Des Walsh, former APS and NSW public servant speaking on "Why parliamentarians and public sector managers need to participate actively in social media (briefing papers and slideshows won't cut it) as part of the proceedings from the Public Sphere event on Government 2.0, hosted by Senator Kate Lundy on the 22nd June 2009.
The slides for this talk are available at:
The rest of the videos from the day are linked from the schedule at:
All slides are available at:
This is very exciting to be here today and I agree with Stephen on a lot of things, but this culture change is really important at a national level for the future of our nation. So I see today as a really a nation building thing. For a political junkie like myself being here in Canberra today is very exciting. Just even imagining what's going on - hard to concentrate.
It's interesting, talking about Twittering and so on, a conference that Stephen Collins and I were at earlier in the year, one speaker got up (on Enterprise 2.0] and he complained about all these people Twittering. He wanted us to pay attention to him. We were paying attention to him, we were just sharing it with the world. And of course, as soon as he said "look at me and stop doing that" everybody went [tweet] and it went around the world. That is one of the things that is kind of scary. I can get up here and know that there are people in the USA, in the UK and around Australian who are tuning in on this, and if somebody says something unkind its going to be there and I've got to deal with that. So I'm ok with that. Some people aren't.
I want to talk about why Parliamentarians and Public Sector managers need to participate in social media. And because my career in the Public Service is way behind me, I can say what I like. Where as some people might have had some challenge saying this. I have great respect for politicians, believe it or not, Parliamentarians. My father was a Parliamentarian and they contribute an irreplaceable gift to our community. I have a great respect and sympathy for people who rise to the higher echelons of the Public Service because they don't do it easily usually. So when I'm challenging, I'm challenging with respect. But I don't believe, as I said in the kind of slightly throwaway tag, I don't believe this is something you can get by getting briefings on it.
You know one of the things that was interesting last night was that I was checking the profile on some people online. If you take Lindsay Tanner for instance, Minister Tanner, who I believe is speaking here today, you can check out him on Facebook, he's got his Facebook site. There are other people in senior ranks of the Australian Public Service who I don't whether it has occurred to them to have a page on LinkedIn or on Facebook or something, or if they've chosen not to because they don't want to have something up there, but they're there anyway. If you got to Zoominfo.com you'll find some interesting stuff about some very senior people that maybe isn't what they want highlighted for themselves. So this isn't a game you can opt out of anymore.
There has already been mention made of Twitter and Iran. One of the things I want to do today is to say, by being active participants in social media, not just observers and certainly, hopefully not blockers, Parliamentarians and senior managers, and junior managers for that matter in the Public Service can better understand what's going on, be better able to lead, be better able to communicate. It was fascinating to me earlier last week, on Monday night I thought "What's going on in Iran?" So I went to Twitter - "March is on!" It's so immediate and if you're not involved you are going to miss so much and you are going to be slow catching up. If you rely on mainstream media solely now there are going that you're not going to get the full story on.
The State Department earlier in the week, Twitter was just about to go down for service or upgrading or something and Tweeters all around the world said "No no no, you can't let those people down who are protesting in Iran". And the State Department with all its vast resources said "Please keep twitter up because there's stuff coming in here that we can't get from anywhere else". So that's pretty powerful I think.
You know a year ago, April 08 there was something like 1.7million people on Twitter. I may be wrong. But it's now at least 10 times that, and probably tripled again. It can get very complicated. This is a wonderful thing, the ConversationPrism.com. Brain Solis whose a PR guy in the USA and another guy named Jess, who is actually I think is from Australia have put this together. And this is all the different social media platforms and tools and so on. People look at this sometimes and they say "I can't cope! I've got briefing papers to do for the Minister. I've got a committee meeting this morning. I can't get into this stuff, I'll just get swamped." But it is possible and I'll come to that shortly to make that task manageable. It can be very challenging, it can be quite scary to face up to this horde of people who sometimes feel very threatening to people who have been used to controlling the conversation. They see all these Social Media enthusiasts and Citizen Activists coming at them and they say "How can we stop this overwhelmingness?"
The US Army tried to stop it. US Army had restricted access to social networking sites on its bases. It recently issued an order that bases within the USA had to open access to specific social networking sites because there was a conflict between what was happening. Senior Army and Military Officers were organising campaigns to promote the idea that life in the Army being really good and a great contribution to the nation. And base command or people in charge of bases saying we can't let the troops look at this stuff that the Army was actually producing. So the order came down just get in line, get this consistency. It wasn't an open slather - and you can read the order, its online - they didn't say all social networking sites, they specifically excluded a number of them. What they were saying was we can't stop this, we don;t actually want to stop it. We want to make it possible.
So how do you manage it? Well, the Public Service Commissioner has put out the document that Stephen [Collins] referred to that was August last year. Agencies have been invited to develop their own guidelines and comment and so forth. I don't know how much activity - I gathered from Steve there hasn't been a lot. If you read those guidelines, having been a Public Servant I understand some of the language. I understand that there's controls, there's Codes of Conduct, there's values and it all has to be aligned and so on. But it didn't excite me really. I didn't say "Wow I'd like to get into this!"
But there are Codes of Conduct for Social Media put out by some corporate managers in the Enterprise field which are more encouraging, more enthusiastic if you like about participation. There's Laurel Papworth in Sydney. She has produced a list of 40 Codes of Conduct that I think James Dellow (HeadShift has a link to those on his site. There's lots of examples you can use. Not all Codes of Conduct have to look the same. Some can be quite encouraging.
The point was made earlier it's not about tools, it's about conversation. This slide is just a local politician in the USA and he is running for a school board. He's having these 'coffee conversations'. And he also has a blog. His name is Mark Brady and he's in University City, Missouri if you want to look him up. He's having the conversation online and offline and that is the kind of model for me about how its going to work. I would love to start getting some communications online from my Local Member, not just the dead tree stuff in the mail that I tend not to read actually. You could get a lot more value I suspect for the Parliamentarians communication with their electorate if there was more use of Social Media.
Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister came up with an answer: If a job's worth doing it's worth delegating! And that's the way a lot of corporate heavies deal with Social Media and I suspect it's the way a lot of Parliamentarians and managers deal with it - find someone to do this. Often they say "The IT people can handle this. Or someone junior on the staff because they are young so they will handle it." So their not involved. So what I am saying is get involved. If you do delegate, then delegate actively, not at arms length and not in a disinterested way.
The other thing is, the whole point of this apparently frivolous slide [Essendon playing AFL] is, if you play a game I think as a sort of prima facie that you're going to know more about it aren't you, more about the rules, how it works? I played Australian Rules once - very badly. But I can actually watch the game now more intelligently and talk about it more intelligently than if I'd never wandered around in the back pocket, trying to be kept out of the way.
You know there is just something you learn about Social Media by just doing it. By having a blog, you can even have a private blog if you're really nervous about having it public. There's something you learn by being a participant on twitter. There's something you learn by having a Facebook page and dealing with some of the complications of the silly things that come onto that and learning how to manage the conversation.
Going back to the blog "Smart Thing", Microsoft said "We are going to encourage everybody. We don't want to be seen as just this monolith. We are going to encourage everyone to blog." As Frank Arriguard, the wonderful Australian Microsoft blogger who is now in Seattle says "Don't put something on your blog that you don't want to see in the Sydney Morning Herald tomorrow morning.
There's really no need for overwhelm. How many people here have got a blog? OK, preaching to the choir! How many people here have got a Facebook page? How many people have got a twitter page? I belong to an organisation called Social Media Club. We have a motto which is "If you get it, share it!" So, I'm going to encourage people who do get it to share the idea with people. Not that this is something that you have to be in the inner circle to understand, but that it's actually easy to get started. To help people with a LinkedIn profile which if its done intelligently, can only help peoples' careers and communication. To have a Facebook page. To have a twitter account. In the middle there have a blog of some kind. Just get used to the process of sharing your ideas. And if nothing else, have an RSS feed so you're finding out what other people are saying. People say "I can't keep up with all these blogs!" I say "Have you heard of RSS? Have you heard of syndication?" They say "What's that?" That's a way to have your online daily newspaper. Try and explain this if you're communicating with people who you think it would be good for them to get involved, try and use simple explanations like that.
Answer: I think that one of the things is the solution is in the participation James. If you get involved you start to have conversations with other people who have been through all those questions themselves. And you say "I'm stuck! I don't know which blogging platform to use. I don't know what to do with Facebook. There'll be people literally all around the world who will dive in to help you, either with private messages or public ones.
Somebody said twitter is a river not a lake! you can switch off.
Question: (Kate Lundy) I have a question for you. What about the idea of places where people can go and meet and learn how to twitter with confidence and how to blog with confidence? Do you know of that happening anywhere?
Answer: It is happening! Steve Collins has started the Social Media Club here in Canberra which is a good way for people to get together with people. And the whole idea is not to have a cosy little group who just keep this stuff to itself, but for people who don't know anything to come along and learn from others. There are various online groups. Just about any interest is covered by some Google Group or a Yahoo Group and in the online world you can find a lot of people who can share ideas.
Answer: Yes. It is about partly doing things that we've done before but doing them differently. My father used to stand on a street corner with a loud hailer thing and talk to people who would stop and listen. People would answer back and heckle and all of that sort of stuff. Now we've got Social Media which is different ways for people to communicate with their elected officials and vice versa. Yes there are things that are different about it and there are new skills to be learned.
I was asked at conference at AMP in Sydney a couple of years ago. One of the people, a Baby Boomer - and I can talk very confidently to Baby Boomers because none of them can tell me that they are too old to learn this. he said "What's going to happen to those of us who don't learn this stuff?" And I said "Well sorry, but you're going to become irrelevant." Gary Vanachuck, a very successful man in the United States says it very succinctly, "In the corporate context some will get it and they'll do well and others won't and they will fail." And I believe that's true.
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