Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Federal agency blogging, ethics and branding

Social media is all the rage among federal communicators today - all of
us are talking about how to implement it. And one of the most mainstream
elements of social media in the federal government so far is blogging.
Here are some thoughts on blogging ethics and the connection to
government branding.

That the guardians of taxpayer money are speaking directly to citizens
is a good thing. But the rise of social media technology like blogs
brings with it a host of ethical questions and issues that have to be
dealt with. A key example is representation. Two common sense components
here--and there may be further legal/ethical requirements as well
(obviously this is not formal advice!)

1. When an agency executive writes a blog on the agency's official
blogsite, we the public assume that they are speaking on behalf of the
agency. Yet the blog medium is inherently a reflection of one's personal
thoughts. There needs to be a disclaimer on the site distinguishing
between the two.

2. This one is well known -- when an agency employee has their own blog
site, there needs to be a disclaimer stating that his/her views are
independent. In general anytime an agency employee publishes something
under their own name (not as a representative of he agency) they need to
clarify this.

3. In an anonymous web environment (like a message board where the
username is not a real name) it seems ethical to me to say, "I work for
x agency, and while I don't speak for them, here's a comment." However,
there may be agency concerns here about non-representative employees
commenting in public about agency matters - further clarification is
needed here. **And obviously nobody should ever reveal law enforcement
sensitive information, anonymous or not.**

4. In my view, while everyone has a right to express their opinions
freely, the fact of the matter is that the person is an embodiment of
the government for as long as they work there, and the site should not
contain anything that would embarrass or disgrace the agency.

- and you as a US government employee have an obligation not to shame

This is a general rule of thumb.

So for example anything that would tarnish or undermine the agency's
dignity (e.g. vacation party photos) should be kept off of the blog
especially if there is any indication made that the blogger works for
the government. And remember someone can google you and find out you are
a fed even if that's not on the blog. This is just common sense.

General disagreements over agency policy, I believe, should be handled
through internal channels or private correspondence with elected
officials rather than aired publicly. If the potential consequences of
the disagreement are severe and the above won't cut it, obviously you
should CONSULT AN AUTHORITY about what to do.

Now if you believe your agency is doing something wrong - e.g. fraud,
waste, abuse, gross mismanagement, etc. - you also obviously have the
right and the duty to report it through all proper channels and legal
advice is definitely warranted.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What prevents total brand alignment - in government or anywhere?

I just posted this in GovLoop.com - see what you think:

1. Lack of understanding about what branding is - misconception that it's just a logo or seal when in fact it's about rallying employees and the public around your clear, compelling MISSION or identity

2. Fighting within the agency about who is going to get the spotlight - the sense that if the agency overall has a brand, then my particular subgroup will not get recognized for its work

3. Related to #2, lack of understanding of brand architecture - that a brand can be organized to accommodate various sub-brands without compromising the overall identity. The tendency is to think in extremes - either there is one brand overlord at HQ who won't let anyone else have their own identity, or there is a completely decentralized system where any logo goes.

4. Chain of command thinking - failure to see that a brand is only as good as the people who support it. You can't tell employees what to do and how to feel. You can only educate, motivate, and inspire them to be passionate advocates for your agency and its brand. And that is accomplished by letting them have a say in things. It's not necessarily that they tell you what the strategic messages should be, but that they are free to discuss internally and provide feedback on their experiences with stakeholders and the brand - and that informs you about how the brand is shaped. This means the agency is sensitive to emotional intelligence type issues and preferably has an organizational development expert on staff who can help to nurture this environment.

5. Lack of coordination within the agency around developing and deploying the brand. Basically, the brand is everybody's business, not just public affairs', and not just the "soft departments" like public affairs, HR, training, etc. It must be a coordinated effort between the operational (frontline) offices, mission support, and especially the office of information technology.

6. Lack of objective thinking/metrics around the brand. By this I mean the tendency to think impressionistically or anecdotally about it rather than taking a fact/research-based approach. How do people perceive the agency and how should they perceive it? Do citizens know where to go to get what they need? Do we have any kind of numbers to support these conclusions? These are the kinds of things that senior leadership needs to see to support a brand initiative.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Do you have the level of the brand right?

Should your brand have an identity at a very high level or a very
specific one? This is a critical question (technically called a "brand
architecture" issue) but my sense is that it is often ignored in favor
of just "going to market" with whatever new product, promise, premise or
idea someone thinks should constitute a brand.

Big mistake. Big potential waste of money.

Need to decide who your audience is, what they want/need, and whether
they are best served by a high level brand (so you include your brand in
that one) or a very specific granular one (so you start a new one).

Be more strategic ahead of time and save yourself headaches down the