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Not your average IO campaign…

August 3, 2011

There are few things I love more than 37 page “broad agency announcements” – especially when they concern a DARPA funded quest for the ultimate social media, strategic communication, online monitoring machine. In a mid-July announcement DARPA is calling for social technology experts to help it track sentiment online, pull out linguistic clues and otherwise sift through the mass of data to find what is truly relevant in all of those online conversations.

This is no small-potatoes social media operation. The request is offering over $40 million in funding over a three-year contract period. For that kind of cash I’d almost be tempted to put in a bid. And while I’m generally leery of any references to social media and strategic communication (STRATCOM, as the cool kids tend to call it, has been dead to me for some time, I’m afraid), this announcement is different. This is DARPA. From the agency who invented the Internet (I know, hide your disappointment – it wasn’t really Al Gore), I expect cool things. I expect emerging technology, innovative solutions and communication evolutions way bigger than Google creating a social network with +s and circles.

As someone who uses social media as a communicator I’m not expecting those kinds of applications from DARPA. What they’re after is social intelligence, and access to open source information in our military theaters of operation quicker, faster and nimbler. They want to be able to get the pulse of social networks and also study how they can be influenced. What this isn’t is a CENTCOM style request for people to manage Twitter profiles and Facebook pages. This is a request for people to build the technology to reach into the web and pull out relevant social data in new ways.

I’m a big online privacy advocate, and it’s why I take specific steps to safeguard information I don’t want public. But I’m also a big fan of using the capabilities online at our disposal to help take down our enemies, and why I think tracking social trends, and using emerging technologies to do it is the way to go. Especially with folks like DARPA, at the helm.

(Hat tip to www.milblogging.com, where anybody who’s anybody gets their relevant military social media trends and news bits).

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.

Balance? It’s an illusion.

July 12, 2011

Every day I wake up with three full-time jobs – the one I get a check for, and being a wife and mother. Clearly there are varying levels of importance to each of these but as a work-at-home mom the idea of balance takes on new meaning. It’s almost impossible to make everything work perfectly, every day.

I’m amazingly blessed (thanks to God’s grace, no good merit of my own), to work for an awesome company, have amazing family support and a lot of things in my favor when it comes to keeping it all together. But the fact of the matter is, if you work from home, you’re likely to feel like you spend your entire day working. In between conference calls, writing and editing I find myself throwing in a load of laundry, cleaning up baby spit-up, playing pat-a-cake and washing dishes. (Perhaps it doesn’t help that my washing machine is in my home office…along with my son’s jumparoo…).

I’m not complaining about this situation – I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I chose this situation. A key reason I began consulting was for the flexibility and independence. And would I trade business suits and an office for pajamas and a smiling 7 month old as an office-mate? Never. But the fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, I’m plumb exhausted.

I personally think the notion of balance is an illusion – it’s a great goal to strive for but be prepared for reality – which likes to throw a curve ball or two. Lists are great, priorities essential, but at the end of the day whether you’re working at home, in an office or staying at home with kids, life is full of little surprises, and little moments to learn.

Having a positive attitude is one of my mantras. Living the life God has given us with a happy heart isn’t just a good idea – it’s a mandate! Enjoy each moment, indulge in guilty pleasures (for me it’s a pedicure every 6-8 weeks…which I look forward to for weeks in advance!) And trust that if you strive for excellence, believe in something bigger in yourself and work to the true best of your ability, everything will work out as it’s supposed to.

Some days, you may reach perfect balance – the kids will be smiling, the laundry will be done, the boss will give you accolades. Other days it won’t – you’ll screw up the big project, lose the sale, yell at your children and spill dinner all over the kitchen floor. Fortunately life is about way more than those moments.

Federal Government Employees are Lazy

July 8, 2011

And I know because I was one. Now, one might say that incendiary comments such as this are a bad idea, especially for a blog with a significant readership that happens to work for the federal government. But I’ve never been one to shy away from shameless generalizations. I caveat that not all government employees are lazy. Perhaps not even a majority (that can be argued), but the federal government process – of promotions, advancement, and rewards, doesn’t exactly engender top performance. You can’t completely blame the employees – in the face of a federal hiring freeze, pay caps, and management that doesn’t always deal well with its staff, the incentives to coming into work ready to rock and roll aren’t exactly high.

Another key issue is the fact that you’re often faced with non-stellar employees a cubicle away. Federal Times reports that 11,275 federal employees were fired in FY 2009, out of 2.5 million people. That’s not a lot, and it’s argued many of those firings came out of probationary periods, they weren’t the result of management reviews or disciplinary actions. And just like they say that your friends make you fat, I’ll argue that your co-workers make you lazy.

Most of us work in teams. Regardless of how they’re structured, the ability to do our jobs depends to some extent on how others are doing their jobs. And while any team can drag around dead weight for a time, it doesn’t take long before everyone sinks a little. Judged from the outside, our negative nature generally gravitates toward the dead weight rather than focusing on the shining stars. So even in a federal workforce filled with high performers, with a few too many bad eggs still in the basket, the outside view is that all federal employees are lazy.

I note that I’m a recovering government employee, and just like blonde jokes come across better when told by a blonde than a brunette, making tongue-in-cheek accusations about government employees read better when I actually was one. So, from the outside looking in, I feel your pain, I love your work – I just think federal managers need to fire more people. A lot more people. Once that happens, we’ll notice the cream of the crop and the quality of everyone’s work will improve.

We’re creatures created to love rewards and recognition. A federal workforce that embraced that reality and rewarded the good by weeding out the bad would be well on its way to creating the kind of federal workforce we need more than ever today.

Social Media Needs Editors

June 14, 2011

Media mistakes happen. Even before the days of social media there were certain flubs in the world of public relations – misquotes, misrepresentations, vigilante spokespersons – but the internet age has absolutely had a major ampiflication impact. Enter Rep. Anthony Weiner’s wiener -(don’t worry, this is still a family friendly site) – and the spotlight it puts on social media interactions.

A Wall Street Journal article notes the landmine social media can be for politicians. Not necessarily known for their discretion, or their ability to keep their personal matters private (or in some cases, their private parts personal…sorry – I can’t help myself…), politicians have had more than their share of social media blunders, Weiner-gate aside. It prompts the thought that perhaps political offices and companies alike need to take a strong look at how their social media accounts are managed. Ken Goldstein, liability expert at Chubb Group of Insurance Companies notes that social media outreach should “emulate a newspaper operation.” Meaning there should be editorial oversight and accountability.

It’s a solid argument, and supports my long-held notion that the person responsible for your social media – including strategy, organization, implementation and execution – should make up some of your best, not necessarily your youngest or hippest. Communication is communication, and social media accounts are public correspondence. Even personally held social media accounts represent the “publication” of information. My understanding of this is a big part of the reason why I don’t post many pictures of my son online. When you post information to the web, even to “private” or “personal” accounts you are in a large sense sending out a press release of whatever information your posting. That’s regardless of what your privacy settings are.

Politicians who blend personal and professional – even in more innocuous ways than Representative Weiner – are setting themselves up for trouble. And the same goes for businesses, government agencies and individuals. The personal and professional are blending, to be sure. But you’d best be sure you’re okay with what was once personal being a part of your professional life. Or you’d best hire a good editor to help keep you on track…and in some individual’s cases, maybe they shouldn’t even know their own passwords.

Memorial Day is More Than a Day Off

May 30, 2011

I love a day off as much as the next girl, but it’s important to realize that many of the beloved federal days off, which for many of us mean an opportunity to disconnect from work and connect with families, are meant for more than picnics and parties. Today is Memorial Day, a day to reflect on the service and sacrifice of those who have died as defender’s of our nation’s freedom.

So eat a hot dog with you family, say thanks to a living veteran, sleep in if you’d like. But also stop along the way to say a prayer for those who have taken an oath to serve this nation and who died in the pursuit of that committment. Remember the Gold Star Families in our midst. The moms and dads, brothers and sisters, children and spouses who are spending this day remembering the loved one they’ve lost.

A Gold Star Family member shows Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. his father-”a fallen hero,”–during the fourth annual ‘Time of Remembrance’ honoring America’s fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq in ceremonies held at the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 26, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson, OCPA)

Marketing Isn’t Easy

May 27, 2011

It’s not easy being in marketing these days. Never mind the constant need to reinvent yourself and stay on top of trends, and the inherent fact that when you harass people for a living it’s easy to be disliked. The rise in social media has meant that decisions which would once seem basic can now be questioned, reversed and leave you with egg on your face in just a few hours timespan.

Enter stage right the marketing employee from Comcast who recently made the decision to pull $18,000 in funding from the organization “Real Grrls” after they questioned Comcast’s hiring of Meredith Attwell Baker, a former member of the Federal Communications Commission who made a high profile merger decision in Comcast’s favor.

Now, I know in a David versus Goliath story it’s never popular to take the side of Goliath, but you’ll just have to forgive me here. Laying aside the fact that I refuse to take any organization (nonprofit, gearing for youth or otherwise) seriously who uses “OMG” in their communications, Comcast has every right to select who they choose to fund. And given Reel Grrls pursuit of “#mediajustice” I’m shocked they wanted the money (in an update, they refused the cash once it was reinstated – belive me they made way more donations from the media coverage than they were getting from Comcast).

Enter poor, hapless spokesman who saw the tweet, contacted the Reel Grrls and told them Comcast was pulling their donation. In an age before the Internet that probably would have been it. But an organization called Reel Grrls isn’t going to lack for media savvy and pulled out their social media arsenal to fire back at Comcast. Another Comcast Vice President then apologized and promised to return the funding.

Reel Grrls had already been critical of Comcast’s NBC merger (as were a lot of other people), and that’s certainly their right. But I do feel that organizations should be able to donate money where they chose and shouldn’t face a media firestorm for pulling money from an organization who publicly criticizes them. That’s why it’s called a donation – freely given, to an organization the company supports. A donation isn’t buying any loyalty, and an organization or company shouldn’t expect it. But they should also have the right to pull funding from organizations who seem to quite publicly disagree with them without it causing a media firestorm.

No one said marketing would be easy. Expecially not in the digital age.