For a few months now, I’ve been repeating this mantra about how to approach social media projects: mission, tool, metrics, teach. It was even one of the options for the day 1 camp song at Gov’t 2.0 Camp.
It came to me while walking home from the Metro one day. I was trying to come up with something punchy because people were regularly asking for help creating social media strategy for their agencies. I particularly wanted something that would be easy to remember and help me emphasize, esp. to managers, that it’s not about being cool: it’s about meeting the agency’s mission.
Tonight, I realized I’d never blogged about it. So heeeeeeere we gooooooo …
Everything we do in a gov’t agency needs to be about mission. Sometimes the connection is a little looser than at other times, but it’s still there. For example, I was talking to some folks at another agency, and they wanted to know why they should use social media. I asked whether there was anything in their mission that would be easier to accomplish if the public knew some stuff. I honestly didn’t know that such info existed; I’ve never thought social media was appropriate for every agency. But they immediately identified something relevant. Sometimes, it just takes stepping back and thinking.
For example, at EPA, our mission is to protect human health and the environment. It’s not “write and enforce regulations” or “conduct research.” Rather, those are efforts we undertake in order to protect human health and the environment. And in both cases, working with the public through social media can improve how we do them. The public can help us both write better regulations and tip us off about people breaking the law. And they can help us set research agendas and tell us which fields of study matter most. And another way we can accomplish our mission is to educate and inspire people so they directly protect the environment without us being involved.
Once we’ve identified the mission, we’re ready to identify some tools to help us get there. Not all of them are social media, not by a long shot. For example, email is still an important tool. When we launched Pick 5 for the Environment, we sent an email to everyone on any of our news release and blog subscription lists, which was 98,000 people. No other online tool available to us at that point could’ve put our invitation in front of so many people. The point isn’t to use social media, but to find the right mix of tools to meet your mission (see below for my presentation on that point).
That said, of course, blogs, wikis, podcasts, and their ilk do offer exciting, new ways to engage the public. But they always need to tie back to accomplishing the mission.
I will allow one loose connection: learning about the tools themselves. I think it’s ok to try some things out that might not be quite so directly tied to mission as other options, as long as your long-term goal is to learn about the tools themselves and then use them more directly for the mission.
Once you’ve chosen a tool, how do you know whether it’s the right tool? How do you know whether you should keep going? How do you figure out what to do next? Yep, you have to measure what you’re up to. This is the area I’ll admit I’m the weakest on. I have some ideas about how to measure our social media efforts, but I’m not happy yet with either the metrics we calculate or the strength of my convictions about the results. For example, we sent that Pick 5 invite out to 98,000 people and about 1200 signed up on day 1. Was that a lot? Not many? What could we have done differently? I’m still not sure.
How does teaching serve your mission? Well, maybe it doesn’t, at least not directly. I guess you do serve your mission indirectly, because if no one ever makes the behind-the-scenes stuff easier to find, then everyone has a harder time learning.
But this is more my attempt to inspire people to give back to the community. If you’ve learned anything from me, please teach others. If you’ve ever sat in a seminar or webinar and left knowing more than you knew going in, pay it forward by sharing with others. Basically, we’re all learning how all this stuff works, and it’s still new enough that there are vast areas left to explore. At a minimum, write up your lessons learned and share them in the Social Media Subcouncil’s wiki. But I’d encourage you to do more, by speaking at conferences and hosting your own webinars, writing blogs, or just talking to other folks at lunch.
No matter who you are, you have something to teach others. Remember: an expert is just someone who knows one thing more than you do about a subject.
In that vein, here’s the presentation I give about how we mix Web 1.0 and 2.0 tools together for Earth Month: