Yesterday I met representatives from the web and communications groups at a government agency in Singapore. They had been working for some time on the establishment and were about to launch their agency’s Facebook page and blog. When I asked them my usual question (“why would you do anything like that?”), they sighed and told me that it was their minister who was pressuring them. Clearly another case of “Yes Minister”, but at least they seemed to be conscious of the limitations of this approach.
On the other hand, although they regularly monitor what external communities are saying about them, they have no strategy or approach to engage on those communities. I was told that such a practice is discouraged, but it was not clear whether anybody has been looking seriously into the difference and nuances of personal vs. professional engagement. Clearly the blanket discouragement to engage relates to the possible misinterpretation of an employee’s personal statement as an official position. On the other hand, for that particular organization, which deals with some sensitive topics that can trigger people’s emotions, external engagement is not an option but a necessity.
The most interesting part of the conversation happened when we discussed who would animate the blog and the Facebook page. Apparently, this would be done by directors or deputy directors, and the communications team was having a hard time at convincing them that the style of blogging should not resemble a dry press release, but be more personable and sociable.
That’s where I suggested that the real issue is not to get them started and use the right tone, but to keep them going. They have to figure out what’s in it for them personally rather than just for the organization they work for. One of the common misconceptions about government 2.0 is that it concerns government organizations and how they can better engage with citizens; in reality, it is about people in government, employees at all levels and how technology empowers them to change their organizations from within. Some people may be simply motivated by the desire of doing the right thing, others by ambition, others by necessity, others by curiosity, and so forth. The right people for blogging and otherwise engaging online are not necessarily those “who get 2.0” because younger or geekier, but those who have a sufficient motivation to stay engaged.
As a blogger, I can relate personally to this. I am neither young nor geek (I just turned 50) and yet I keep blogging at a rather regular pace. Blogging, although encouraged by Gartner, is not part of the metrics used to assess my performances, a position I personally agree with (after all we write research that clients pay for and rewarding blogging over this would risk to dry out our production).
But then, what keeps me going? It is not the personal brand, as my role as an analyst at a major firm gives plenty. It is not even just the very useful comments I get from my readers, as I may probably get part of those by reading and occasionally commenting on somebody else’s blog, as well as through multiple client interactions.
What keeps me going is the use of my blog as my personal knowledge base. Many times, when I prepare a client inquiry, a presentation or a research note, I can go back to the blog and find an example, a nugget, a pesky comment that help me do the job I am measured and paid for.
So, make sure that those who blog and engage have a strong motivation to both start and continue.
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