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Policy as conversation; strategy that’s social

October 19, 2010

I’m spending the day at the Institute for Defense and Government’s IDGA Social Media for Defense and Government Conference, talking about all things social media and defense. It’s nice to see colleagues and friends in the social media and defense communities gather to do what folks in our profession should be doing more often – collaborating and sharing.

We’re only a half-day into the conference but I’ve already seen two points come into the conversation that I believe are worth discussing – policy and strategy. You can’t go to a government conference without them, but it seems that the trend is evolving in a positive direction. Rather than seeing policy and strategy as rigid elements to be ingrained into doctrine they’re being seen for what they are – evolutionary and adaptive elements of a successful communications strategy, and specifically just one part of what should be an over-arching organizational or communications objective.

Mark Drapeau, Director of Innovative Social Engagement for Microsoft and a long-time proponent of Gov 2.0 and making government more social and collaborative, spoke this morning about a few lessons learned from his time working with government and private industry. Almost as an aside he mentioned his disdain for the term “social media strategy” and instead highlighted the importance of experimentation and experience as social influencers. It leads to an excellent point and an important concept. Social media needs to be embraced for what it is – a relatively new phenomenon that for many, especially in government, needs to be explored and embraced before it can be “strategized.”

Nothing will kill a social media movement faster than requiring every action to be backed up by a strategy document (and I’ve worked with organizations who have tried to require this). Given the speed and the personality of social media, developing multi-page strategy documents will kill organizational excitement faster than any general council or computer virus ever could. When you do develop strategy it should embrace the the medium it’s supporting and be broad, adaptive and innovative.

Another presenter and someone I always enjoyed working with in my days with the Army, Rick Breitenfeldt, spoke about the recent release of the National Guard’s social media guidelines. The key difference between these guidelines and most social media guides or regulations was the National Guard’s decision to release them via press release, rather than incorporating them into doctrine or formal policy.

As anyone who has worked in government knows, it takes months for policy to be formulated. It requires multiple staffings, leadership approval, and more meetings than should be allowed. So the notion of taking something that would typically be considered policy and simply releasing it is definitely an innovative solution for a problem of timeliness. What the National Guard has accomplished, in effect, is the crowd-sourcing of their social media policy across a wide audience including commentary and media interpretation. It’s not necessarily a final solution but it’s definitely a critical first step a number of organizations could take today, to get the conversation started and get the issues talked about.

Semantics can certainly be debated but I strongly appreciate the notion of taking the way we normally do things in military and government – including terms like strategy and policy – and adapting them for a social media environment. Policy can be a conversation, especially in a space like social media; strategy can be developed socially. But it takes federal managers and innovators willing to break past the normal way of doing things.

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