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Silos in Government Social Media

November 10, 2010

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend National Defense University’s Social Media Implementation Across Organizational Boundaries conference. Outside of a title that was a bit too vague to be informative and a hashtag that was a bit too long (as another attendee pointed out), it was a worthwhile conference and a good opportunity for those in defense social media to connect and collaborate with the broader community of information officers and government agencies using social media to streamline processes.

As with pretty much any conference the most useful conversations were those that took place in the hallways and with fellow attendees, but the panel session that most sparked my interest was one entitled “Government as Enterprise: Beyond the Silos with Social Media.” I suppose it’s because I’m a native Iowan and former government employee, but I really feel like I know my silos. The ability of those in government to stovepipe or seek one track solutions is certainly epidemic, and a key barrier in our ability to implement social media solutions in useful ways.

One thing that struck me as I watched the panel – full of evangelists who are proponents of specific programs, from Intelink to Data.gov – is the fact that even the best evangelists risk creating their own silos when they become too attached to specific tools and platforms. I’ve been advocating this for awhile, but I have a definite concern that government social media and military social media presences in particular need to be very careful that we don’t let our love for specific platforms become barriers that keep us from embracing other ideas.

From a public affairs/communications perspective I still hear a lot of focus on the “big four” as I call them – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and You Tube. As key platforms with a lot of reach I think it’s great to focus on these, but if you’re doing so at the exclusion of preparing for the next thing or investing time in exploring other opportunities on the web, you’re doing yourself a disservice. I’m not arguing that the military or government should be an initial adapter of new technology – our need to be at the cutting edge is tempered by a need to recognize security risks and weigh the costs and benefits. But we should be diversifying and we should be able to take the conversation beyond just a few platforms. Our discussion of social media should understand it as a phenomenon that carries beyond just a few select web sites. Our definition, and our use, of social media, should be more diverse than that.

We risk erecting social media silos anytime we become too enamored with our own success or our own social media solutions. We should share our successes and be evangelists for platforms and initiatives that bring success, but we should also create low barriers of entry for new solutions and ideas – even those that might contradict the current initiative. And we should also carefully fight against seeking perfection in the online domain. Sometimes settling for imperfect solutions will be the only way we’ll be able to embrace important trends in social media.

All of us playing in the online space need to be very careful not to believe our own hype. Just because we’ve hopped on the Gov 2.0 wagon doesn’t mean we’re devoid of the same faults and pitfalls that you encounter across government. Let’s continue to stretch the conversation, expand our knowledge and make sure that when we’re evangelists, we’re evangelists for our organizational mission – not just our favorite web sites.

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