Archive for May, 2009

Open Gov’t: Help Improve

Last week, I blogged about 4 major new developments in open government.

Next up is an effort to engage the public in improving, which is where people can comment online about proposed regulations, read related materials, and generally get involved in helping set policy. The feedback effort is called Exchange.

Here’s the note that the site’s managers sent out to the Gov’t Web Managers Forum:

We are excited to announce that on May 21, 2009, the eRulemaking Program launched Exchange, an online forum enabling the public to explore new innovative designs and features proposed for

We invite our colleagues on this listerv to login to the Exchange site and share your knowledge and suggestions on improving On the Exchange, you can preview the new homepage design and other features proposed for the site. We value the expertise and insight of this group, and will use the feedback from the Exchange site to prioritize our ongoing updates to in the future. Exchange will be open for public participation until July 21, 2009 at Exchange promotes public engagement by actively involving citizens in the development of a major government-wide web site, and uses new technologies that enhance the transparency of
government decision-making. The public feedback will shape on-going updates of, explore the impact of emerging Internet technologies on the federal rulemaking process, foster government-citizen collaboration, and promote government transparency and openness.

The eRulemaking Program, a federal-wide E-Government project led by the Environmental Protection Agency, operates the web site. is the one-stop, online source for citizens to search, view and comment on regulations issued by the U.S. government. In 2008, received more than 110 million hits and 450,000 comments on new or existing regulations. It holds 2 million documents from more than 160 federal entities.

We thank you for your participation!

Kristin Tensuan and Shanita Brackett

So what are you still doing here? Go tell ’em how to make better!


Help Me Learn? Tweeting for an Organization

Here at EPA, we have many Twitter feeds. Most are run automagically via RSS feeds.

I’m trying to figure out whether our main feed, @usepagov, should have a live person behind it who responds to people. I’m very concerned about the potential time demands, because EPA is involved in an enormous number of issues that affect all Americans. I can easily imagine it ballooning out of control.

On the other hand, in every other social media experiment at EPA, if there’s been a problem with the level of citizen engagement, it’s been too little, not too much. So I’m tempted to try it, having one of my team members keep track and develop responses.

But first, I figured I’d ask my colleagues: here in my normal blog, on GovLoop, and on Twitter.

So: if you represent your organization (gov’t agency, private company, non-profit, whatever) on Twitter, how much time does it take? How many questions do you get? Do you find you’re able to answer them, or do you farm them out? Have you set up a specific set of people to expect to get your queries, or is it ad hoc?

Any tips or advice or info you could share would be terrific.


Big Day for Gov’t 2.0

So many things happened today that my head is spinning.

If your head is spinning, too, you might appreciate a handy-dandy link list.

U.S. Government YouTube hub:  gives you quick access to all agency channels.

White House blog post re: Gov’t 2.0: Bev Godwin highlights social media projects all across government.  Features a video with White House New Media Director Macon Phillips giving a guided tour of many gov’t 2.0 sites. the new gov’t-wide site designed to give you raw data to play with.  Mashups, anyone?

Round 2 of the Open Gov’t Initiative: the White House invites all Americans to suggest ideas on how to make the gov’t more transparent, participatory, and collaborative.  The site features an innovations gallery, showing the best of open gov’t.

Those are all from the gov’t itself.  But also today, the Sunlight Foundation launched Apps for America 2, where people are invited to create good uses for gov’t data they find on

And here’s my bold prediction: in a year, we’ll look back on this stuff and laugh at how little we were doing back then.

Crisis Communications: Takeaways from SMC-DC

Tonight I attended an interesting panel sponsored by Social Media Club-DC about crisis communications.  The panelists:

  • Andy Carvin, NPR
  • Dallas Lawrence, Levick Strategic Communications
  • Jon Eick, New Media Strategies
  • Gayle Weiswasser, TMG Strategies (who summarized the panel in her own blog, capturing different items from those below)

Part of my job and my team’s job is to lead crisis communications efforts for EPA. I mean for things like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Columbia crash. We’re not always directly driving, but we’re in the loop.

The first thing I learned was that businesses don’t mean the same thing I do when the use the phrase “crisis communications.” They mean “our brand is in serious trouble.” There were several good examples, like a video some Domino’s Pizza employees made showing themselves doing unsavory things, and discussion of how to respond. One tip I came up with after coming home and finding Domino’s response video where their president tries to convey emotional commitments: look at the camera.  You’ll come across as more sincere.

However, once I understood the difference in the definitions of “crisis,” I also saw that everything the panelists and audience members were saying applied just as well to EPA and government agencies in general.  We have a brand, we have a reputation, and both come under attack.

The second thing I learned, or rather had confirmed, was that government agencies badly need to get going with listening strategies.  if we don’t at least know what’s being said in social media channels, we can’t possibly respond.  This goes far beyond traditional newspaper clips.  One of my goals for the near term is to set something up so we know what’s being said about EPA online.

One thing I think gov’t agencies have to be careful of is to ensure that our messages are truthful.  We can’t ever be seen as creating propaganda.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t respond to inaccuracies and tell our story.

Beyond those two points, here are my raw notes.  I apologize in advance for not getting who said what, but it’s all good stuff:

Crisis comms meaning brand crisis

Bulletproof your brand in advance
Actively listen to pick up early signals
Socmed offers power to push back on media to put out our own msg
Volunteers can help spread word
Companies who try to use socmed get credit for trying

Know who’s covering you
Be a part of the community
Use a wide range of tools (not just blogs)
Engage in conversation
Use socmed to communicate internally to break down barriers
Put socmed plan in place before crisis hits

How to convince people to invest in a response strategy?
Check competition
Find case studies

Apparently, Sun microsystems has a good employee socmed policy.  They’re building a cadre of savvy employees as brand ambassadors by telling staff how to use social media, not what to avoid.  Sounds like good advice to me.

P.S.  I also found this wiki article by Charlene Li, which links to a bunch of different social media policies.  I hope to have one to add from EPA at some point.

How to talk to managers about social media

I’m constantly asked “how did you convince your management to let you do this stuff?”

That’s when I get a little sheepish, because my management has been pushing me for at least two years, not the other way around (have I told you the story of how, two years ago, our web team told our Deputy Administrator no, he shouldn’t do a blog?).

But I do get to talk to groups of managers around EPA and elsewhere to help them understand why they should, at minimum, be learning about social media.

Two key points when talking to managers:

  1. Focus on mission. Managers have a job to do. Help them understand you’re not pushing for a cool toy, but rather for them to incorporate useful tools into how they achieve their mission.
  2. Be clear this is a culture change, not a tech issue.  We’re changing how we trust employees, how we invite the public into the conversation, and the way we write.  All the emotions normally associated with change apply here: fear, confusion, wariness, excitement, anticipation, worry about doing it “wrong.” People will make mistakes, and you must be up front about that.  But the benefits far outweigh the occasional mishap.

And here are some tools I use:

  • The presentation I use when briefing EPA mgr groups about social media. Feel free to use any of it. You can even download it from that site and edit it.
  • Blog post from Marie Ulysse of the Social Media Subcouncil: “Making the transition from “filtering” communication to engaging in the “open” arena of social media may seem like a daunting task for some organizations. However, with some preparation and the “good ole” power of persuasion the transition can be positive and valuable …”
  • I also like two engaging videos that either I ask them to watch ahead of time, or show them during the presentation:
    Information R/evolution
    : discusses and demonstrates how the way we think about information is changing.  I especially like this one because it doesn’t rely on specialized knowledge

    Did you Know? Current version is 3.0. Provides several facts about how the world is changing, esp. online.  Some folks still prefer version 2.0, although the stats are now a little outdated

    Also good is The Machine is Us/ing Us, but I don’t think it’s as useful unless you know some technical info like what RSS is.

What tools do you use when talking social media to managers?

Transparent calendars

Today I posted to EPA’s blog, Greenversations, about our plans to publish sr. EPA mgr. calendars showing meetings with the public.

Rather than repeat it here, I just want to invite you to head over there and share your thoughts.

Demographics of Pick 5 for the Environment on Facebook

At the moment, we have 686 fans of EPA’s Pick 5 for the Environment page on Facebook.

I thought it was interesting that women outnumber men 2:1.  The age distribution seems reasonable to me, though.

686 Fans

Age Female Male Overall
All 67% 33%
13-17 1% 1% 2%
18-24 5% 5% 9%
25-34 24% 9% 33%
35-44 23% 10% 33%
45+ 15% 8% 22%

The stats for our main Facebook page aren’t working right now, but I’ll post them another time. We have 1404 fans there. When I looked yesterday, it was something like 58%-42% women over men. Not quite as high as Pick 5, but still a large difference.

I’m on Twitter @levyj413