Friday, September 21, 2007

Less blogging, more project managing

It seems somehow ironic to me that now I'm officially all social media, all the time, I have *less* time for blogging and blog-surfing, and instead find myself up to my elbows in project charters and business cases and the other flotsam and jetsam of government business.

While we started out with grand ideas for our social media project, I'm quickly learning that just because I can dream it doesn't mean we can do it. Even enabling our RSS feeds has had some unique challenges that I never would have imagined.

All that said, here's the gist of what we're hoping to accomplish in the next year or so:

  • enable our RSS feeds and chose a few content streams to syndicate.
  • build a decent user interface and decide on how and what to offer on our Web site with regard to RSS subscription (because we're government, we can't be seen as endorsing, say, Bloglines over Google Reader.)
  • set up a series of Webinars - some educational, others consultative - with specific client groups.
  • produce half a dozen or so short, downloadable "podcasts" and make them available on our Web site, perhaps in up to three languages in addition to English and French.
  • produce one longer videocast, maybe three to five minutes long, and make it available for download from our Web site. (It was our first preference to be able to offer these in streaming media, but our IT support slammed that door in a hurry. "Streaming" is apparently a dirty word around here.)

We're also working on how to formalize the monitoring of social media in the same way we currently monitor other mainstream media, and working on at least one policy directive relating to social media, covering everything from employee blogging to corporate behaviour.

Over the longer term, we're looking at hosting a blog, and maybe even an online discussion forum on our Web site, but I've been told there are enough significant security, policy and infrastructure issues that it will be a long time before this part comes to fruition.

In the interim, though, a huge hat-tip to my colleagues over at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who have just launched their own blog. Very nicely done, too.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Banning social media at work

Last week, PC World ran an article titled, "Don't Ban Facebook at Work, Researchers Advise." The researchers in question were from Britain's Trade Union Congress (TUC), which suggested that employee education and policies governing the use of Facebook and other social networking sites on company time would be a more productive response than banning them outright.

While it's unacceptable for employees to spend hours at work on such sites, it is OK and even beneficial to trust them to spend a few minutes using the sites, the TUC said. 'It's unreasonable for employers to try to stop their staff from having a life outside work, just because they can't get their heads around the technology.'

We're facing our own in-house struggles with the net nanny these days. Last month, just when we were on the threshold of launching our social media project, changes were made to the filters that permit Web access, and most employees with Internet access found that access to blogs had been cut off. It's not exactly easy to do a social media project when you can't get into the blogosphere! Worse, it's now six weeks later and only about a dozen of us have had our access restored while almost 200 are on a priority list to be reinstated... something which might not happen any time soon, as our security people apparently have some serious concerns about enabling access. Actually heard at one meeting: "But, did you know blogs have porn on them?"


In granting our unfettered access to blogland, though, the configuration of the net nanny means that the lucky few who have had our access to blogs restored have also been given access to Facebook. And we have been told, in no uncertain terms, that ALL access will be monitored, and ANY employee who accesses Facebook may be subject to disciplinary action.

I guess this means I'll have to wait until I get home to play Scrabulous with my Friends.

Friday, September 7, 2007


After an extended summer holiday from work-related blogging, I'm back. What better time than September, and after a prolonged absence, to reinvent oneself?

First of all, you might notice I've switched to the first person. I may occasionally slip back to the royal "we", but that's just many years of government peonship overriding my individualistic tendencies. While I'm still part of a team, I've given up on the idea that anybody else might be contributing to this blog any time in the near future. It's all me, all the time.

Me, I'm Danielle. I'm choosing to remain partly pseudonymous because I'm just not sure my organization is ready for me to out the lot of us just yet. And my organization will remain pseudonymous for now, too, as it allows me just a little bit more candor. I'm a communications strategist with a large Canadian federal government department, and as of last month I'm working full time on social media in a government communications context.

I'd like to reinvent this blog over the next little while, too. Rather than focusing on what the rest of the world is doing with social media, an increasingly crowded field, I'd like to share our experiences with you as we struggle as an organization to figure out the implications and applications of social media as they apply to government communications. We've moved out of the research phase of our social media experiment and over the next year we hope to implement a few concrete pilot projects to see how we can make the tools of social media work with and for us.

As always, anything written in this blog is my opinion alone and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer.

(Hat tip to Marc Snyder, who many weeks - it might have been months - ago encouraged me to be a little bit more forthcoming about the warm bodies behind the blog.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The PMO, the Cabinet ministers and Facebook

Sorry about the sparse posting lately. Too many tasks and not enough people to go around. Things should settle down soon, and I've got some great ideas for future posts.

But! Today, I wanted to share this article from The Hill Times, the official newspaper of Parliament Hill. In a rather unfortunate move, it seems the PMO has banned Cabinet ministers from having personal pages on Facebook. (Sorry, the article is open to subscribers only.) The article notes:

Conservative sources told Hill Climbers that senior PMO officials instructed all chiefs of staff to Cabinet ministers last month at their weekly meetings to "encourage" ministerial staffers to remove their pages from Facebook because they don't want personal information or political views posted which could potentially create negative press and fodder for opposition parties.

The PMO took this course of action after CBC TV on May 16, took quotes from the Facebook web page of Jeffrey Kroeker, former senior staffer to Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the Senate and now director of communications and Parliamentary affairs to Helena Guergis, secretary of state for Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

I suppose this doesn't bode well for a Cabinet minister having a blog any time soon, does it?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Facebook and the civil servants

Michael Geist had an interesting column this week on the hugely popular social networking site Facebook. He provides a bit of a history of Facebook (hard to believe it's only been open to the Internet at large since September 2006!) and some insight into how users are connecting and why it's so popular. Geist notes, "Statistics Canada estimates that there are approximately 17 million Canadian Internet users, suggesting that in the span of nine months the site has grown to the point that roughly one in 10 Canadian Internet users now has a page on the site."

Responding to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's recent statement that Facebook offers little value to public servants, Dr. Geist observes, "Is there really no benefit to having government policymakers access and participate in the hundreds of groups discussing Ontario health care issues? Would it be so bad for elected officials to actually engage with their constituents in a social network environment?"

On his blog, Dr Geist adds the following opinion: "Attempts to block such activity are not only bound to fail, but they ultimately cut off decision makers, school officials, and community leaders from their communities. The answer does not lie in banning Facebook or the other emerging social media sites, but rather in facing up to Facebook fears and learning to use these new tools to engage and educate."

We don't have access to Facebook here, either, but that's because our Agency's net-nanny filters it as a "personals and dating" site.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The government doesn't like miscellany

Boing Boing posted a review yesterday of a new book by philosopher, technologist and Web commentator David Weinberger, best known for his book and Web site called The Cluetrain Manifesto. His latest book, subject of the Boing Boing review, is called Everything is Miscellaneous, which looks like required reading for anybody interested in the sociological effects of social media.

According to the review, "Weinberger's thesis is this: historically, we've divided the world into categories, topics, and hierarchies because physical objects need to be in one place or another, they can't be in all the places they might belong. Computers and the Internet turn this on its head: because a computer can "put things" in as many categories as they need to be in, because individuals can classify knowledge, tasks, and objects idiosyncratically, the hierarchy is revealed for what it always was, a convenient expedient masquerading as the True Shape of the Universe."

It's the next part of the review that I found so relevant to our considerations of government in the face of social media and Web 2.0. It says, "It's a powerful idea: from org charts to science, from music to retail theory, from government to education, every field of human endeavor is tinged with hierarchy, and every hierarchy is under assault from the Internet."

Yet more evidence to support the idea that we need to subvert our traditional top-down command and control models when considering the bureacracy in a socially-networked world.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Strategies for organizing a Corporate Social Media Program

Jeremiah Owyang writes a blog called Web Strategy, and offered in a recent post some excellent thoughts on integrating social media into an organization. I'm reprinting a large portion of the post verbatim, simply because the advice is so concise, so relevant and so right (thanks to Ian Ketcheson for the link.)

  • Recognize the new influencers. Like Media, Press, and Analysts, consider Social Media yet an additional influencer group to reach.
  • Prepare for all scenarios. Create an internal process or at least discuss how to deal with crises. (such as exploding products, embarrassing situations). Draw from classic PR strategies, but realize that acting quickly in a human way, and not hiding is key.
  • Don’t shy away. Acknowledge deficiencies, no matter how shameful immediately. If you don’t have the answer, at least acknowledge you see the problem and will respond as soon as you have an answer. As a result you will become the first source of news, and will control any additional buzz. Stay relevant, address the issues.
  • Human media is at your disposal. Consider using video to humanize communications, during a crisis this could be a big difference. Recently Jet Blue and KFC have done these during crises.
  • Address the good as well as the bad. In addition to planning for fire drills, be sure to plan for positive unexpected events. If a customer raves about your produce on his blog, learn how to acknowledge and harness. There’s a variety of ways to use this.
  • Track who’s who. Create an index of bloggers and influences in your industry, consider putting on an internal list, an internal feedreader or even on an industry wiki.
  • Appoint and Empower. For especially large organizations figure out who’s on point to respond to bloggers and social media in different segments, product groups or verticals. Teach them, empower them and support them to act without unnecessary political review processes. Let them be human.
  • Employees will blog, embrace. In addition to creating the corporate blog(s), be sure to recognize the natural employee bloggers that appear. You may find them in the product groups, support, and marketing departments. Have a discussion on how to include them in your strategy, even if it means to let them continue on their own. When it comes to trust, prospects and customers may trust employee bloggers that don’t have the corporate logo on their blog.
  • The Blogging/Ethics Policy. This depends on the corporate situation, for some companies, this is a requirement, and for other companies, this is already covered in the employee ethics policy. Figure out what’s right for your culture. Ultimately, you should trust your employees, if not, why did you hire them?
  • Consider creating the “Air Traffic Control Tower”. Just like at an airport, having an internal direction to let know corporate and employee bloggers know what’s happening is helpful. This internal blog could help let bloggers know what’s appropriate to say, what’s not, and indicate what’s happening out on the blogosphere. Use to keep track of advocates and detractors, and use tags as appropriate to create a running history.
  • Use Social Media as Sales Tools. I’ve found that corporate blogs can be used for sales and marketing three ways: 1) A “living” white paper by your companies thought leaders, 2) A rapid response tool. Think about how long a press release takes to craft. 3) A Conversation Starter: encourage your sales teams to send along interesting or controversial blog topics to prospects and customers to elicit a dialogue –even if they don’t agree. Consider creating sales FAQs and upload to intranet, these are tools that can be used.