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Talking Social at United Nations Agencies

by Jeffrey Mann  |  June 20, 2010  |  5 Comments

I haven’t been blogging or tweeting much in the last couple weeks. I’ve had my head down while getting the magic quadrant for externally-facing social software ready for review and finishing the bulk of work on the Cannes Symposium agenda. Neither of these are completely finished yet, but both are close enough for people to start yelling at me about them, an important milestone. While that happens, I can start looking around to see what the rest of the world has been up to over the last couple weeks.

This week I got to spend a day with with the IT and external communications staff from several United Nations agencies in Geneva. As I expected, use of social media is a hot topic there both inside and outside of their organizations. They were concerned both with how to prevent or minimize missteps from their own staff, and how to react to others using social media to talk about their operations and activities. The political and humanitarian aspects of UN work added extra dimensions that I don’t usually hear about when talking with commercial enterprises. While politics is never very far from what they do, most people working at the agencies try to steer clear of it to get their jobs done. For those working in humanitarian areas, it is especially important to step gingerly around political considerations.

I was impressed by the earnest desire to not only be effective in using social media, but also to contribute to the greater good. I could see from the discussions and questions that each of these agencies is driven by a clear, specific purpose, whether it is caring for refugees or analyzing economic statistics.  The sometimes inflexible funding methods and often Byzantine administrative structures of UN agencies must not make it easy to concentrate on this purpose always, but it was certainly top of mind with the people I spoke with.

Category: being-an-analyst  consumerization  europe  social-software  symposium  

Jeffrey Mann
Research VP
14 years at Gartner
26 years IT industry

Jeffrey Mann is a research vice president for collaboration and social software at Gartner Research. Mr. Mann focuses on social software, team workspaces, the collaboration market and knowledge management. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Talking Social at United Nations Agencies

  1. Dear Jeffrey:

    Here at United Nations Development Programme, headquartered in New York, we are in some ways leading the way forward within the UN system with social, for “outward” facing as well as “extranet” and “intranet” level social strategies. Please come visit us to learn, and so we can benefit from what you have learned along the way.


    Mitchell Toomey
    Manager, Knowledge Management Group
    Bureau of Development Policy
    United Nations Development Programme

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Mann, mitchell toomey UNDP. mitchell toomey UNDP said: Talking Social at United Nations Agencies: I haven’t been blogging or tweeting much in the last couple weeks. I’ve… […]

  3. Why do you sound surprised? This is the picture I find in almost every international, federal, state and local government organization when discussing about social media. Some people in the organization do clearly see the value, but often these people are neither the IT nor the communications staff.
    The problem, for the UN like for many others, is not to communicate, but to listen, to be a guest rather than a host of online conversations. As I recently blogged, communication (but also IT) folks are not the front line for effective and sustainable engagement.

  4. Isaac says:

    Thanks a lot for the post. I agree with Andrea and I do see this every day. Organizations are eager to build presence on platforms to broadcast their message. We must remind them that social media is not broadcasting, it is conversation. I always encourage my clients to establish a monitoring system (using e.g. Radian6) and listen to how the organization and its work are talked about online and based on that define topics to talk about on e.g. a Facebook page.

  5. Jeffrey Mann says:

    i don’t think I gave the impression that I was surprised, but I’m sorry if that is the way it came over.

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