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Google+ for Government

August 1, 2011

It’s no surprise that most of us today suffer from a pretty serious case of shiny object syndrome. Those in public relations or communications tend to suffer even more acutely – we wouldn’t want to be caught missing out on the next big thing, after all. So it’s no surprise that businesses are already considering how Google+ could be harnessed for corporate communications. It, after all, combines so many things PR loves – search, customer data, and information gathering capabilities.

While Google is attempting to keep brands at bay, some, including Ford Motor Company, just can’t help themselves and have already launched test accounts. (Because putting “test account” in hot pink on your brand page is just daring Google to take you seriously). The opportunities for collaboration, info sharing and the coolness factor of being one of the first on the scene with a new platform are hard to ignore. Those playing around with Google+ represent social media influencers, and they’re a key group to bring on board.

So, with social media so “hot” right now, and government agencies still scrambling to get ahead of the game, shouldn’t they, too, be jumping on the Google+ train? My stance on government use of new platforms isn’t an edgy one – I don’t think government should be an early adopter. And it’s not because I care about terms of service agreements (my concern for TOS or government lawyers in general, has always been a stance of forgiveness being better than permission). The slow pace of bureaucracy can be frustrating for anyone (and especially those working within it), but there are good reasons for government to take a wait and see approach, especially as it pertains to communication trends. Personal privacy and safety should be critical governmental concerns. New social media platforms and trends often represent new waves in the “does anyone online have a right to privacy” debate, and government needs to be cautious in playing that game.

But just because government agencies shouldn’t be rushing to follow Ford’s example with testbed accounts doesn’t mean they should sit solely on the sidelines. The new model of government public affairs officer needs to be willing to be a brand ambassador in testing out new platforms, trying out new tools and exploring the capabilities. So, I hope I’ll continue to see public affairs officers in + form, testing ad-ons and exploring the platform. Those who are already in the space represent their organizations well in trying it out, and hopefully their actions online warrant them being government brand ambassadors (hence, I hope I’ll see some professional networking and not just a lot of beer pong and beach vacation photos). And agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, don’t do any favors with their IT department’s rush to ban access to the new site, just because it has a social element. Trust me, DHS, our enemies aren’t afraid to let their minions online, and that’s one area we could stand to learn from them.

Media maven Lesley Lykins hits the nail on the head in this Navy Times article: “We’re considering it,” said Lt. Lesley Lykins, the Navy’s director of emerging media integration. “We’re still waiting to see the platform itself.”

When you’re working for the government, sometimes a wait-and-see approach isn’t all bad.

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