Friday, July 31, 2009


I have worked in the information technology (IT) field for a decade and had the opportunity to travel across the United States the past year. My niche has been geographic information systems. In the past year I have become fascinated with social media and web 2.0 technologies. Yes, I realize I was late to the game as these have been around more than a year. What I didn’t realize was that I was not the last one to game. In fact, I have come to realize many IT firms haven’t even made it to the ballpark yet. IT for so many years was a black box. Executives all agreed IT was needed, but few actually applied its use and even fewer understood what happened in the black box. Sure IT can be complex, but you would think IT was always cutting edge. I can assure the entire IT community has not grasped the full utility of social media and web 2.0 technologies.

So why does this blog look like a book? This was the only way I could think of to gain the attention of the traditional “book reader” and hopefully the help of really smart people on the www. I am hopeful you will add to this string of thoughts by adding your comments. No doubt a wiki might have proven more useful for this exercise, but keep in mind the first goal is to reach those trying to figure all this out.


Very little of the information found on this site is original. I have read several books, talked to numerous individuals a lot smarter than I am, and researched a number websites this year that will be reflected in the information below. Do not be surprised if you have heard some of the comments or read some of the material before. I do not claim any of this as original. I am hopeful you will help me assemble a resource that will be useful to those trying to figure out, what I refer to as THE CHANGE (nope that is not original either). It wouldn’t surprise me to find several other sites on the www similar to this one. Please link to them where appropriate using the comment tool.

The Change

What happened? Here is what I think happened and the opportunity it presents.. The way many individuals communicate changed. Traditionally communication from government-citizens, business-client, or nonprofit-supporters has been one way. The spin, message, commercial, etc. happened one way. Think about the various forms of ‘communication’ we have used in the past: paintings, radio, tv, fax, or email. This is not a dialogue, which is what many really desire. No doubt someone could respond to the email but is that really a dialogue?

Now think about mechanisms that have enabled a dialogue: telegraph, phone, email (alright, I will give that one to you), instant messaging, txt messaging. These are all becoming dated. You read it right, dated. That is the change… Welcome to instantly knowing where someone is, what they are doing, thinking, care about, and oh yeah they get to tell you. You have entered into a dialogue or conversation and begun to develop a relationship. Why do they tell you? Because they want to! They are involved because they care. Yes there is a human element to IT that a dialogue enables and the result is fascinating.


The following are broad generalizations. No doubt anyone reading this can come up with a dozen examples of individuals, organizations or examples that do not fit these stereotypes. I will separate the two groups into the categories pre-CD and post-CD. There is actually a third group which needs further thought; post-iPod.

Those born pre-CD (compact disk) generally;
· resist change, definitely don’t like fast change
· believe reports are critical
· gut feelings are sometimes followed, but usually suppressed
· communication and marketing equates to printed materials, booths at conferences, commercials, advertisement on other websites, mass email (spam), and usually an attempt at a high-quality website for their organization
· Work begins at 8am ends at 5pm with an hour lunch; please don’t bother me after hours

A big difference is numerous hours will be spent building a plan. Usually the plan is developed by a small group of people (highly trusted by the boss). Once complete, the plan (book, document, vision, insert traditional concepts here) will be executed or published. Here is the big difference. Any comments that are provided (even by constituents or customers) are viewed as attacks that must be defended. Furthermore, the attack is ignored, combated, or squashed. The plan must be fully executed, sometimes even to the demise of the organization. This effort requires time and money. Often times the plan is out of date before its implementation begins. Remember, change is happening daily.

---Remember, these are generalizations---

Those born post-CD generally;
· embrace change, look for change, wait in lines to get change, and most importantly expect change
· do not rely on reports, but do like to perform quick analysis
· quick to follow gut feeling, and quick to drop ideas that don’t show success
· communication and marketing equates to interacting with people online via numerous mechanisms, resist the commercial feeling, relationship first, service if needed
· Work doesn’t really begin or end, but can be done anywhere anytime and did I mention they really enjoy working

In contrast to those born pre-CD this group will spend little time on a plan. They will execute a half baked idea (this effort is a perfect example) and see if people comment or provide input. Commenting on the idea is viewed as a positive thing. Lack of comments equates to the post-CD crowd a lack of interest. So, if no one comments on this site I will surmise this was not useful and I will abandon it. The difference is I will have invested little time and no money to see if this is useful. Paraphrasing from Jeff Jarvis book, What Would Google Do- it is ok to fail because you learn something when you fail, but fail fast. Side note- because Mr. Jarvis understands the change, he will not be upset if I didn’t get the above right. He won’t sue me; he or someone who has read his literature will just correct me below. In fact, I imagine Mr. Jarvis would be glad I mentioned the book and appreciate the link.

Did you catch the subtle difference? Change is good, comments are good, failing is ok, fail fast. Why are comments and interaction on any of the numerous social media tools, blogs or wikis enable a dialogue and encourage collaboration. It would be an honor if 20 folks commented on this site and it was all integrated. No doubt many could expand on the ideas and make it better. I would view this as a very good thing.

Also worth mentioning, the 8-5 job is not too attractive to post-CDers. That one really freaks out the pre-CDers. The best way to explain this one is with a story. Jim generally works in an office (or home) 8am-5pm, but there are a number of days when he might run errands throughout the day, attend his kids events, or not be physically in the office. How? The mobile device enables him to leave the desk. Because Jim enjoys his work and is friends with those he works with; he is generally interacting with them after 5pm. This leads to more dialogue and relationship building. Jim even responds to work email, visits blogs, checks his tweets , or Facebook after 5pm. Jim does these things on the weekends as well. Does Jim have a life? Yes, he just has the flexibility to work from anywhere anytime. Obviously this type of work schedule cannot be maintained by everyone in an organization. Maybe not today, but it will be interesting to see what the future holds. Jim makes a good employee. 1) he is happy, 2) he is available (also known as connected), 3) he is trustworthy. Yes trust is everything in this environment.

I just lost a few of you so let me back up a second. Think of all the various government services you can do on-line after hours (after 4:30 and on weekends). Many of those services only became available in the last five years. The old phrase was digital vs. brick and mortar. Now imagine you could actually interact with a government (or business) employee anytime you wanted. You have read this far, don’t stop now.

It is unclear how the post-iPod era will fit into this whole mix. One thing is for sure; change won’t be expected change, it will just be part of life. My nine year old does not understand dial-up and often questions why I have to fly somewhere for a meeting. “Why can’t you just video conference? Then you could be home for dinner.” My nine year old doesn’t think about social media, web 2.0 or other “new” things being new. They just are, they don’t need a word or a term or even a session at a conference. My nine year old is not interacting with the government much and has little impact on the economy right now so there’s still time, maybe.

The Network

This is what really got me interested. Remember the whole six degrees of separation concept? I have no idea what it is now, but I will guess two degrees. Why is this important? If you send an email to five people (constituents / customers). That is not too big a deal, but what if that one person forwards the email to 100 other individuals and that one of those 100 forwards it to 100,000 others? Your email just reached 100,105 folks, ticked off several, and we generally call it spam. So an example using a social media tool, follows a similar path, amplified by hundreds, and is viewed as information- not spam.

I feel sure someone can give a much more concrete example than the one above. The point is communication moves fast. The best way I know to explain is with a real example.

Pre-CD plans a party (generally):
· Call or possible email, likely days or weeks in advance
· May include a link to a map
· Gets mad because X is not going to be there
· Human capitol investment likely several hours over days or weeks

Post-CD plans a party (generally):
· Text or use social media tool (usually connected, I will attempt to explain that later) to all friends, likely in seconds
· Friends check the location of the invite (yes they know where because of things like Latitude)
· Friends show up- no one notices who doesn’t
· Human capital investment seconds and possibly minutes

Here is the crazy thing: the party could be cancelled or moved just as fast and without anyone causing a fuss. So the scary part is you can end up with really big crowds at a single location in a relatively short amount of time. There is also an opportunity.

Final thoughts on the change

The change has not only changed the way we communicate and/or receive feedback, it has changed the way we think. Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘we need to talk like they talk’? It usually meant we need to speak to them in terms they will understand using examples they can relate to. This principal is still true and has not changed. The change is we need is to talk the way they talk using the channels they use. This is not only a change; it can be a challenge.
Think of channels just like TV channels. If you wanted to put a commercial on TV you would try to target the channels or shows your customers would likely watch. Your constituents and customers will likely reside on several channels, and will only be on those channels at certain times. The people you will want to create a dialogue with use various social media tools and visit numerous blogs. You will likely need to be on some or all of them to maximize your chances to join or engage in their conversation.

I regularly use Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and visit several blogs. I didn’t choose those social media tools because they are better. I choose those because that’s what my friends (work and personal) used and I wanted to join the conversation. I have a number of friends on Facebook but I only swap notes with a handful. Here’s the catch, I see what all of those that friends on Facebook are doing. I join the conversations I want and am simply informed by others. Some are friends from work others from various walks of life. The point is they are all friends and I am interacting with them as such. Remember this because it becomes important later in the story. I still use email regularly but only because it is required in order for me to stay connected to other friends. I would much prefer to use one of the social media tools and am really excited to see some of the tools to come.

So to grab my attention you would need to email me, use one of the social media tools I use or interact with one of the various blogs I regularly check. As a side note- I generally delete email that is not directly related to work or from someone I know. I scan numerous tweets (email on Twitter) a day and follow a number of interesting leads from that tool. Don’t forget, that is just me and those are just a few of the many social media tools. In order to grab the attention of the whole you need to communicate using the channel (social media tool) they use. You should also read up on the principal; small is the new big, as described in various ways in the books I have read over the past year.

Public / Non-Profit

I have combined public (government) and non-profit because they likely interact with their constituents similarly, I think. The best public use of social media tools is the way the current Administration has used them. (Please put your political views aside for a moment). Take a look at the way they are attempting to enter into a dialogue with people on the channel they tune into You can also read a number of the ways government is implementing social media tools. A number of government entities have begun doing the same thing. I am less familiar with their success. The point is social media tools and web 2.0 technologies enable the very dialogue people desire.

Private Sector

I am not in the private sector but there are a number of excellent examples. I am sure there are many others; the list is actually quite long. The question is why are they good examples. These organizations have invested in staff responsible for interacting with their constituents in the places they are or on the channels they watch. In many cases they are not trying to provide a commercial or give a sales pitch. They are simply providing information, solving problems, or adding to a conversation already taking place. They are building a relationship which includes trust. Yes, this is a change in itself.

What are the goals of social media tools

There are obviously a number of reasons social media tools are successful. HOW TO: Manage Social Media Goals and Expectations is a worthy read. The list below is provided with respect to this effort.
· Interact with individuals where they are, they will not always come find you
· Engage in the conversation that is already happening
· The development of a relationship- this one is critical
· Distribution of information
· Facilitating a conversation
· Building a better plan with the aid of numerous voices
· Ability to test ideas and see if folks are interested- fail fast and avoid cost
Opportunity to learn from others and gain insights previously not considered


By now I am hopeful you realize the utility of social media tools. You should also be aware of the challenges. Managing various lines of communication requires a plan and staff. The size of the staff will vary depending on the size of the organization and the goals of the effort. A staff of 1-10 should be able to manage the successful use of social media and web 2.0 tools. Scare you? If you want to do it right you are going to have to invest in it. The question becomes how far do you want to go? Do you want to participate everywhere or in just a few places? Don’t forget; not all of your constituents use social media tools- yet. You will still need to use some of the traditional means for a time. Similar to the reason you kept the fax machine even though most of your work is done via email.

The success of your use of social media tools will ultimately come down to people. A good summary of the types of people can be read here. I would add strong written communication skills (obvious reasons), crisis management, and a broad knowledge of the organization being represented.

Short list of Opportunities

I previously mentioned those born post-CD do not rely on reports. I should refine that to say, they do not generally rely on traditional reports that take days, months and years to prepare. The Change provides a vast amount of data that can be used to make intelligent decisions. This area is of particular interest to me. The ability to quickly examine the interest of a group and draw conclusions opens up new opportunities. I have also come to accept there is no such thing as bad data, maybe inaccurate, or not precise but not bad. Even inaccurate data provides information to inform a decision.

The short list below provides ways the Change can be used to impact decisions. Keep in mind, this happens nearly real time. I am hopeful knowledgeable folks will provide more examples.
· Disaster Management
· Media
· Business Intelligence
· Health Care

So there it is

I hope this information has provided you a bit of insight into the use of social media tools. I am even more hopeful others will add to it and make it better. The change has already occurred and will continue to occurring. I hope to see you in one of the various places I participate on the www.

About Me

Little Rock, Arkansas, United States