For at least that past two years, a tiny yet fast-growing group of folks who call themselves “Gov 2.0 advocates” has worked tirelessly to spread a message that emerging technologies, low-cost communications and digital culture can reshape government to be more collaborative, transparent, efficient and connected to its citizens.
We have advocated for humanizing government, and for using new tools to bring more citizens into the deliberative process and to help shape the future of both our democracy and the bureaucracy. One of the main tools for the Gov 2.0 movement has been social media, as activists and line workers join technologists and political reformers in calling for more open communication between officials and agencies and the public they represent and serve.
Last week, Government 2.0 – a term first used by Bill Eggers in his 2005 e-gov-focused book of the same name, and that has become almost synonymous with Web 2.0 as developers have turned on to the promise of government-brokered data troves and universal open standards – won a significant victory. Twitter, the popular social media messaging service that has serves as a platform for thousands of startups using its architecture and user base, announced that it is hiring for its first field office, focused on the government sector.
Twitter Goes to DC
Twitter’s job posting and further remarks by corporate spokesman Sean Garrett explain the DC-based position as the first step towards a public affairs unit, with support for innovative and engaging uses of Twitter in politics and policymaking. A new blog by Garrett and his team has since March been highlighting interesting government uses of the platform, from San Francisco’s integration of Twitter and 311 non-emergency service requests, to construction updates and border crossing wait times by tweet, to the British Prime Minister’s communications usage.
Twitter, thanks to millions of active and aggressive content-sharers and innovators around the world, has transformative powers. Conan O’Brien took to the service to recreate himself after losing his show, creating numerous accounts, rallying his fan base and using the free and frenetic publicity it to launch a comedy tour. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert, after panning Twitter as trite, has become one of its staunchest advocates, using it to deliver and amplify commentary on everything from film to politics to sport and humanism. Newark Mayor Corey Booker has used it to spread a hands-on philosophy of hope far beyond his New Jersey township.
Twitter Grows Due to User Innovations
Twitter’s growth and popular features have often evolved from the minds and whims of its user base, from the intensely popular “retweet” convention for repeating and affirming others’ messages, to the hashtag form of semantic tagging in its short messages, to Follow Friday, the day that tweeps around the world recognize friends and favorites.
Government 2.0 – which first hit Twitter’s mainstream of “trending topics” during a March 16, 2009, pilot broadcast of the Gov 2.0 Radio podcast including govies, contractors and consultants calling in from South by Southwest and their DC-area homes – is now set to join the legacy of user-driven Twitter conventions. The first Twitter office outside of San Francisco will help connect politicians with their constituents and agencies with the public. It will help serve an engaged and innovative Government 2.0 movement, while that movement continues to shape and grow Twitter’s utility.
Government 2.0 and the use of social media for politics and public service are still in their infancy, but it’s safe to say that Twitter’s new focus on this arena is a milestone of which we can be proud.
So, today I was doing some pruning of the folks I follow on Twitter. This can be tedious work, but it’s important to my networking efforts. I try to follow back most accounts that follow me, as long as they look like they have live people or organizations behind them. Plenty slip through the cracks, though, and I begin find my feed a bit overrun with people using FriendFeed, Facebook and a slew of other services to pipe content to Twitter with zero interaction there. Unless it’s content highly useful to me – like feeds from a few blogs and news agencies – I generally unfollow those sorts of accounts.
Cutting loose spammy and dead accounts
During this exercise, I also notice two kinds of accounts from people who are obviously trying to use Twitter as a networking tool, but are going astray. There are the accounts obviously auto-following people (look for 1-to-1 follower-following ratios) and having little luck at engagement, and then there are those who’ve simply stopped tweeting.
Reviewing these accounts, it’s often clear that they had purpose in getting started, whether to tweet at a conference, to promote their business, or simple to build that network before it’s needed. Many of the folks who stop tweeting don’t say why, but enough do that I’m guessing it’s because they simple aren’t getting the kind of engagement they were promised or expecting. Sometimes they’re discouraged because they’ve got hundreds of Twitter followers but only a few of those click on the links they share.
My advice for networking on Twitter – and I believe the informational networking there is tremendously valuable – is to be strategic in how you build out your community. For example, if you’re trying to market SEO services, and sign up for a service that auto-follows anyone who tweets the words “social media,” you’ve totally missed any sort of practical audience. Sure, you can all retweet each others’ links and tidbits of wisdom, and yes, that may increase your personal SEO (which is one of the few good reasons to crank out content on Twitter without and personal engagement). But it’s not likely to get you customers. What if instead you identified local businesses and Chamber of Commerce members engaging on Twitter who might be interested in your services? Start interacting with them; build a relationship that will lead to real business.
If you’re the conferencegoer, figure out what Twitter hashtag people are using to tweet about the event, and make connections before, during and after by merging your Twitter and offline networking. Chances are, Twitter connections established there will continue due to shared interest or profession.
Twitter has been an extremely valuable tool for the Government 2.0 movement. Last week, Gov 2.0 consultant Maxine Teller commented on why she thinks it’s important that Twitter is hiring a government liaison, explaining how Mark Drapeau convinced her to start using Twitter actively in 2008 after she’d stopped:
The whole reason that you and I were jazzed about Twitter back then was because it was – and still is – a great way for us to find and connect with like-minded folks who believe – and are using – emerging tools and technologies enable us to more efficiently and effectively achieve our government missions.
To repeat the mantra that we’ve all chanted in our Gov 2.0 conference and event presentations umpteen times, Gov 2.0 (despite its software release naming convention) is not about the tools and technologies; it’s about the collaborative interactions, innovative thinking, and revolutionary approaches that these tools and technologies catalyze and enable.
In late 2009, Gartner consultant Andrea DiMaio published a research noted defining Government 2.0 as “the use of IT to socialize and commoditize government services, processes and data.” His definition is one of the most solid and comprehensive I’ve seen, and it encapsulates many of the reasons social technologies are important to other businesses sectors as well:
The socialization of information has multiple facets (government to citizens, citizens to government and government to government) and the boundaries between these facets are increasingly blurred. The next step will be the socialization of services and processes by engaging individuals and communities to perform part of existing government processes or transform them by leveraging external data and applications.
Commoditization – which has already started with consolidation and shared services to reduce the diversity of infrastructure and horizontal application – will gradually move toward services and business processes.
Government 2.0 has seven main characteristics:
* It is citizen-driven.
* It is employee-centric.
* It keeps evolving.
* It is transformational.
* It requires a blend of planning and nurturing.
* It needs Pattern-Based Strategy capabilities.
* It calls for a new management style.
Food for thought.
There’s been a lot of reading between the lines of Twitter’s job posting for a DC-based government liaison (and even one instance of actual follow-up reporting). One post really caught my attention – because I disagree with it so vehemently.
My friend Alan W. Silberberg, a Gov 2.0 innovator and founding organizer of Gov 2.0 LA, argued that, “Twitter needs a government relations expect who is also a social media expert. Not the other way around.” His five-point post went on to urge a traditional (if exceptionally well-qualified in the type) Beltway insider for the new post, which Twitter envisions heading up an emerging public affairs shop.
Wrote Silberbeg (who said he is not applying):
Because of the Giants amongst us like Microsoft, Google, Facebook – Twitter’s entry into the Government space has to be taken carefully. The Giants have armies of lobbyists, lawyers, pr firms, etc. The Twitter person needs to be able to navigate these waters with firm decision making. Time spent getting up to speed will only hurt the company, and its investors like Union Square’s Fred Wilson. This goes back to my first point. Twitter needs to hire someone known in the Gov 2.0 space – but also known in DC. IN Government. No offense to my peers and friends applying for this job – but it clearly says that they are looking for a DC area person who already has Government experience. That really means connections, access and understanding of the policies and ethics surrounding these changing times.
I’m not going to do a point-by-point, because Alan’s arguments are sound from the perspective of traditional government relations.
But our times urgently call for the non-traditional. I often say that my social media-fueled campaign for Congress last year was a few years too early.
Hiring anyone but a visionary for Twitter’s first government-facing employee would be be a few years too late.
As a friend in government recently said to me, “We have the next 10 years to shape the next 30.” Our government is a massive public engagement fail, and aping its nature of privilege and insider connections would be a disaster.
Another friend, Shaun Dakin, anti-robocall activist and dot-com era veteran, is applying for the post and today gave his reaction to Silberberg’s post and the job description’s inclusion of “entrepreneurial” qualities.
People used to working in Gov’t and big companies (I was there, big time, with Fannie Mae and FedEx) are used to WAITING for permission to do things. They do research. They go to meetings. They brainstorm. They rarely DO anything.
Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, don’t really ask anyone for permission. They just do.
… Critically, I think, they know how to get things done with few resources.
Perhaps Twitter thinks that whomever is in this role (he or she) will be really “starting up” not just a new office but also a new line of business for Twitter.
So, my recommendation to Twitter would be to look hard at if the person has had to DO.
In the past couple years, hundreds of driven and innovative political and government media and engagement strategists have qualified themselves for this position. I hope Twitter picks from that number.
Silberbeg: Gov 2.0 and Twitter Finally Tweet-up!
This evening I was reminded about a point Canadian govie Nick Charney made in a recent chat – tools like Twitter are fantastic for connecting those in government (or anywhere, really) who are “wired to share.” That resonates with my strong opinion that “Government 2.0” is about a culture, not any particular set of tools. Whenever folks start wanting to can the term, which is indeed becoming a bit played, I simply think “democracy.”
Also this week, I was hearing a lot about SharePoint, the enterprise social network Microsoft sells to government agencies. One of the passing comments I noticed was an argument that Twitter and Facebook and the like will never be fully applicable to government (again, extend this argument to anywhere) because critical information isn’t protected.
Now, most of my readers know that I’m a big fan of GovLoop, the Ning-based social network focused for government employees. The reason I like GovLoop is is does exactly what a locked-down enterprise network doesn’t – it cuts through silos to get folks from all different agencies and levels of government talking with each other. Twitter functions in quite the same way.
So here’s the issue – the problem IS NOT security. The problem is that there aren’t really that many people whose default mode is sharing. Social media is radically changing things by allowing us to connect and share, but we’re still a minority in a very large, very hierarchical, command and control structure.
So, I say we ought to drop all the “midlife crisis” talk. We’re vastly outnumbered, the movement’s popularity right now is accepted as a “fad,” and if we buy into that, the momentum for reform is lost. This is a long, hard battle – one of those generational struggles.
Will we rise with collaboration, trust and openness, or will we be swallowed in a Sargasso Sea of bureaucracy or jump over to the private sector?
~Adriel Hampton is a San Francisco public servant and host of Government 2.0 Radio.
Exciting news for GovLoop and the Gov 2.0 community this week, as GovLoop (“the Facebook for government”) has hired GenerationShift blogger and government reform training expert Andrew Kryzmarzick as a full-time community manager. Andrew is an early and vibrant member of the collaborative government community and specializes in two of the most important trends that will shape public service over the next decades: generational change in the workplace, and telework.
There’ll be plenty of information today at GovLoop regarding this development, and you can also check out reports by Mark Drapeau and Federal News Radio. Most importantly to the GovLoop community are some of the key charges that Andrew will lead up: increasing collaboration among current members; outreaching to potential new members; turning disparate conversations into actionable solutions; and increasing the problem-solving power of the network.
GovLoop is most valuable as a knowledge network, multiplying the reach and impact of each individual member’s contributions. The problem of keeping conversations in that network fluid but on point, folding complementary conversations into common threads is significant. It’s a problem that Andrew is certainly suited for solving, and I look forward to his leadership in providing technical and human solutions.
Andrew Kryzmarzick has been a guest and guest host on Gov 2.0 Radio. You can listen to Andy on public sector Web 2.0 trends, and on improving conference learning. Also, check out the show on GovLoop’s recent partnership with GovDelivery.
~Adriel Hampton is a San Francisco public servant and host of Government 2.0 Radio.
If you follow Gov 2.0 news – as many of this blog’s regulars certainly do, it’s likely you’ve already heard about GovLoop joining GovDelivery: the thriving collaboration network for government employees is now a unit of the fast-growing government-to-citizen communications provider. Practically, what it means is that GovLoop founder Steve Ressler is leaving his federal IT job to manage GovLoop full time, with added resources from the team at Scott Burns‘ GovDelivery.
I’ve know Steve Ressler and GovLoop since last summer, when I joined Steve’s network when it had just over 900 members. It’s now closing on 20,000 members and has become a key network connecting government employees from local, state and federal agencies, along with the contractors and thought leaders who work with them. It’s no stretch to say that the young GovLoop network is one of the most powerful engines driving government reform today.
Connections through GovLoop helped me launch the Gov 2.0 Radio podcast, where Steve is a co-host. GovLoop and Steve introduced me to Scott Burns and GovDelivery, and Scott was recently a guest on the podcast. GovDelivery is a major behind-the-scenes player in connecting citizens with government information and services, and values Ressler for his pioneering work in connecting government innovators and lineworkers to share best practices in our fast-changing world.
There will be plenty of coverage of todays news, so I’ll cut to my personal point. I am tremendously happy for Steve as he sees his vision of connecting and growing the best of public service turn from a labor of love to a full-time job.
Steve has always embraced the community as more important than the technology, and its gratifying to see that attitude pay off in allowing him to pursue community full time. Growing GovLoop will continue to require tremendous commitment from the thousands of active participants who write blogs, share events and brainstorm through its hundreds of groups. I’m excited about growing GovLoop, and I hope you are, too.
Join Gov 2.0 Radio on Wednesday at 6 p.m. PST/9 EST as we discuss GovLoop’s future with Steve and Scott.
Past blog posts about GovLoop: