Drapeau: Web 2.0 best practices already surface

As new as Web 2.0 is, some smart ways to use it are emerging

Social-media technology is a complex ecosystem — a giant, chaotic experiment with a definite learning curve. It can seem overwhelming, and government agencies are just starting to learn how to use social technology tools to communicate information about their missions or successes.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that social media is social. It is about the conversation that people are having now. And that conversation might be about you and your interests, not just your office or your mission. You are either part of that conversation or you are not — there is no in-between.

Citizens aren’t sitting at home waiting for your next press release or Web site update. To paraphrase journalism professor Jay Rosen, they are the people formerly known as the audience. Citizens are groups of individuals having conversations with their families at the dinner table, with colleagues at the proverbial water cooler, and with newfound acquaintances on popular social-media sites.

If you understand that citizens aren’t passive recipients but rather are participants in evolving conversations, what do you do next? Generally, you want to find people talking about your topic of interest, listen to what they’re saying, participate in the conversation, and then start new topics of conversation. Here are some basic guidelines:

Be a RAT: Social media is not so much about technology as it is about people talking to people. Social interactions have a lot to do with personality and trust. Try as much as possible to be Real, Authentic and Transparent — a social “RAT.”

Street smarts mean a lot: A lot of social media is learned through trial-and-error experimentation. Speaking transparently with a human voice can’t be taught easily. Practice makes perfect.

Citizens are talking about your mission: Traditional public relations is unidirectional. But organizations should talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships — the people talking about their interests and missions. Word of mouth is still the most powerful force for spreading trusted information.

Send ambassadors to your community: Organizations should belong to a community and allow some employees to be individually empowered ambassadors. Use those relationships to indirectly influence the discussion that’s happening and learn as well.

Find government best practices: Colleen Graffy, former deputy assistant secretary of State for public diplomacy, successfully used microsharing platform Twitter to connect with overseas journalists as part of her public diplomacy mission. The Transportation Security Administration uses a public blog called "Evolution of Security" to listen to travelers and their complaints. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) uses live-video service Qik to better communicate with his constituents. These are all examples that others can emulate.

As social-media technologies become more popular within government and in the population at large, are you prepared to join the conversation? If you're not, it will go on without you.

About the Author

Mark Drapeau is director of public-sector social engagement at Microsoft. 

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