I HAPPEN to be attending the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT-I know it's a mouthful) conference in Spokane, Washington. Tonight I had a choice of going on a dinner cruise on Lake Coeur d'Alene or taking a walking "ghost" tour of the The Davenport Hotel (where I am staying). Not having a lot of energy after a long day of seminars, I decided to return to my room, do some work and maybe get some dinner delivered by room service.
I sat down at a fine wooden desk to check my email and saw that a colleague had sent me a link to one of the sessions from the Buzz 2009: Social Media for Associations event. The session was called from "Brainstorm to Firestorm: Creating an Environment for Viral Marketing Success." The title peaked my curiosity, but not only did it sound interesting, the discussion was led by one of my favorite guys - Guy Kawaski and the panelists included Andy Sernovitz, Brendan Hart, Stacey Kane and Stephanie Miller.
I clicked on the link the colleague had sent my way and I watched the 1 hour 37 minute session. The topic attracted me because my organization has experimented with Twitter and other social media sites as a way to connect with voters. The panel discussion centered on how companies could create buzz using social media and some of the ideas opened my eyes - and all of them could be applied to the public sector. I highly recommend listening to the session if you are interested in viral marketing and how social media can help your company, government agency and/or association - you can watch the video here.
After the program ended I was reenergized about our social media efforts.
Shortly afterwords, I happened on a LA Times news story that was related to creating a "firestorm" but in a different way. The story was about a fellow who flew on United Airlines from Nova Scotia to Nebraska and the baggage handlers evidently broke his $3,500 guitar and to make matters worse, the company subsequently refused to take responsibility for the damage.
The long and short of it is that the fellow (Dave Carroll) wrote a song about the incident and posted it on YouTube. The music video has now been seen by 795,657 folks and United Airlines has apparently apologized and wants to use the video in its training classes.
While the panel discussion from Buzz2009 centered on how organizations could create a buzz using social media, the same thing is true for consumers, constituents, customers and individuals. Imagine for just a moment if the damaged guitar story was about a constituent who had received horrible treatment at the hands of some bureaucratic government agency.
How would the government agency have responded to a similar video posted on YouTube? How would you have responded if you were that agency's unfortunate manager?
The bottom line here is that social media and the Internet are changing the rules for the way in which the government and constituents interact. The government has "new" resources to reach the people it ostensibly serves but it is also true that constituents have new power - gone are the days of the painfully slow "letter writing campaigns" - today, thousands of people can hear a complaint (or compliment) with just a few keystrokes on a computer.
My suggestion - invest some time and energy and learn more about how social media tools might help you better serve people in your area.