Category Archives: Web

Gov 3.0 conference Day 1

My post-conference blogging reports usually provide a summary of the presentations. I report this way so that I have a record of my conference notes in digital form that I can access at any time.

This time, I want to pick up a theme that developed during the course of the day at the Gov. 3.0 conference – how social media can be used in organisational settings to provide positive outcomes.

The two presentations that were of most interest to me were the ones from Mike Handes (IBM) and Jeffrey Levy (Environmental Protection Agency – USA).

Mike’s presentation (I think he used prezi) demonstrated how social media is applicable for both business and government. He gave some examples; the most interesting for me was the use of the IBM Connections in his own workplace and professional life. The product is a more systematic and comprehensive platform to Yammer. The key message was that content revolves around people. Social media in all its different forms allows people to get connected, at varying levels of intensity. Despite all the talk about the semantic web, I still believe it is people who derive meaning from information and turn that into knowledge. Using tools like Yammer and IBM Connections, it is possible to enhance people-to-people contact, facilitate information sharing and problem solving, allow meaningful search, and have these exchanges recorded for others to participate and learn from. Best of all, such systems allow for an organisation’s human and social capital to be effectively utilised. How I wish for a Yammer-style solution to my own workplace staff directory for example, or as a replacement for email-based thematic networks.

One interesting titbit of information from IBM was the observation that every week, 5.3 hours were lost by workers due to inefficient processes. Having completed my own study on information seeking behaviour, I can vouch for the fact that people are losing valuable time and getting frustrated by their inability to locate the right information at the right time.

Jeffrey Levy spoke about the use of web 2.0 as a major form of communication  in times of crisis. Web 2.0 is both immediate and accessible. The example he gave was the Japanese nuclear disaster earlier this year. Naturally, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) was following developments and what impact the disaster might have on citizens and the environment in the USA. The EPA monitored and sampled radiation data over the USA. There was a daily report of information on the website. In addition, the web page was divided vertically in two – text (news) on the left and data on the right. Most people wanted to know what was going on so the daily news was adequate, but there were others looking for the data.

The data was provided, including a “heat map” of the USA which showed where the greatest number of hits on the EPA page were coming from. Naturally, the west coast of the USA was a flash point, as was the Boston-New York area on the east coast (shades of Three Mile Island?). People could click into the map and get state and localised information. There were also links to Twitter and Facebook.

The EPA created a Facebook page solely for this particular disaster. Information was delivered through this channel. The EPA also responded on Facebook to posts challenging or critical of the EPA message.  It was important for the EPA to maintain credibility and to enhance confidence in the information provided. Facebook posts would be repeated so that the message was regular and relatively immediate to people as they logged into Facebook during the course of a day.

The success of the crisis management communication delivery was in the way the EPA used the different communication channels to broadcast, and respond to, the information needs of the citizenry.

The take-home is that social media can deliver a positive and effective outcome for both your internal and external audiences.

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Gov 3.0 Conference 2011

Tomorrow (Thursday 24th November) I will be attending the Gov 3.0 conference in Canberra. The tagline for the conference is “the future of social media and public sector communication”.

I am looking forward to what the speakers have to say, albeit I remain to be convinced that governments in Australia are serious about openness, citizen dialogue, and the full use of social media both inside and outside of Departments.

With respect to openness, the observable evidence in Australia and the United Kingdom seems to suggest that uploading millions of documents onto government websites is the solution. In many cases, there is little (if any) contextualised meaning applied to these documents. Documents written for specific purposes are placed into the public domain without that context being explained. There is still the issue over timeliness and relevance.  And the internal approval mechanisms to authorise (and disallow) the publication of certain government documents on the web can be trying. But really, is the average Joe Citizen in the mood to spend oodles of time scouring government websites to read through public-service-speak documents when all they really want to do is ask a knowledgeable person for an answer? Of course, not. There is therefore a need to consider the real needs of the citizenry beyond the selective publication of government documents on the web by government departments. After all, if publishing government documents is what open government is about, then we may as well ask Julian Assange to project manage the whole government openness agenda.

That is not to say that government documents on the web don’t have a place in providing information to the world. However, selective document availability is not the answer to openness without at least providing the necessary assistance and feedback mechanism for real citizen engagement. If I can download a government report but cannot discuss the meaning of the report with anyone inside government (i.e. the public service), then openness and dialogue are rather hamstrung.

When it comes to dialogue with citizens, the general polity likes to think that spewing forth tweets and answering constituent emails is enough. But the reality is that there is not much conversation and two-way dialogue in these type of exchanges. I remember Neil Postman saying in “Amusing ourselves to Death” that in the US in days of Lincoln and co., political dialogue was much more personal and immediate through public gatherings and political campaigning than what it has become now. Sure, I appreciate the issues of scale and technology, but citizen dialogue remains something that the political machine (and the administrative servants in the Public and Civil Service) are yet to achieve.

Social media is also important. There are plenty of politicians using social media – US President Obama and a number of Australian politicians are good examples. But there remains a certain disquiet about social media in the hallowed halls of the Public Service. The main concern is around risk (although there is also a good deal of ignorance about communication in general, let alone via web 2.0 technologies within a Department or with an external audience). The argument goes that social media represents a loss of control, is subject to unknown responses in the public domain, and acts as a diversion to the real work at hand. I’d like to have some sympathy for these concerns because I see some intelligent people using these arguments to say “No” for even the slightest of reasons.

However, there are many risks that can be mitigated against through proper procedures, through establishing organisational trust, and in the recognition that the benefits outweigh the risks. There also needs to be a recognition that organisations need to adapt to a changing world; where stakeholders have different needs and aspirations, than in previous times.

In the corporate world there are also communication risks associated with social media but, for the most part, the corporate world is more willing than the public sector to use social media in positive and interesting ways.

It is therefore of immense interest to me to hear tomorrow and on Friday what the speakers have to say about open government and connectedness; about particpatory discussion and citizen dialogue; about the transformative effects of social media; and about how information, knowledge and learning can flow more effectively in the digital economy than ever before.

In particular, I am keen to hear the experiences from the US about the use of social media and web 3.0 (?) communication channels to distribute information and enhance public engagement with stakeholders. I will also be interested to hear how social media fosters improved communication and participation from both citizens and within the public sector. There is much to learn – I hope that the conference provides those thinking and learning opportunities.

Reflections on Web 3.0 social media conference

I have had a few days now to reflect upon what was presented and discussed at the Web 3.0 social media conference that was held in Sydney last Thursday and Friday.

The key point is that social media cannot be ignored by companies and nor can it be ignored by “marketeers”. “Marketeers” is obviously some cutesy professional term used these days to describe marketing executives or marketing departments; a noun that I find strangely childish and stupid.  But I digress.

For the organisation, social media offers scope, range, and reach to potential customers and clients. Using social media tools such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allows organisations to communicate using channels that are becoming increasingly popular. 

Mark Higginson from Nielsens reported that growth in the online sector in Australia was strong, even showing a growth in online media use from the 55-plus demographic. Moreover, in the words of Alex Crompton from Aussie (Home Loans), “It’s (social media) where the people are.” In other words, look at where your audience is and work out the best (if not all) the media channels necessary to connect with them. The online space will continue to eat into traditional advertising channel revenue as people spend more time online.

Not surprisingly, the case for social media use was strong. Not only did presenters emphasise the communication and marketing aspects, but many also told us of the importance of “community”, “engagement” and “the social” aspects of the online universe. Online brand reputation and “tribal support” are significant, as both Alex Crompton (Aussie) and Karen Ganschow (Telstra) indicated in their presentations. Products and services can be improved by using social media as a way of listening to customers, and then using the feedback to enhance the customer (and brand) experience – all good commercial sense. Generating online champions who advocate (and even solve problems) on your behalf, is even better!

Nick Love from Fox Interactive Media was confident that the internet in the near future would be totally about “the social”. Nick was so confident , that he forecast that “social” media would become redundant since the social aspects of online use and interaction would become embedded into everything that happens online. Nick referred to the “social web” as a way of explaining how pervasive the shift to social networks was becoming. Mark Higginson from Nielsen wasn’t convinced (and nor was I) that the internet in the future would be totally social, but I think Mark and I would agree that the social aspects of online communication and engagement will continue to grow and become very important.

The three of us would agree, however, that social media has an important “reputation currency” associated with it, something at the heart of authenticity and engagement. It remains to be seen how marketeers will leverage “authenticity” and “engagement” to sell their wares and promote their brands.  Actually, it is already beginning to happen on social media sites such as Youtube where content is becoming monetised (product placement is a classic example).

Karen Stocks from Youtube keenly promoted (financial) success from Youtube celebrity spinoffs and content creators such as Australian Natalie Tran. Youtube offered global reach, attention, and eyeballs for product placement and brand awareness. At the heart of Youtube success was “viral marketing” – some authentic and often accidentally successful Youtube clip that captured “people’s imagination” and took off. One quoted example was the Mentos mints in the bottles of diet coke that literally took off, and with it sales of diet coke to boot! Of course, it’s not all beer and skittles (or mints and coke) for Youtube content creators. Naomi Klein warned us in No Logo that companies prowl for ideas from a range of sources (and these days social media is one of them) for emerging trends and then commercialise without any profit going to the edgy content creators who displayed their ideas first.

Michael Kordehi proved that Microsoft has informed and entertaining speakers with a great presentation on enhancing a richer and deeper personal experience with the web. Michael showed off some of the IT whizz-bangery that he and his team had done for NineMSN’s Grazia magazine. The image quality of the digital fashion shoot photos were enhanced for much finer image detail (something clients wanted from fashion photos online) AND also to enhance the way readers could share these images with their friends. Using your own navigation around the images, you could then save and send it to friends so that they saw the same sequence of images as you did. I think he referred to it as an “e-journey” but I think he’ll need to do more work on that term to make it part of the popular lexicon.

Other professionally presented talks were from Paul Borrod of Facebook and Cliff Rosenberg from LinkedIn, both of whom promoted the social media benefits of their respective services. I already use LinkedIn but I must say that I am a little more inclined to take Facebook  more seriously than I have in the past, based on some improvements to the interface and an assurance to improve privacy.

Marc Lehmann (Saasu.com) talked about the naturally selected web which pretty much was about getting the web to cut through the mess and give you exactly what you want without relying on search. Because we are all still time-poor, we need a more life-like web that relates to our own needs and our own digital identity. Marc thought that today it is not about the web, it’s all about the data. How can we get the data we need and personalise the information to meet our individual demands and save us time?  And Nicholas Gruen, in his presentation on Government 2.0 and web 3.0, also advocated how the provision of (government) data could be used by people in many different ways – the classic example was the Gov 2.0 mashup late last year at which an inventive bunch of people reframed and rearticulated government data into informative and interesting ways. In other words, put the data out there and let the people work out for themselves how they will use it and what meaning they will derive from it.

One of the best presentations from the conference was from Sandy Carter of IBM. Sandy gave some excellent real-life examples of companies using social media for a variety of strategic purposes. The message was clear: before using social media, an organisation must articulate and understand the problem it is trying to solve and then work out how (or if) social media can make a positive difference. In fact, 80% of your time should be about planning and setting out the objectives and the strategy, while the remaining 20% is about the technology and the tools. Much of what Sandy had to say, and in far greater detail, is in her book The new language of marketing 2.0. The book outlines a set of six steps (ANGELS) that provide a useful guide to utilising traditional marketing techniques with what web 2.0 has to offer. And thanks Sandy for the free copy!

There  were other interesting papers that I summarised in my notes but I need not go into detail here. Suffice to say, the conference encouraged thought and good discussion about how social media can be leveraged to improve communication, enhance marketing and customer engagement, and promote new forms of interaction and community among online participants. The conference was very impressive indeed.

The web 3.0 conference 3-4 June 2010

I will be attending the conference in Sydney, Web 3.0 & the future of social media, being held at the Sheraton-on-the-Park Hotel in Elizabeth Street.

I will be interested in hearing a realistic assessment of the future of social media. I will be especially interested in the social media crusaders and what they have to say about business embracing web 2.0 tools and thinking.

It will be interesting to hear how far business has come in accepting social media as a legitimate form of communication and business sttrategy because I am not sure how much the government sector really wants to engage in this space. Naturally, I understand the reluctance for government to fully implement web 2.0 (not sure we’re ready for anything further than that!), but I am still watching to see how Gov 2.0 really translates into practice.

My fear is that Gov 2.0 is more about dumping content onto websites than really engaging in the conversation with the citizenry. I hear Senator Kate Lundy is a real advocate for Gov 2.0 but with such an adversarial political system, I can’t see too much leeway being given for governments to really become transparent and open to detailed scrutiny.

We already have seen the media dump on the government over the funding of a home insulation scheme – a scheme let down by the insulation industry and greedy quick-make-me-rich merchants exploiting a good idea. It must be difficult for even the Gov 2.0 advocates to encourage more openness in government, especially when other members of the government want to censor the internet and treat the technology with such suspicion.

So, I will see what I can discover about the  leading edge private businesses who see the benefits of web 2.0.  I’ll report back after the conference with my notes and responses.

On network culture

One of the interesting things about humans is their interrelationships with other people.  There are historical reasons for this based on family, tribe, and community.  Such groupings were necessary to survive.  In most human societies today, the family unit is still the foundation of people’s relationships.  Friends and the people we socialise and work are also part of the human interrelationship matrix.  And interestingly, people have relationships with characters in books and on television, they have online relationships, and they have virtual relationships in digital spaces such as Second Life.

It should therefore be self-evident that people relationships are significant in nearly all that we do.  In fact, modern humans are truly part of the networked society as a consequence of the internet and World Wide Web.  We have in fact extended the possible reach of our relationships, widened the scale of intensity of relationships (between very weak to very strong); and increased the scalability of our relationships.  So shouldn’t we now recognise the importance and value of the network culture?

In many organisations, relationships are grounded in an “old style” corporate mentality dealing primarily with direct work-based relationships, often hierarchical in form.  In most cases, the network is based on physical proximity.  However, relying only on work-based physical contacts to get one’s work done is not enough these days.  In order to get the right person with the right information at the right time, we need more than just physical proximity.  We need access and immediacy.  We get access and immediacy through our networks, often facilitated through information technology channels.

In a recent blog post by Stefan Lindegaard, called How to create a networking culture, Stefan outlines some ideas for establishing and recognising a network culture within an organisation.  Not surprisingly, this recognition starts at the top. Stefan says: “Leaders [need to] show a genuine and highly visible commitment to networking. Leaders must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. … Leaders should also share examples of their networking experiences whenever possible”.

At the practical working level, Stefan has identified the following: “People [need to be] given time and means to network. Frequent opportunities are provided to help individuals polish their personal networking skills. Not everyone is a natural networker. But almost everyone can become good at it with proper training and encouragement.   Both virtual and face-to-face networking are encouraged and supported. Web 2.0 tools and facilitated networking events maximize the opportunities people have to initiative and build strong relationships”.

Now this all makes very good sense.  Why wouldn’t organisations want to leverage individual and groups’ people networks to get things done more quickly, more efficiently, and more effectively?  Such networks are at the heart of collective intelligence and knowledge management.

Why not use all the network facilitation services available in our modern world, from coffee shops to internet and Web 2.0?  And why should there be any doubt about the value of people networks when we can see how fundamental interrelationships between people have been over time?  Network culture should no longer be revolutionary – it should be accepted organisational practice.

On bad complexity

How many times have you had to do a task and throughout the experience say to yourself, “there must be an easier way to do this – why do they make it so complex when it should be so simple”?  I often have this very thought when paying a bill or searching for a product on a website – why is it so difficult to get what I want done?  After all, don’t these people want my money?

Web expert, Gerry McGovern, offers an explanation in his recent blog post, Eliminating bad complexity. Gerry is not talking about complexity science but rather how complex an activity or task is.  Does the activity or task have to be that complex if it doesn’t lead to good customer experience?  Gerry makes the distinction between good complexity and bad complexity.   “Good complexity leads to greater convenience, choice and options. Bad complexity leads to frustration, wasted time and wasted money”.  I can definitiely say that I have often experienced bad complexity.

There are people responsible for providing services, especially on the web, who are not thinking of the customer but are thinking of their own personal agendas.  Tasks and activities are more difficult  than they have to be because the provider wants to do something else than serve the needs of the customer.

And this type of behaviour also occurs within organisations.  Gerry goes on to say: “Many organizations have enemies within. Departments and divisions care only for themselves. They will introduce complexity that makes the organization as a whole more dependent on them. In fact, the way modern organizations are structured rewards bad complexity”.

I often wonder whether organisations really care about good customer experience. 

I appreciate that understanding the customer and their needs is difficult.  Making complex organisations work together to maximise good customer experience is also not easy – but it can be done. Amazon.com is a great example.  Amazon has a simple (and ugly) website that makes it easy for the customer to buy products; usually books in my case.  In addition, Amazon gives me the occasional alert on books I might be interested in based on my searching and buying history; a service that is not intrusive and where I have often found a book that might otherwise have remained unknown to me.  The work behind the scenes at Amazon is probably a complicated and complex set of interactions and behavious but the customer experience is simple and fulfilling.

It seems clear to me that maximising good customer experience should lead to more sales and greater revenue.  However, perhaps increasing revenue is still not enough motivation to change “bad complexity” within organisations or in service provision.  There are obviously other motives in play…motives we see all the time as a customer, at work, in sport, and in politics.

Perhaps it is the customer experience that is “bad complexity”….. well, at least for many organisations.

On Government 2.0 – the presentation

Last Friday afternoon I hosted at AusAID a presentation on “Government 2.0” by James Dellow from Headshift.  James has advised in the comment section of my previous blog post that the presentation is now up on slideshare. 

The slides are available from here.  In addition, James reminds everyone that the Project 8 materials are available from here and that the slides from the presentation showing the diagrams can be accessed from here

The presentation and discussion among 30-40 people who attended the event was really very good.  There is further to go down the Government 2.0 pathway but perhaps we can safely say that the journey has started and is moving down the lane.