Friday, February 27, 2015

Starbucks' Sandwich Problem (Brand As A Business Decision Filter)

Last night I tweeted to Starbucks that their breakfast sandwiches looked disgusting. They responded (yay!) to ask me what I was talking about. This.

I am a huge Starbucks fan and therefore I would like to give them some practical advice about how to solve their sandwich problem.

I looked around the rest of the coffee shop and saw many appealing clusters of space.

What all of them have in common is that something is crafted right there on the spot. 

For example the coffee is ground fresh and customized per order. 

On top of that, the customer fixes their drink "their way."

When the customer is not fixing their drink up, they are working on their computer, or talking with friends, or somehow interacting with the environment in such a way that they create their own experience.

And for those times when you just want a pre-packaged product it is nice to know that Starbucks has high-quality prepackaged nuts, chocolate, yogurt, juice, and other items that are all top of the line.
I am health conscious and will gladly pay 5 dollars for a juice that is really fresh.

The problem however is that the sandwiches inside the sandwich case do not conform to the Starbucks problems at all. In fact I would argue that they detract from it.

The customer wants fresh hot oven fired sandwiches of the kind you might find Panera or Cosi.

What Starbucks does not understand, their fatal mistake, is to treat sandwiches as an afterthought. To take for granted that the customer will somehow "trust" their quality.

When sandwiches are an art form in and of themselves.

This is a good example of why you should use the brand as a shortcut decision filter for your business.

When you think in a way that is consistent, you naturally do the right thing.

All opinions my own. Photos by me.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

All Roads May Lead To Open Opportunities

My first years in government were not exactly easy. Well, let's correct that - they have never really been easy. The bureaucracy was built, at least conceptually, to process many people in a relatively efficient way - employees included. The idea of "individuality" was an anomalous. Not bad, necessarily, but sort of like finding a purple orange. You would hold it up and say, "wow, that's different," but at the end of the day you'd want the regular orange kind. Because...the fruit is supposed to look a certain way and that's the only kind you'd trust.

But it was around 2003 then, and it was a time of change anyway. Not so much around social media or branding or any of that. But around the idea that we did not have to do things the old-fashioned way, the inefficient way, anymore. 

From a communication standpoint I do think that Al Gore's Federal Communication Network was revolutionary. Suddenly there was this loosely knit group of people who reached out to one another - regardless of what agency they were in - and commiserated. They encouraged each other to do great writing. No...more than that. They believed, very staunchly, that government ought to set the standard of excellence when it came to all things communication. 

No matter what was going on inside the walls of a particular government agency, the FCN was there as a kind of support group.

And we all knew each other. It was a very "in-person" thing, no emails, no phone calls. At every meeting I went to, in every conversation, at some point someone would say, "Did you know Pat Wood?" and yes, everybody did, we all knew Pat. Maybe we didn't know where she worked, necessarily, but she was a symbol of all that we sought to be.

One time Pat actually called me, and it was almost like I'd gotten a call from the President himself.

It was around 2009, maybe, that I started to get involved in setting up speaker events for the FCN, along with the GPO's Jeff Brooke. Jeff was a lot like Pat Wood - just plain motivated to do the work of networking. He was involved with the International Association of Business Communicators, and they used to sponsor breakfast learning sessions. Periodically, about 40-50 of us shlepped over to that red brick building and learn about best practices from a "real" speaker - someone who didn't mind giving us an hour of their time.

Also around that time, I recall that we formed the Federal Social Media Subcouncil. I am concerned that if I start saying names, I'll miss some, but there were a lot of us. I can't remember anymore what the structure was, but I do remember a kind of primitive wiki, and how a very large group gathered in a conference room somewhere in D.C. And there was a foundational white paper that went along with it as well.

Steve Ressler formed GovLoop in November 2009, I think. I remember the month and year because I wrote one of its first blogs, and couldn't believe what I was thinking. That despite the horrible logo and color, it was going to be a huge success.

Of course, the past five years have seen an explosion of interagency work. It's hard to believe the dynamism of it. And it does seem like the private sector vendors who used to sell us conferences have largely faded into the woodwork, as we embark upon the work of teaching ourselves.



I started to get involved in DigitalGov last year, but not as much as I wanted to - too busy.

But I did think about it. The academic in me kept churning. Why don't we do things all together? I always thought. The federal government is really just one brand. Why don't we consolidate certain mission support functions and offer them back as shared services? Human resources, IT, graphic design, procurement - every single agency shouldn't need to do these things for themselves.

Again, busy busy.

One thing I kept coming back to was social media terms of service. So many good concrete steps forward (and here I will shamelessly promote Gwynne Kostin, one of the unsung heroes of this space). But why don't we go a step further? I remembered Pat Wood's Guide for Federal Communicators, and how hard it was to get a copy, and how everybody wanted one. 

I thought about the Standard Operating Procedures I was trying to write for our folks.

Why couldn't we have a Big Blue Book of SOPs for all federal communicators? One set of rules, that covers everything, with a rationale and tied to all the various laws and authorities that guide our work?

At the end of the day, communicators really just want to communicate. We needed to take the administrivia and the bureaucracy out of the picture.

The big ideas didn't really go anywhere. But I filed them in that place in my head that you file these kinds of things.


And then I joined NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology), as Communications Director for the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office.

I have to tell you that I had no idea what NIST was when I went on the interview. 

Also I did not understand what "advanced manufacturing" was. 

Nor did I find it easy to find NIST. Literally, I could not drive there without significant difficulty.

But you know how when something is good it just clicks? As soon as I sat down with the interview panel, I just had this really positive feeling.

And I said all those things you're not supposed to say. For example, I was negative: "Your communication materials are really bad." 

But somehow it was okay. I had never really been interested in science before, but it seems that was my loss. Scientists think...really scientifically. And that is not to make fun of them. It's to express admiration. They just love what they do, and they think logically. 

So they wanted to know all about branding, in this really curious way. 

It felt like I was back in school, but in a better school than any I'd ever attended. No brainwashing, no ideology. Just talk.

In any case, our program is very young. And communication resources are extremely necessary, especially graphics to explain what we do. 

I asked for some detailees, and inquired about Open Opportunities.


Internally to my office, people had trouble believing that Open Opportunities existed, or was for real. They were like, "The government does that?"

I said, "Yes, the government does that. It's actually legit."

They were still trying to figure out how I was getting detailees. Because the prevailing image of a detail was something like, "punishment."

But I had this feeling that Open Opps was more than just a way to fill spaces. It was - based on my limited experience as a supervisor - a chance for people to build their careers with low risk. They could find new skills, meet people from other agencies and "soak up" the culture. They could do, in a high-tech way, what I had found so fulfilling through FCN - establish a web of support and good colleagues.

We've had a couple of applicants to our program so far, and both have worked out well. One is working virtually from DC; the other is coming in to the office. And I've spoken with probably half a dozen more.


The unifying themes throughout all these conversations, from candidates:

1) I'm a high performer
2) I want to grow my career
3) I know that skills are needed to do that
4) Not sure where to begin
5) You seem like an encouraging person, and my boss is encouraging me too

If the above 5 factors are indeed a "formula" for Open Opps, aren't they a formula for improving human capital management in the government as well?

Isn't it high time we started thinking of our employees as a lifelong resource to grow, nurture, draw upon, and support over a lifetime?

In the private sector it is fashionable to "churn and burn." But we are different.

Open Opps is the kind of program that proves it. 

Note - this is not a sales pitch. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Please Don't Talk About THAT

Many times, I hear people say things like: "you can talk about this and can talk about that, but please don't talk about that."

I remember when I was a little girl and whenever a controversial subject came up my mother used to say "shhh" and her mother used to say "shhh" and my other grandmother used to say the same. Generally everyone said "shhh" to keep the peace.

As an adult this comes up all the time. When you're dealing with your kids' school and there is an issue, you don't want to antagonize the teacher or the principal. When you're at work and there is a difficult issue, you don't want to antagonize your boss. And of course in your relationship when a difficult issue comes up you don't want to antagonize your partner.

But I was reading this good article about the Google way of solving problems - which is to "attack" them - and it reminded me of something I have learned over time. The only way to truly tackle a difficult issue is to have everybody talk about it pretty much openly, without anyone being told to "keep your mouth shut," whether implicitly or explicitly, especially nowadays when we have so many problems to solve. We just don't have time for this kind of nonsense.

One other point. I have had the experience of going from environments where you weren't supposed to talk, to those where you were encouraged to contribute every idea that could help to address an issue. And it was an amazing feeling to be treated as though all opinions were valuable.

What I saw was that when the level of trust and respect in a group is high, it is possible to share conflicting points of view and even to disagree on things that can only be resolved through someone making a decision that the other person will never agree with. The decision can be made and everyone can agree to disagree and simply finish the job and go about their day it isn't taken personally and it doesn't leave a lasting wound.

Stifling conversation clamping down on conflict and otherwise trying to control the conversation is so 20th century, so "Organization Man." It's time to embrace a new paradigm where everybody gets to have their say.


All opinions my own. Photo by Laura Taylor via Flickr.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The 10 Essential Tasks Of A Knowledge Manager

Nobody wants to think about knowledge management, but everybody needs it. Here are the basic things an organization should have covered as part of its KM system.

1. Establishing an information architecture for multiple user groups, permission levels, and knowledge sharing environments 

2. Maintaining the architecture, adding and removing people from user groups 

3. Locating and archiving institutional knowledge

4. Establishing taxonomies, workflow systems, approval systems so that we know which documents are approved for release and who the audiences are for that release

5. Ensuring compliance with reporting requirements

6. Ensuring everyone can find the information they need quickly and that the most recent version is online. 

7. Version control.

8. Upgrading the collaboration environment as new technologies come online

9. Exploring efficient new technologies and incorporating them where practical

10. Teaching users to use more advanced features associated with collaboration platforms, like mapping a drive, establishing a workflow, etc.

All opinions my own. Photo by eyemage via Flickr.

Private Sector PR vs. Government Public Affairs: A Difference In Terminology With Real Implications

This was my response to a followup question on the previous post, "5 Ways To Work Effectively With The Media: Tips for Federal Communicators."


On the positive side, federal communicators are extraordinarily sharp people (and have always been). Also positive, the sophistication level in terms of technique and in terms of the demand for transparency is growing by leaps and bounds. Just in the past five years, it's literally amazing to me. 


Furthermore positive, I have always known agency leaders to be sophisticated in terms of their ability to read the tea leaves, and to exercise good judgment. One memory in particular stands out of Robert Bonner, the former head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Bonner was amazing - he used to scribble out **all** of my drafts of his executive message for the monthly magazine and write it himself. I remember that handwriting!


But there is a less positive side, that hopefully we will overcome. And that is the failure to distinguish in theoretical terms between "public affairs" and "public relations." Many times, more times than I can count, I have personally experienced frustration that agencies were not as forthcoming as they could be, because there was a prevailing opinion that silence is golden.


This is not tied to one administration or another...rather it's a constant battle between those who generally want to "avoid trouble," and in their shortsighted view this means not talking about problems for fear of provoking (insert exaggerated worry).


Unfortunately I've seen communicators suffer because they were perceived as too open...because they did not understand the unwritten rules.


What is really sad, to me, is the contradiction between the incredible integrity of public servants, and the incredible distrust the public has for the government. And every single time we open up and are transparent, we find ourselves rewarded with greater trust - just the opposite of what is feared!


Where things do go wrong - and of course they do! - the best course of action is to tell it early, tell it often, tell it clearly, and be overall matter of fact about it. This is not just good government practice it's good PR practice as well! 


At the end of the day, the key difference between private sector PR and government public affairs is who is paying the bill and what expectations they're bound by. The private sector PR expert is trying to help their client resuscitate or enhance their image. The government public affairs expert is trying to help the taxpayer get the information they need and more broadly trying to help the government function effectively and efficiently. 


Confusion over this distinction is the source of another hornet's nest of misunderstanding, and that is the term "branding." The word means "propaganda" to so many, but for government it actually means doing a better job at communication - unifying the agency inside and giving the public a consistent and useful experience on the outside.


Further Reading


Monday, February 23, 2015

5 Ways To Work Effectively With The Media: Tips For Federal Communicators

Often I hear people ask about how to work with the media more effectively. They worry about reporters who "just don't seem to like us," who "give us a hard time about everything," and so on.

The assumption behind this question is that reporters are somehow "out to get" their sources. Not a helpful place to begin, because it presupposes a negative outcome from the start.

Here are some things I've learned over time from personal experience working with reporters, talking to them, and from observing the experiences of others.

1. Reporters are motivated by public service, just like federal workers. It's a thankless job. They go into it because they care. Have the same respect for them that you want them to have for you. 

2. Reporters want to speak with sources directly. Don't speak on their behalf, don't translate, don't be the intermediary, just arrange for the interview.

3. Reporters find it hard to gain access to good sources. Your value as a public affairs officer lies in your connecting the reporter with the high-value source. Even better, combine the source with high-value open data that is easy to find on your website.

4. Reporters don't instinctively understand your subject matter. You may think that your agency's mission, operations, policies and procedures are intuitive, but they're normally extremely hard to understand for outsiders. Make it simple for them to understand. This is different from high-value sources and open data, because the value lies in simplification rather than the availability of complicated, primary sources

5. Reporters are always pressed for time. A variety of factors have made individual stories less valuable - so reporters must work on multiple pieces at once, and no matter what they do, it's always surpassed by the next big story. The best thing you can do is deliver the information they need as quickly as possible with the least amount of hassle.

One final thought: When a reporter asks a question, they want a direct answer. Never encourage anyone in your agency to "message" outside the question. If a hostile question comes your way, simply say: "Your underlying premise seems to be X. Let me explain why it's Y."

In more than a decade of federal service, I have found that most negative coverage has to do with the perception that the agency is not forthcoming with the truth. Simply give them the information they need - good, bad or indifferent - respect their deadlines, and explain your limitations.

Government communicators aren't private-sector public relations professionals. That's a line that too often gets crossed. 

All opinions my own.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Channeling C.J. Cregg

There I am she is, C.J. Cregg, the most phenonemal Presidential Press Secretary ever, my professional role model. I loved everything about C.J. - her name, her clothes, her intelligence, her knowledge, her ability to stand up and speak intelligently her point of view, her deft handling of the media, knowing when to talk and when to shut up. 

More broadly The West Wing is one of my all-time favorite shows, certainly about leadership and definitely about the White House. It's not just C.J., of course, or the other professional whose career path meshes with mine (Tobey Ziegler, the Communications Director). 

No - the show inspired me in a way that is hard to describe because of the character of the president, Martin Sheen as Josiah ("Jed") Bartlet. His character was clearly inspired by the Clinton presidency and politics - let's just say there's a reason my kids look back at the '90s as a golden time. 

It was a golden time, just as the '80s were under Reagan. 

This isn't a manipulative endorsement for Hillary. Or a suggestion that America in the '80s and '90s was perfectly governed, or lacked scandal. No and no.

But Bartlet, as played by Sheen, and as fictitious as he was, embodied the full range of qualities and emotions that I want to see in an American president. He was deeply, deeply, deeply patriotic. There was no question that he loved America, loved this country beyond belief, and loved every citizen in it. His character had the same impossible dilemmas as any leader does, the crises and the screwups. He had to deal with things you must say, can say, and can never say.

I was not alive when JFK was President, but I have seen portrayals of the country's shock and mourning at his assassination. I would venture to say that Sheen generated that kind of emotion in-character.

As Press Secretary, C.J. was unflinchingly loyal. But I do not recall her saying the kind of stupid things Josh Earnest does. My guess is, he's being forced to say them. But C.J. would never have let it fly.

C.J., instead, would have called on Tobey. And they would have discussed it. Would have engaged this country in an intelligent conversation about the President's vision.

Here's just one example of how the White House press secretary just can't seem to get it right - and this is after he tried to convince us that the Taliban are no longer "terrorists," rather they are really "insurgents." (Oh, okay!)

Last week the country was moved by "America's Mayor," Rudy Giuliani, the Rudy Giuliani who shepherded us through 9/11, Giuliani saying that President Obama does not seem to love America. I say this because as soon as it happened, the emails started flying in to me: "Must see!"

Many called Giuliani unpatriotic for this, many called him disloyal, but do you know what? His words had the ring of truth. 

It was up to the White House to explain why.

Because I understand what Giuliani means, and if I were the President's Press Secretary, I would respond to those remarks in a much more intelligent way than "we feel sorry for him." 

The reality is - and this is nothing to be ashamed of, to cover up, or to distort - President Obama did have a very different upbringing than many Americans did. He did live in another country, for a time. He does have relatives who are Muslim, and he does find holiness in that religion. 

So what? So do I. And I am Jewish. I value the fact that we are a diverse nation, that I interact with Muslims all the time, that our views sometimes differ but often are exactly the same.

Why can't the President talk about this more openly? Why can't he come out of the closet, so to speak and own his complex identity in full?

If the President does not seem to love America, that comes from a place authentic inside of him. His press secretary ought to elucidate on that. For example, I believe he is very troubled by the way America has thrown its weight around over the years, at times wrongly.

His press secretary needs to talk about that, if he believes it.

People accuse him of being influenced by Communism. I'm not sure that these people have been around a Sociology 101 class lately, but one of the foundational theorists in sociology is none other than Karl Marx. The father of communism, if you will.

I would put the President on TV and have him explain, directly, who he is and what he believes - unfiltered. 

But they can't.

Why doesn't Josh Earnest talk about the President's roots in the Ivy League?  You've heard the word "colonialism" and its partner "post-colonialism." There is a place to talk about these words. It's pervasive in graduate schools to blame and shame America for its mistakes.

Why can't the President talk about it?

The fatal mistake of the President's PR machine is to underestimate the intelligence of the average American. It reflects contempt, even. 

To the point where the ordinary average person is actually incredulous at what they are saying.

Why can't the President talk about it? Surely many would agree with a genuine opinion, genuinely expressed and grounded in reason.

Because the truth is, PR doesn't work unless it's actually the truth. Not propaganda, not spin, not wordsmithing, not messaging, not psychological operations, none of it.

I was watching an interview that Steven Seagal did with RT News. He was in Russia, and he was saying that he disagrees with the current regime in America. He used the word "regime." 

Seagal is a patriot. It's obvious. And yet there he is, sitting in Russia. I didn't doubt for a second that his intentions were good: He is shouting from the rooftops that something is wrong, and that he wants to do something about it.

In his case, he believes that the U.S. and Russia don't have a bone to pick with one another, but that conflict is being fomented. He also said the President uses the media as a tool.

This is what C.J. would point out to the President.

People will support your support for a lot of things. But they won't support you lying about what you support to begin with.

I can understand the President feeling very angry about America's mistakes. I can envision him talking passionately about correcting them. 

I can understand if he is angry at the legacy of colonialism and racism. It would be amazing to talk about that at the massive, mainstream level and show us a vision of the future where we're all different countries sharing one view of peace and cooperating.

But I cannot understand the President hiding his true motivations in any matter with broad impact. And this is where C.J. would have a problem.

Here is one example close to my heart.

I believe that the President is comfortable with Israel being eradicated. Not necessarily with Jews being harmed. But the elimination of Israel as a state. The transformation of it into a country that is not owned or administered by Jews, period, not even a speck of land. Perhaps a space that is benevolently owned by some international body, or absorbed into another country. To which Jews have only token access, if at all.

This is what the President doesn't seem to want to talk about. 

C.J. can't do anything with that.

If it is true that the President doesn't really care if Israel survives, it follows that he would have no problem with policies detrimental to Israel's survival. 

As a private citizen, I have a huge problem with that. 

For one thing, eliminating Israel is not in the strategic interests of the United States, since Israel is effectively America's outpost in the Middle East.

For another, I am a Jew and a Zionist who passionately believes that Jews have the religious, historical and political right to Israel. Even if it is only a small fraction of the land we were promised in the Bible. 

As both a private citizen and a public relations professional, I would urge the President to talk about his vision, his beliefs and his intentions, so that the public can debate them. That is the definition of democracy. But even Saturday Night Live jokes that with all the Executive Orders flying around, it sometimes doesn't feel that way.

C.J. Cregg supported the President. But she had enough integrity to put democracy first. And if I were her, I know what she would say: Despite its many laudable achievements and ideas, the great disappointment of this Presidency is its lack of transparency.

Democracy cannot work in hiding. And there is no question that this Administration is plagued by an anti-Semitism you can feel almost palpably. One that cannot be justified, rationalized or explained in light of anything I can understand. 

Worse is the flat-out refusal to face up to reality, which is that radical Islam is a very real ideology that endangers us all, a religiously rooted ideology, and one which we must fight.

The failure of leadership associated with ignoring radical Islam endangers all of us, Muslims included. The evil you do not face only grows stronger by growing roots, leaves and branches in the dark.

Muslims themselves know this. They are forming human chains around Jewish synagogues in Denmark because they know that it is unspeakably wrong to commit acts of hate in their name.

I always wanted to be C.J., it's true. But it seems I am not destined in this lifetime to be her.

* * * 

On March 3, 2015, Israeli Prime Minister is supposed to address Congress regarding the imminent threat of a nuclear Iran. The day coincides with my birthday, the fast day of Ta'anit Esther, when the Jews prayed that Esther would be successful when she told the king of Haman's evil plot against them.

Sadly I am not going to be Esther, either. But I can throw my hat in the ring with my people and pray. 

May G-d save us from those who seek our destruction. May He grant us peace in our time. May he turn the heads of our leaders toward good influence and away from evil. May we never know war, or its weapons, ever again.


All opinions my own.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Communication Activities To Support A New Function - Dannielle Blumenthal Feb. 2015

A view of the range of communication activities I engage in as part of my current role as Associate Director, Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office (Communications), NIST. 

This is version 1 of the model; future versions will be grouped by category, prioritized, and have resources and timelines associated with the activities.


All opinions my own.

Seeking Some Critical Thinking About ISIS

I've just read "10 Signs That ISIS Is A Scripted Psyop" and have to say, I too have been wondering in the back of my mind about this "ISIS" group.

Like, something about it just does not seem real. It doesn't seem organic. It seems just a little too "perfect," too powerful, too quick and I don't believe that the combined powers of the world's military and intelligence agencies are as powerless as they seem.

I am a very strong believe that we must follow the truth wherever it leads us, even if that place is inconvenient. I would like to see more critical thinking about ISIS.

All opinions my own.

Beyond Vanilla In Government Communication: Is It Desirable? Is It Possible?

This week I had the good fortune to attend an event on social media strategy in the federal government. Even the most cursory review of the agenda made it clear: this form of communication has officially “arrived.” The event was:
  • Sponsored by the well-respected Federal Communicators Network, which was established 19 years ago by the Clinton Administration and which I have been involved in, including as Chair, for more than a decade.
  • Hosted by the Partnership for Public Service, an organization known and respected for being an objective purveyor of government best practice.
  • Moderated by Justin Herman of the GSA, who serves as the official social media lead for the federal government.
  • Populated by a panel of social media specialists from the CIA, VA, ICE and USGS – a range of missions, some more controversial than others.
  • Attended by communicators from across the federal government, including the FBI, the DOD, the EPA, the Coast Guard, and more. From the looks of it, about 80-100 people attended.
  • Live-streamed by a dedicated videographer using an expensive-looking video camera, for the benefit of those who could not attend.
Clearly we had come a long way from the days of:
  • Improvised social media accounts approved in hallway conversations with the boss
  • Fact sheets, binders, and dissertation-style white papers that clarified, justified, and reinforced the need for social media
  • Running to Starbucks to test out social media capabilities
  • Hiring experts to come in and give 2-hour seminars “proving” to executives that social media was a legitimate activity
  • Begging our bosses to blog, at the very least, to blog – doing “something” to show that they were part of the “interactive” web-space
But something still wasn’t quite right.

The conversation was “high-level” enough, at least on the surface.
  • There we were, talking about “conversion” and “splintering” and “mobile” and “scalability” (were we? I think so).
  • We talked about whether we wanted to “drive people to the website” or “keep them from having to go to the website in the first place.”
  • The guests noted correctly that “engagement” and “conversation” are key.
  • They even agreed that sometimes the agency has to apologize on social media, and talked about how they do that.
  • Surprisingly they even admitted to making mistakes.
And yet…and yet. Something still didn’t sit quite right with me.

Somebody said it outright, and I nearly gasped: “There are a lot of conspiracy theorists out there. And we don’t engage with our agency’s critics.”

Believe me when I tell you that I understand the tightrope that federal government communicators walk.

I have been there when executives said the stupidest things, and we had to nod our heads in seeming agreement. Feeling utterly frustrated that we could not do what we knew in our hearts to be the right thing.

I know, too, that for government to be doing any social media at all is major, major progress.

It is clear that the need for customer service from government is huge. So the recognition of its importance is equally to be lauded.

But in a day and age when people seriously don’t trust the government…when that trust has reached an all-time low…when people all over the country are expressing outrage, fury, confusion and even disgust at the activities that are conducted on their dime and in their name…can we really afford to do such vanilla social media anymore?

Think about the typical government agency. Now think about its army of communicators, and of that army the sub-army known as the social media team.

How many millions of dollars are we paying them? Could it possibly be billions?

Do we really want to squander the taxpayer’s investment in their activities on outreach that is primarily aimed at “humanizing our employees and explaining our mission?”

As a person who pays taxes myself, I don’t want that.
  • I want to know how the government is spending my money.
  • I want to know that its officials are being watched, and are accountable.
  • I want to know how allegations, accusations, misbehavior and misdeeds are being rectified.
  • I want to know that the government is doing everything it can to save my hard-earned money, so that I don’t have to pay more taxes next year.
Finally, and overall:
  • I want to know that the people, institutions, initiatives and technologies that would most benefit from taxpayer revenue are actually getting it.
Here is what I don’t want: I don’t want to spend my money on fluff.

This isn’t a slam against today’s panelists, although I can understand how they might read this and think so.

Rather, it is a plea to their bosses, the ones who put them on the payroll, the ones who write their position descriptions, the ones who evaluate their performance and the ones who have to make the case “upstairs.”

Government social media should never be mistaken for propaganda. No – it should be just the opposite!

It should never be about “pushing” a message or “driving” people where they “ought” to go.

Rather, it should be about making very clear what it is that we’re doing in the name of Jane and Joe Citizen. And responding to the concerns that they express, civilly and uncivilly, every single day – whether verbally, or in a letter or an email, or in a website comment or by social media!

And if you tell me that this kind of effort would take “too much time,” to you I say “that’s bullshit!”

The public is paying us, not the other way around.

We owe it to them to be straightforward, plain-spoken, transparent and truly – truly, not just in words and glossy brochures - accountable.

All opinions my own. Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Toward a definition of brand we all can live with.

Someone asked me today, "Isn't a brand a mark of quality?" 

Hearing that, I realized (once again) the importance of defining our terminology - preferably before we start talking to one another.

So here is a suggested common definition of brand. With the idea that newer thinking builds upon the old.

"A brand is a co-created reality that is constantly being negotiated in the collective consciousness."

What this means is that the brand is offered up by its creator and responded to in the civic commons - the social space, online and off.

All of these definitions or signifiers are aspects of brand - they comprise a portion of its reality:

1. Quality mark 
2. Authenticity mark
3. Visual mark
4. Reputation mark
5. Symbolic mark
6. Religious mark
7. Social responsibility mark
8. Professional mark
9. Collaboration mark
10. Vision mark

What you as the brand builder want to do is create the conversation (start the fire), establish the collaboration, then step back, participate and hopefully influence.

An ant colony is a good way of thinking of it. Collective intelligence, super-organized, each participating, each motivated to achieve the common goal of  self-sustenance.