Archive for April, 2009

Blog ideas

So many ideas have bounced in and out of my head recently … including an idea I heard from Jeff Jarvis today at the gov’t web managers conference: life is beta.

Basically, it means don’t wait for perfection – just get something out there.

So here’s my running list of stuff I’d like to expand on at some point:

  • Why social media and gov’t is exploding at this particular moment in history (confluence of politics (politicians plus transparency groups), technology, and society)
  • How to talk to bosses about social media
  • How to talk to attorneys about social media
  • Where I hope we’re going with social media in gov’t
  • Sharing stories that amaze me about online communities I’ve been part of, particularly on my photography site, where we’ve bought cameras for people, sent flowers to people in the hospital, and donated thousands of dollars to charities
  • How my varied interests in rockclimbing, SCUBA diving, camping/hiking, and photography led me to social media
  • The incredible changes that have happened even in the last 6 months in gov’t attitudes and use of social media (and in non-gov’t people’s attitudes towards those of us in gov’t)
  • An expert is …

I’ll keep adding to this list and, with luck, find time to remove things and actually write about them!

Got any suggestions?

Webel Yell 2009

Back in 2006, a couple of my fellow EPA webbies and I decided to take a day off and go to Kings Dominion, the theme park south of DC that has a large number of roller coasters.  We had so much fun, we did it again the following year.  We missed last year, and decided that this year, we’d open it up to everyone else.

So join us on June 2!  We picked the date to:

  • avoid Memorial Day week, when  many folks are out of town
  • avoid Mondays and Fridays, when many government people are on their days off
  • go on a weekday to avoid crowds
  • go before kids get out of school to avoid crowds.

Hence June 2.

I wasn’t really planning to do anything but announce it a few times on Twitter, but then my friend Melissa and I were chatting on Facebook one night, and she set up a Facebook event.  So I just set up a matching Eventbrite event (besides, it gave me a chance to try out Eventbrite; my Government 2.0 camp co-organizers did all of that so I didn’t need to learn it then).

Nothing formal, nothing particularly organized.  But at least those pages give people a way to see who else is coming (in case someoe else actually is coming).

And definitely nothing work-related that day.

Oh, and the name?  Kings Dominion has a great double coaster called the Rebel Yell.  One part goes forward and the other backward.  The best ride is in the back of the backward train, so you’re looking out the back end as you go screaming around the track.

Twitter to the Rescue!

No, this isn’t about anything as dramatic as Demi Moore possibly helping to prevent a suicide.   Just a couple of real-world examples that reminded me of when Doug Beizer included me in an article in Federal Computer Week, discussing how I use Twitter as a research tool. Today brought that article back to me.

First, I needed a little help choosing a character to separate fields that would pop out of a Web form.  I wasn’t developing the form myself – that was my team member.  But we weren’t sure what character to use, because one field would be people’s email addresses, and all kinds of things appear in those.

Twitter to the rescue!

Something weird is going on. Can you try http://www.epa.gov and click on "Learn the Issues"? It works for some, not for others. Thx!

I asked, and several people quickly recommended the pipe character: |.  I even got feedback before I needed it; Jim Lootens told me he’d had a comma in one of his work email addresses, and later someone else suggested using a comma.  Forewarned is forearmed!

Then a little while later, @studiojmm told me several links on EPA’s  home page were broken.  Well, naturally I checked, and everything was working fine for me.  She was so helpful via email, though, that I wanted to figure it out.   We got into a quick web meeting so I could see what she was seeing.  Lo and behold, the links were broken for her!  I immediately suspected a script we use to learn how many times people click on each of our home page links.  It’s too much of a server hog, so we only do it on the home page, but it’s very useful.  We don’t track who clicks what, just that, say, the link to thus-and-such was clicked X times last week.  I was worried, because if she was seeing those links break, maybe there was a firewall issue and the whole world was seeing broken links all over our home page.

Twitter to the rescue!

Something weird is going on. Can you try http://www.epa.gov and click on "Learn the Issues"? It works for some, not for others. Thx!

Many people quickly responded that everything was working fine.  I still needed to help @studiojmm figure out what was going on, but at least I knew I didn’t need to quickly yank the script off our home page, and thousands of people weren’t getting frustrated on our home page.  As it turned out, there probably was something strange going on with her company’s IP addresses, and I forwarded her name and concern on to someone at EPA to look into it.

Thinking about it now, Twitter actually came to the rescue twice here: because of Twitter, she got help she needed and I got confirmation our home page wasn’t broken.

Just more to add to the reasons why I tweet.

BTW, while looking for Doug’s article, I found again Ari Herzog’s blog post about how people use Twitter.  I still like my description: as “a source of filtered, purified water out of a raging river,” meaning I regularly get references to good blogs and articles from people whose opinions I respect (See Ari’s post and good responses for more descriptions).

Do you have “Twitter to the rescue!” stories?

The Accidental Following

I’m astounded at the number of people following me on Twitter, where I’m @levyj413.  Truly. The count is currently at 3293.

I’ve seen three large jumps in that number because of a few specific events, and I like giving credit where it’s due, so here they are:

  • Quite randomly, I called into an NPR show called Science Friday when they were discussing Web 2.0 with Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly).  They not only let me ask Tim a question, but then asked me about government’s use of social media.  I misunderstood and gave out my Twitter ID, and boom! This was early in my tweeting, and it bumped the count from 200 to 300 in about an hour.  (As a side note, friends all over the country sent me email for weeks saying they’d heard me.  It’s a great example of trying something on a whim – you never know how it might turn out. And I’m convinced the next two bumps in followers happened because I did, to say nothing of cool things like being invited to help organize Gov 2.0 Camp).
  • A Mashable article by Lon Cohen (@obilon) in February, who singlehandedly tripled the count from 700ish to more than 2200 in a few days.  That was so fast a climb that I assumed Twitter had a hiccup when I logged in after a couple of days.
  • A ReadWriteWeb article by Marshall Kirkpatrick (@marshallk) in March.

And now thanks to a nice Twitter tradition of recommending people to follow on Fridays, I get more bumps each week.

I’m especially surprised because I don’t actively seek followers.  I mean, I definitely have reasons to be on Twitter, mainly to let the world know, and especially social media advocates, that people inside the government also know the value of these tools and are actively exploring them.  That is, you have allies inside.

But I just go about my business, sharing the info I know and come across.  I don’t study how to get followers.

Frankly, I keep expecting the number to plummet.  I’m not quite sure what people are looking for when they start following me, but I figure they’ll leave when they realize I’m not it.  And some do, but even more come in.

About a month ago, it kind of sank in that maybe I’ve got it right about just doing my thing and seeing what happens, so I posted this:

Want followers who stick with you? Share what you know, admit what you don't, praise deserving people, retweet good stuff. Simple.

Want followers who stick with you? Share what you know, admit what you don't, praise deserving people, retweet good stuff. Simple.

Even having said that, I regularly wonder “who ARE all you people?”  Seriously.  Say hi via an @reply and introduce yourselves. :)

All of which brings me to my real question, which came up the other day: is it okay to plug your own blog post more than once?  I feel kind of weird even plugging it once, because I’m not trying to get people to pay attention.  But at the same time, people seem to respond to stuff I offer, and I know people miss tweets the first time around.  I certainly see only a small fraction of what the people I follow have to say.

So – what do you think?  And have you been the beneficiary of someone else’s compliments that bounced your follower count?

Social Media: A Way of Thinking

[Note: I sort of goofed in how I mentioned this blog post on Twitter;  this isn’t about the subject of whether it’s okay to plug your own blog more than once, but now that I think about it, I’ll write about that soon. Meanwhile, enjoy this one!]

Over the past few months, I’ve been briefing managers at EPA and other agencies about social media. During that time, it’s occurred to me that there’s a “social media” way of thinking. Maybe it’s a Web 2.0 way of thinking, or a New Media way of thinking, but however you define it, it’s very different from the standard project management approach.

Please share your own thoughts below my list. Oh, and at the bottom, I embedded the presentation I’ve been giving to managers, which incorporates the contents of this list.

BTW, none of this is original to me (which, I suppose, could be culture point 0: use and share ideas that work, even if you didn’t think them up).

1) Using social media well is a culture change. It’s not a technology challenge. Yes, tech issues must be solved. But you’ll never succeed if you start with tech.

2) Develop some strategy, but don’t wait for the perfect 400-page, $200,000 project plan. Come up with a few bullets and get going.

3) Experiment. You’ll never know every possible outcome in advance. That’s why you try things.

4) Define measures of success that are specific to that tool. Don’t just focus on financial return on investment.  “Return on engagement” is usually better for social media projects.  For example, our goals for EPA’s blog Greenversations included things like putting a human face on our agency and sharing personal stories connecting employees’ work and regular lives. Our goals for a regulatory blog, a scientific wiki, etc. will be very different.

5) Be ready to fail (fast, small). You will, someday. Guaranteed. But fail well: learn, regroup, revise, try again. And by following #2, you won’t lose that much if you do fail.  In fact, depending on what you learn, it might even be a net gain. More on this from William Eggers and Shalabh Singh.

6) Be ready to succeed. When it goes well, write down why. And tell others. Here, on GovLoop, Twitter, etc. Esp. if you’re in gov’t, sharing means that the taxpayer pays for that knowledge fewer times.  Ask yourself “what’s next” even as a project is winding down and plug that knowledge into the next one.

7) Embrace criticism (blog comments, anyone?). Rarely will complaints be utterly without value. “Your writing sucks” is useful. “Your agency has abandoned your mission” is, too. You’re not obligated to change everything because of every comment. But you may just discover some nuggets if you can get past any nasty language.

8) Accept that people will come up with ways to use your social media projects in ways you never expected. There are 6 billion people out there, which is a much larger crowd than your agency.

9) Know the policy framework. Not doing so risks running into brick walls at high speed. And when you do that, you often bounce backward. Whereas if you know the policies, you know which walls are brick, which are sponge, which are 3 feet high by 3 feet wide and which are 30 feet high and 2 miles long. Bonus: knowing the walls tells you where to push for change. And knowing the “why” behind the policies often leads to finding good solutions within them.  A great way to learn this information is to go to lunch with your IT folks and your attorneys.  That informal relationship will also help you when things aren’t going well.

I’ll stop there in the hope that the tendency to do top 10 lists will get you to suggest what #10 should be.

Oh, and here’s my presentation titled “Social Media And The Gov’t: A Brief Introduction for Managers”).

Community Worldle Redux

Thanks to the 16 folks who responded to my request for words related to government and social media.  Here’s what you came up with.  I think that wordles often aren’t too helpful, but this time it’s pretty clear that open communication is key:

Wordle: Government 2.0

Some interesting combinations via proximity came out of the randomness, too:

  • people-collaboration-government
  • information-transparent-democracy
  • evolving-trust-technology
  • powerful-citizen
  • security-transparency (I’d love to see someone make that connection literal!)
  • new-forum
  • public-exciting-empowering-listening-participation-honest-outreach-responsibility

I have an image in my head of a beat poet gathering (or at least what I imagine they looked like), with a hep cat sittin’ up front beneath a spotlight spouting these words into the void, accompanied by a jazzy sax.

Community Wordle

Being brain-dead, I have a simple idea: let’s see what a government social media wordle will look like among people who follow me on Twitter (because, well, probably no one else even knows about this blog).

You know wordles, right?  That interesting (if not directly useful) system that take a set of words and randomly creates imagery?

So – leave a comment with some words you think are relevant to social media in government, and let’s see what comes out.