As I continue to discuss government 2.0 with peers across the globe, I am happy to report that progress is being made! Specifically, I have noticed that the content of the dialog is changing. For most of the past year, when I was asked to do a presentation on 2.0 for conferences or webinars, the vast majority of conference organizers asked me to focused on the “what” and the “why” of Web 2.0 in government:
“Please explain Twitter, tell me how to set up a blog,” etc. I was happy to oblige because in order to understand the value offered by these toolsets, you have to have at least a basic knowledge of their general purpose and capabilities.
But in the last few months, I’ve noticed that the focus has shifted to the bigger picture of governance. Now the conference/webinar organizers are saying “Okay, everybody gets it – Facebook has some viability for us in government. But how do you control it? Who manages it? Who can post?” Last week, I participated (remotely via SecondLife) as a guest speaker at a conference organized by the Florida Institute in Government. The conference was focused on the challenges of social media in government. When planning the content of my presentation, the organizer asked me to focus specifically on policy development. How did we work through the process here in Roanoke County? What were the essential components? How did I “sell” the value of it to my administration and elected officials? And she was dead-on with this line of thinking: the session ran long with questions from the audience, the majority of which were focused on policy versus the specifics of a given technology. Next week, I am scheduled to speak (remotely via videoconference) to a Public Adminsitration graduate class at Syracuse University. Throughout the planning the content for the session, the professor has asked me to focus on “New media policies in the public sector…hoping that you could walk us through your county’s strategy, main elements, how you came up with the different elements, what potential implementation problems might be and adoption constraints that you might have encountered (security, cultural issues, identity management, public record creation, records management, etc.).” She asked me to participate not just because of my MuniGov affiliation, but because I am just one example of how government are putting their money where their mouth is…not just talking the 2.0 talk but walking the walk.
Collectively, we’ve moved beyond the “what” and the “why” of govt 2.0 and into the stickier realm of “how”. I call it stickier because how we do this stuff – the controls, the process, the procedures – are a sign that we’ve moved beyond the R&D and into the acceptable use realm. This means accountability, stakeholders and policies that have to be created and <gulp> approved.
However, social media policies should not be feared. Believe it or not, they are not that difficult to construct. I’ll grant you that although it can be an arduous process to get them fully vetted, when they are done, they can be used as a shield, a megaphone and a flashlight! They’re like the MacGyver of policies.
Now, my humble apologies here dear reader, but I am afraid that I won’t be able to tell you exactly how your policy should look. There are too many variables involved (i.e. state laws, political climate, organizational size and culture, etc.) to develop a foolproof checklist for every organization. However, I have discovered some common elements that seem to be inherent in the successful social media/2.0 policies that I’ve seen in government organizations. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- If you are still in the “justification” mode, don’t start with a policy. You need to do some controlled experiments and test the waters first. Policy development before establishing value will be a death knell for 2.0 in your organization. Start with some hands-on value development. (See my earlier post “Incorporating Web2.0 in Your Organization Part 1 – MIX IT UP! ” for some suggestions on how to do this).
- Once you are ready to start on a policy, be sure to think high level. Do not focus your policy on specific technologies or procedures. One of the biggest values of 2.0 is its nimbleness. If you tie a document with the weight that a policy holds to a specific tool, you will never be able to keep up with the technology times. Yes, Youtube might be ideal for your organization now, but you might find something more effective in the future. Use your policy as a general “big picture” guide to the sanctioned use of 2.0 in general – leave the specifics of use to a separate procedure. For example, here in Roanoke County we do not mention Twitter at all in our policy. Yet we have separate procedures that dictate the details like background images, whom we will “Follow”, and our avatar design requirements. Keep it high-level – avoid acronyms, specific technology names or processes used for only a single purpose. Make your policy flexible. It is not intended to be an engraved headstone but rather a dry-erase board. Expect – heck, plan ahead – to make changes to it on at least an annual basis to keep up with the times and the “organizational acceptance” of it all.
- From the beginning of policy development, you need to involve your organization’s key players. At a minimum, every policy should govern a workflow process that includes public information/marketing, information technology and legal counsel. These are the three legs of the 2.0 stool that have to be rock solid for it all to truly work. Anything new you want to implement on a permanent basis should be approved by these departments. I know that my colleagues have at times considered me (IT) to be a bottleneck. But IT, like the others mentioned above are here to support and protect you and your organization from harm. So my advice is to get them on board early. It may take some gentle cattle-prodding to get them to focus on it. Provide them with information. Answer their questions promptly. And I have found that providing doughnuts and/or cookies at meetings often helps to grease the skids as well!
- The policy itself is simply a document. Don’t let it sit on a shelf in a dusty binder. Exercise the policy by developing a cross-departmental workgroup to keep things moving along. Start with the three legs mentioned above, but add representatives from your departments that have a direct connection to your citizens (Libraries, Parks and Recreation, Public Safety, Human Resources, etc.) There are typically folks within these departments that get this stuff, that want to be operating in this space. A policy, coupled with this workgroup will ensure a balance of governance and innovation within your organization…a true key to success and longevity for your govt 2.0 efforts.
- Next, dress that policy up and take it out on the town! Don’t let your policy get bored. Use it as tool of advocacy. By promoting a social media plan that is backed up with the quintessential “big guns” of policy approval, you’ve got a much better chance of making things work across your organization. The policy is the firm foundation from which you can launch a comprehensive communications plan. Use it to help you tell your organization, your elected officials and your constituents that “this stuff is here, we are using it (the right way) and it is a good thing!”
I hope these thoughts above give you a jumpstart on your own policy development. Below are a few examples of social media policies for government organizations that may help even more. By no means is this a comprehensive list of governments that have policies in place. This is just a sampling to show you that organizations engaged in social media come in all shapes and sizes. Please feel free to shoot me a message and let me know if I’ve missed one you’ve found particularly helpful.