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10 Twitter tips from early federal adopters

How to integrate the newest social media apps in large organizations

By , Network World
April 09, 2009 11:29 AM ET

Network World - Having trouble convincing your boss that Twitter isn't a waste of time? Then you might find it interesting to learn that social media evangelists across the U.S. federal government are blasting out Tweets several times a day to their constituents. Here are their suggestions for how to integrate new media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr into a large, old-fashioned bureaucracy:

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1. Identify a business problem you are trying to solve. Don't deploy social media tools just to appear cool.

"You really want to focus on the business problem you are trying to solve and the communities you need to engage to help you solve that problem," advises Lena Trudeau, program area director for the National Academy of Public Administration. "You need to make the value proposition clear, so the people who engage get something out of the process."

The Defense Information Systems Agency, for example, is using a commercial mash-up tool from JackBe to allow military commanders to create real-time feeds using information from many disparate sources, says DISA CTO Dave Mihelcic. The Web 2.0 software solves a real-world problem for military commanders. "If senior leaders and decision-makers can get a common visual depiction of a situation, it will be easier for them to synchronize their decisions," Mihelcic explains.

2. Get buy-in from management. Involve all of the key stakeholders: the people who have the information and those who control its distribution.

The General Services Administration's top management "has been very supportive" of the agency's social media efforts, says B. Leilani Martinez, bilingual content manager with GSA's www.gobiernousa.gov. "That has helped us a lot. Across government, the reaction from top management has been quite inconsistent. Certain government agencies block employees from using some of these tools. For me, I was on Facebook every day from work and on Twitter. GSA allowed us to think outside the box and to experiment."

Similarly, when the U.S. Strategic Command launched its SKY Web blog in 2005, it was the command's leader, General James Cartright, who pushed the idea forward, Mihelcic says. And it was Transportation Security Administration head Kip Hawley who encouraged the agency to create an internal Web 2.0 collaboration environment called The Idea Factory in 2007 and a public-facing Evolution of Security Blog in 2008.

3. Start small and grow your social media efforts gradually.

GSA has embraced social media sites one at a time over the last year. First the agency began its www.govgab.gov blog. Then it began using Twitter. Now it has a pilot project with Facebook. "For management, that has been quite a good strategy," Martinez says. "For certain people [social media] is a big surprise. But we've been preparing for it….People are more open to it than they were two years ago or even one year ago."

Similarly, NASA started using YouTube, then Facebook and now Twitter, says Robert Jacobs, Acting Assistant Administrator for NASA's Office of Public Affairs. "We stuck our toes in the water with YouTube," Jacobs says. "Then we created some sites [on Facebook]. When Twitter came up, it seemed like a good place for us to create a conversation."

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