facebook is not to be trusted, though it remains a decent tool for some purposes.”

I tolerated the site for more than a year after that, building up a following of more than 2,000 over the summer for my social media-fueled bid for U.S. Congress.

Since the election, I’d been using it more sparingly and not doing much thinking about Facebook at all, until April of this year, when Facebook launched plans to basically reshape the web in its own image. Its social web vision was impressive, but Facebook has always been ham-handed and immature when it comes to implementation.

I began writing that governments should be using their own social portals and content, not relying on Facebook and its advertising platform. I kept reading about Facebook’s plans and many of the new content-control and privacy issues they present. Last weekend, I abruptly deleted my Facebook account.

On Monday, I realized that Facebook’s new “community pages” were hijacking search terms for official government pages, including those for major federal departments. On Tuesday, I wrote about how community pages usurp the tourism pages for major cities around the world. Also Tuesday night, I answered some questions for Ari Herzog, elaborating on the end of a spirited relationship.

But I’ve not given up on social media as part of Gov 2.0, not hardly, and you can still find me on several blogs, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Onward and upward into the future.