DorobekInsider: Gov 2.0 moves beyond ’social media’ — and why it’s more than semantics

Social networking — it is a term that has increasingly grown to make me cringe. And it is more then just semantics.

Regular DorobekInsider readers and listeners to Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris know it has been something of a campaign. In fact, I originally wrote about it back in September under the headline The era of social media is over – long live collaboration tools — and it is the subject of my column in AFCEA’s Signal magazine that will hit the streets on Dec. 1.

Last night, Web 2.0 guru Debbie Weil hosted a marvelous event titled Social Networking: the Two Dirtiest Words in Gov 2.0 (a Sweets and Tweets event) — the event was held at Baked & Wired in DC’s Georgetown, so we were surrounded by amazing cupcakes… and spirited yet very healthy debate. (David Harrity was kind enough to credit me with spurring the discussion, which is very kind. I actually credit Weil and Drapeau and the people in the room who were all interested in collaborating around this topic — in having a healthy debate.)

The main speaker was Mark Drapeau, who has an impressive bio — and an impressive following on Twitter. Drapeau is no stranger to listeners of Federal News Radio 1500 AM. He is one of a handful of government 2.0 thought leaders. And, as Drapeau acknowledged, he disagrees with me. (Drapeau and I disagree on things regularly — my guess is he does with many people — but he is also fascinated by a spirited debate on an issue and takes very little personally.  Additionally, he is unusually intelligent, which makes the debate even more refreshing.)


And I should say that Drapeau — and most of the people in the room — are interested in helping the government do its job better, and many of people there believe these tools offer real potential. The question at hand: Does the term “social media” and “social networking” help or hinder the cause of helping the government do its job better and more effectively.

Drapeau argued — and argues — that social networking is… well, social — and it is the socialness — the connections that people can make using these tools — and is empowering. In the end, these tools are much more then collaboration, he argues. It used to be about who you know, he says. Today, it’s about who knows you — and that, increasingly, the people who are the most connected are the most influential. And he argues that while social networking is… well, social, there is a lot of good and important work being done.

Further, he argued that these tools have connected him with many people he never would have met otherwise. But I would argue that comes from the sharing of information. That information sharing spurred collaboration. In work instances, the social aspects come later.

Both Drapeau and I agree that too often, people start with a tool or tactic. Instead, they need to have a goal in mind — what are you trying to accomplish, he said.

In many respects, Drapeau and I agree — but I continue to believe that the term “social networking” and “social media” are, in fact, detrimental. My co-anchor, Amy Morris, argues that my argument is largely about semantics. And, perhaps as a writer, I’m biased to believing that words are powerful and that they matter.

To me, the term social media is simply inaccurate. In the end, I don’t think that these tools are “media,” but beyond that, they aren’t really about being social.Socialness is the side benefit. Socialness is tantamount to the increased energy you get when you exercise — in the end, it isn’t the main purpose of exercise, but it sure is nice.

In the end, most organizations — and particularly agencies — aren’t interested in the social aspects of these tools. To the contrary, the social aspects hinder many organizations from using these tools, the same way it did with giving people e-mail addresses and putting the Internet oneverybody’s computer.

The fact is there isn’t a single agency that has the mission of being social. Even the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s HR organization, isn’t responsible forsocialness. For OPM — and for most organizations — these tools are a means to enable them to accomplish the mission more effectively and more efficiently.

But the term “social media” is, in fact, dangerous because it gives people the opportunity to discount these very powerful tools with a broad brush. (Giving credit where credit is due: This idea largely comes from Harvard Business School Prof. Andrew McAfee, the guy credited with “inventing” the term “enterprise 2.0″ — and he mentions this in his upcoming book Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges, due to be released Dec. 1. I should also note that we will talk to McAfee on Dec. 1 on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris.)

Dave Wennergren [PDF], the deputy CIO at the Defense Department, has a great line: “If you think Facebook is just for dating, you haven’t checked it out.” And he is exactly right. Yes — there is dating going on — and a whole lot of social stuff too — but the reason people are using these tools in droves is they let them do something that has been frustratingly out of reach: to share information. These tools — collaboration tools is my current preferred term, but I’m willing to take suggestions — these tools let people tap into the wisdom of the crowd… of their crowd. And people are learning that information is power — but that the real power of information comes when it is shared. That sharing helps everybody.

In the end, the power of these tools comes from their inherent ability to enable information sharing and collaboration, not from the social aspects. And I would point to the Better Buy Project, created by GSA, ACT/IAC and the National Academy of Public Administration. This site lets anybody, but particularly procurement officals, to share ideas and issues, propose solutions, and vote on other people’s ideas. And in the end, the site was created by sharing information in GovLoop’s Acquisition 2.0 group — by collaborating. Yes, there is a social aspect to all of that, but the question in the end — and the criteria that organization’s are going to judge the value — is whether these tools are helping people accomplish the organization’s mission. And that is something that bothDrapeau and I are in total agreement.

By the way, GSA’s Mary Davie tweeted that the Federal Acquisition Service is using the term “collaborative technologies.”

The phrase my be passe these days, but I still believe that content is still king — the ideas and thoughts matter. And while it is important who knows you, what is most important is the value of the information that you share — and how that information enables people to do their jobs better and faster.

(If I mischaracterized Drapeau’s thoughts and arguments, I know he — and others — will correct me and add their thoughts. You can also follow the #sweetevent Tweet stream here.)

A few other interesting comments from the event:

* Frederick Wellman, a former Army public affairs officer — his blog is titled Armed and Curious… Wellman argued that in many organizations, as government 2.0 has rolled out, the organizations are flattening. There is a greater ability for ideas to grow from the front lines. The traditional, hierarchical organizational structure is just changing. I think it is one of the scary parts of government 2.0, particularly for leaders — the loss of control, or, more accurately, the loss of perceived control. I recommendedWellman read the book What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, which was the subject of the March meeting of the Federal News Radio Book Club. Jarvis highlights a number of principles in his book. Among them, as detailed in a BusinessWeek excerpt:

  • give up control;
  • get out of the way;
  • make mistakes well.

* Dux Raymond Sy, a managing partner with Innovative-e said that in too many cases, agencies are enamored by the tools — they are lured by the technology — and often see these tools as silver bullets that will solve the organization’s challenges. In fact, he argued, they are tools and they can help an organization accomplish its mission, but they aren’t magic.

* Kathleen Smith, the Chief Marketing Officer of ClearedJobs.Net, argued that the next evolution — dare we say Gov 3.0 — will be when people — citizens — get fully engaged using these tools. My sense is we’re already starting to see some of that, but… if true, change could really be coming.

See photos from the event… including one of me

Finally, thanks to Internet Editor Dorothy Ramienski (@emrldcitychick) for joining me at the event tonight. While she is newlywed, I kept teasing her that it was our date night. She got to be a part of what I think was a interesting, educational, informative and fun discussion.