To get ready for an upcoming presentation, I came up with a list of things about social media that scare small town governments, or roadblocks that keep them from participating in social networks. I think there are lots of similarities to small businesses.
- We don’t know what to do.
- We don’t want to lose control (of the message, the conversation).
- We might draw negative comments.
- We could run into legal issues.
- Does this create Open Records Issues?
- What will it cost?
- Where will we find the time or the staff to do it?
- This is not seen as serious business. We have important things to do.
- If we spend money to get help, we might face public outcry.
- Will there be any return on this investment?
- How does this fit with what we do now?
- Who will do it, and what are they NOT doing while they are doing it?
- What if we mess up?
- Why? What for?
- People will expect follow up and better performance.
- What if it’s a failure?
- The Mayor, Council, or the Public might not like it, or don’t like it.
- What if we accidentally reveal too much information?
- We don’t know the guidelines or rules.
- We can’t keep up with changing technology.
- What would we say?
- This might create jealousy when one employee gets to do it, but not others.
- We’re too small.
What are the Answers?
If you’ve tried to help people with these issues, what answers have you found effective? Are there some techniques that help get past some of these internal barriers?
I’ll do a follow up with some of the best solutions. I’ll be speaking on this topic twice in the coming months, so I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit!
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Ari Herzog says
Since you asked for answers, I’ll be brief, one by one:
1. We don’t know what to do.
That’s a good response. If you knew what to do, you’d be doing it. Ask your customers, constituents, stakeholders, employees, vendors, and others for help and assistance and advice. They will tell you what to do.
2. We don’t want to lose control (of the message, the conversation).
You can moderate blog comments, you can restrict fans from posting on your Facebook wall. But what’s wrong with losing control? Have you never fallen off a bike when learning to ride and gotten back up?
3. We might draw negative comments.
If you don’t have critics, you’re not doing a good job.
4. We could run into legal issues.
That’s why there are lawyers who specialize in new media issues.
5. Does this create Open Records Issues?
It might, but don’t let it deter you.
6. What will it cost?
Anywhere from $0 to $100,000. It depends what you want to do.
7. Where will we find the time or the staff to do it?
Maybe your staff are already doing it for fun in their personal time. Maybe some residents are already blogging and podcasting about you and would step up for the chance to do it for you. Have you asked them?
8. This is not seen as serious business. We have important things to do.
So do other government agencies, yet they’re doing it.
9. If we spend money to get help, we might face public outcry.
You might. See #3 above. Also, hold public forums before doing anything. In fact, spend 3-6 months doing strategic planning and internet “listening” before spending money to launch campaigns.
10. Will there be any return on this investment?
There might. It depends what you do. The state of Utah was able to close all state government offices on Friday as the result of using web services. They didn’t do it overnight, but that ROI was doubly effective in reducing the carbon footprint.
11. How does this fit with what we do now?
What do you do now?
12. Who will do it, and what are they NOT doing while they are doing it?
See #7 above. Why assume the person doing it is a staffer?
13. What if we mess up?
What if you fall down when learning to ride a bike? Get back up and try again. Pobody’s nerfect.
14. Why? What for?
Why not? Oh yeah, the people want it. They’re banging on the machine and not hearing from you.
15. People will expect follow up and better performance.
That’s unusual from the norm, how?
16. What if it’s a failure?
What if it’s not?
17. The Mayor, Council, or the Public might not like it, or don’t like it.
They might not. They also might. I think they will.
18. What if we accidentally reveal too much information?
Enact a policy so employees know what they can and cannot say on a blog or to a reporter. But on the flipside, everything you do is paid by taxes and elected by voters, so by holding back you risk losing taxpayers by them moving away or votes.
19. We don’t know the guidelines or rules.
Ever hear of search engines and those who do know?
20. We can’t keep up with changing technology.
Your high school’s computer club kids probably do know this new technology. Seek them out.
21. What would we say?
Say the same thing you said when you wanted to buy a fax machine.
22. This might create jealousy when one employee gets to do it, but not others.
It might. See #18 and create a policy who can say what. Diversify the responsibilities.
23. We’re too small.
…and Becky McCray does not interact with bloggers and social media professionals around the world. You’re not too small. You just think you are.
But what do I know? I only consult at the intersection of new media and public policy, and am serving my first term as a city councilor.
Becky McCray says
Ari, you’ve gone above and beyond the call. Thank you for answering each and every one.
This doesn’t mean everyone has to take on all the questions! If you have something to add, feel free to jump in.
As mentioned above, I think it’s real important to be unafraid of negative comments. It shows you trust your community, and can help you to build a better product (whatever that may be).
Becky McCray says
Eric, that is a good point. I think the concern over potential negative comments is a big roadblock.
Sean Gallagher @Business.gov says
Becky, I think a lot of what overwhelms people about social networking is that there’s so much to take on. I think the key is to start small so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Not only should people be unafraid of negative comments, but they need to use them to show how responsive they are to customers. The worst thing you could possibly do is let a negative comment sit out there in a social network and not respond to it.
I think the whole recent episode with director Kevin Smith and Southwest is a good example. Southwest took Smith’s Twitter rage on head-on, explained what happened, investigated the complaints, and posted the results out in the open for everyone to see. I think it showed their customers that they can respond constructively to negative comments, and it also blunted a lot of the other chatter.
When you’ve got social networks where people are rating your business, you’ve got to be responsive to that as well. The worst thing to do is nothing.
Becky McCray says
Sean, it’s easy for us to say not be be afraid, but it can be tough to do, especially in small towns. Thanks for adding to the discussion.