Social Media 101 April 2009

101Twitter and other forms of social media continue to penetrate the psyche of Edmontonians. One indication is the kind thank you I received from Jason Darrah, communications business advisor for City of Edmonton within the deputy city manager’s office. He’s responsible for managing the @CityofEdmonton Twitter account (mentioned here last month). and as I found out there’s change in the wind. I asked Darrah what the City hoped to achieve through its early use of social media: Twitter, Youtube and Facebook. He gave several answers around the common theme of “listening to Edmontonians” and indicated that there is strong support to “connect better, be more open and responsive to Edmontonians.” With increased nimbleness, Darrah feels that the City will be in a better position to “engage citizens.” I must admit this was music to my social media ears but, before I get all misty, let’s back it up and talk about how the @CityofEdmonton Twitter account came to be. Of course, it’s not as simple as registering—ideally, it includes debate, planning and discussion. Darrah briefly explained that this entire social media effort is a collaborative multi-department exercise… to be sure, this hasn’t happened overnight. “The number one place we started was with a sound strategy… The project team began its work based on the assumption that using social media wasn’t an option but, rather, an inevitability.” There I go getting all misty again. Darrah credits the success of the City’s efforts to date to support from the Deputy City Manager Joyce Tustian. (Having the support of leadership is a critical first step; you’d be amazed at how many don’t get past that point.) The communications team at the City started the discussion with the same question almost every other large organization and certainly those in the public sector do when considering entry into the social web: “What about privacy, security and risk?” Beyond that Darrah said, “Everyone came to the realization that it’s not about controlling every citizen.” Thank goodness and good luck to those who think they can actually do that—they’re living in a Technicolor dream world. “What we’re starting to see is a shift in thinking”—absolutely critical for social media efforts to be successful and not an easy thing to accomplish in a public sector environment. For example, many have witnessed in recent weeks, Speaker Ken Kowalski’s efforts at trying to reign in social media activity within caucuses. And, many within the local social media scene believe that Troy Wason’s departure from PC caucus communications was a direct result of the controlling, anti-social media comments made by the Speaker in a government focused newsletter. More of the Speaker’s tongue-lashings regarding control over MLA’s online activities during Question Period are well-documented in Hansard. Back to the good work happening at the City, operating in near real-time for a large organization not used to doing so has implications. So I asked Darrah how this was impacting internal processes in his department and others. His response, “It’s impacting our internal informational best practices.” In other words, city departments are changing how they communicate. “The I.T. department has been very forward looking and there is fresh discussion around the process gap and practice changes, along with a cultural shift.” Ladies and gentlemen, these guys are on the right track. I’m often asked why, if it’s so easy to start up a profile on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, am I such a steadfast proponent of strategy development. Simple, for organizations that have something to lose, they typically have cultures that are not built for wide-open transparency happening in a real-time environment with people who have opinions. In some cases, miscalculated efforts end up being a barrage on the heart of the corporate soul, challenging established processes, assumptions, internal belief systems and corporate capacities in unexpected ways. Not everyone is designed to “connect better, be more open and responsive”—nor do they have the appetite to be so. Folks—like Darrah, who is clearly an evangelist for this team—who work for Robert Moyles, director of strategic communications, are tackling challenging philosophic issues and succeeding. The fact that it’s happening on Mayor Mandel’s watch shows savvy and guts. Political leaders in surrounding communities should roll-up their sleeves and immediately start planning. Remember: It’s inevitable. √


One Comment on “Social Media 101 April 2009”

  1. zoomjer Says:

    I have had experiences sending tweets to @CityofEdmonton, and I must say that I was totally impressed that there was a human on the other end who actually wanted to help. This is the way little nobodies like me want to be reassured that ‘the man’ is listening and cares about more than collecting your property taxes on time. Good work, @JDarrah.



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