June 5, 2009


SOCIAL MEDIA gurus often sound like Zen masters when they try to explain their discipline to initiates or skeptics. To take control, give up the illusion of control. Learn from your audience and embrace the unexpected. Failure is one of the surest signs of success.

Social-media pioneers and proponents from government, academia and industry gathered in Williamsburg, Va., last month at the Government Leadership Summit, which was sponsored by the 1105 Government Information Group, the parent company of Federal Computer Week.

Many of their conversations focused on the paradoxical nature of tools like Twitter and Facebook. It’s not that social media defies logic, like a Zen riddle. But its logic does not necessarily fit easily into government’s traditional models of governance.

Agencies typically take a top-down approach to deploying new applications, with a central office providing the resources and defining specific rules of engagement. That won’t cut it with social media, which works best at the grass-roots of an organization.

Successful deployments involve a push-pull balance between the two. Agency officials need to define basic goals and parameters for the use of social media, but they also need to let an application take on a life of its own.

This way of thinking is a challenge for the federal workforce, said Robert Carey, chief information officer of the Navy Department and one of the first federal CIOs to have an official blog. Some guidance might be needed “to get us out of this very bureaucratic structure into a more collaborative, flat environment,” Carey said.

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