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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

3 Lessons Learned From Tony Clement's Social Media Activity

We all want more transparency from our government, regardless of where we live.  Depending on what side of the fence you sit however, the transparency may just never be enough.  Despite the various partisan analysis that will inevitably be shared of Clement's intentions, there are three very important lessons that we can all take away from this exercise.  Before I get into those lessons learned, I do find it refreshing that government, or at least this government, recognizes that people - citizens - want something different. 

We all crave transparency in our government's actions.  While this is a good thing to want and to desire from government,  I believe, and anyone is welcome to take exception with this, that there should be a limit.  Having worked in government I am well aware that there are contracts that are signed that do require confidentiality and whether we want to accept this premise or not, it is to the citizens' advantage to NOT have the details.  This level of confidentiality is necessary for a number of reasons.

Sometimes confidentiality is required due to the fact that government has secured pricing that would not normally be given and therefore, it could compromise the position of the supplier with its other customers.  Other times it could be required due to intellectual property or other sensitive information. 

Now, this is not to say that the cloak of confidentiality should be taken advantage of - that is definitely not what I am saying.  What I am saying is that it is "sometimes" necessary and in our best interests.  Using social media as a communication tool is a critical step in the process of transparency.  When you look at the statistics and demographics of our population, more and more people use social media for not only communicating, but getting information. 

Lesson number two is probably the biggest one in terms of government and any organization.  The protection of, and building of one's reputation.  As discussed in my last posting, "Pst...We KNOW What You Did Last Summer," the number one concern around boardroom tables is a crisis or some other event that can impact reputation.  One of Clement's reasons for leveraging social media is based on this very fact - reputation.  Real-time listening.  Real-time response and real-time communication.  The challenge will be how Clement not only manages the volume, but also how he and his team will manage consistency.  And yes, he will need a team.  To expect otherwise is unrealistic.  To do this properly, he cannot do this alone.

Lesson three - culture change.  I have to say that I was really pleased to see Clement acknowledging this.  I am giving him the benefit of the doubt here as we have heard others say this before unfortunately.  We all have examples where leadership has said and acknowledged that they are operating in a different world now and that using social media, being open and transparent without spin while being timely and consistent with their values and mission is essential.  However, when things got difficult, they quickly reverted back to old practices of trying to control the message, the timing of the message and having multiple layers of approvals prior to release.  In the end, not only has the expiration date of the message come and gone, it often says nothing. 

So, in closing, while this is not a revolutionary step, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction.  A culture never changed overnight.  It is now our responsibility to be responsive to these actions.  After all, listening and engaging is a two-way street.

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