Welcome to Publicyte!
Publicyte is Microsoft’s corporate blog where technology, entrepreneurial principles, and pop culture inform us about innovation in the public sector and civic progress.
Publicyte is published by the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation in Washington, DC. Our goal is to provide inspiring opinion and commentary about how the entrepreneurial spirit of America is changing government, politics, education, health, and the not-for-profit space. We’re tech-savvy but our material is written for a general audience. We hope to inspire the next generation of American entrepreneurs, makers, thinkers, and creatives to leverage innovation to change our country for the better.
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Guest post by Joanne Harrell, the Senior Director of Microsoft State and Local eGovernment Programs. This article originally appeared on the Microsoft Bright Side of Government blog.
The Brookings Institution and Microsoft have teamed up to develop a new online data visualization tool that is designed to help cities and counties align public transportation resources to job creation goals.
Built on Windows Azure and Bing Maps with Microsoft partner EastBanc Technologies, the application is based on Brookings' extensive analysis of transit routes and schedules from 371 transit providers in 100 US metropolitan areas. The extensive visualization capabilities in this tool will help local and regional government and transit leaders-as well as private sector partners-make critical infrastructure and investment decisions during this time of scarce public and private resources.
Publicyte caught up with Adie Tomer, Senior Research Analyst at Brookings, to discuss this interactive mapping application that is launching on May 12, in conjunction with a new Metropolitan Policy Program report, Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America.
How did the idea for the interactive mapping application come about?
Our research director and research teams realized we had this mountain of useful data, and we wanted open it up to make it publicly accessible. Since transit and jobs data is intrinsically geographic in nature, the information lends itself very well to a mapping application.
Additionally, the integration of quantitative research and types of software coding led by innovative companies like Microsoft gives researchers new ways to get their data out to the public. This is especially critical for organizations like the Metropolitan Policy Program that rely on geospatial data to tell our story.
What features of the transit tool are most useful for regional and local governments?
Because the new report is a first-of-its-kind study, public officials will now be able to compare their performance to other metropolitan areas. And since many smaller transit agencies do not have digitized data, this may also be the first opportunity for them to have a complete picture of transit performance in their metro area.
For example,the travel time tab in particular shows individual travel time matrices with incredible speed and ease. Features like these will really help planners,commuters, and employers understand who can get to jobs in a reasonable amount of time during morning rush hour.
What does the data tell us about the relationship between public transit performance and job access?
Our research found that there's transit paradox in the country. Nearly 70 percent of working age residents in the top metro areas can get on a transit vehicle (bus, train, ferry, etc. but the problem is that on average they can only get to 30 percent of jobs in their metro area. The research reveals that we need to do a better job coordinating transportation investments, planning, and data collection to improve job access in the future.
Explore the interactive transit and jobs map here.
Art credits: OSDE-INFO and Keng Susumpow
Rana June Sobhany, better known as DJ Rana June to some, took a break from her tour to play the Publicyte launch event in Washington, DC recently. Widely recognized as one of the most innovative people working at the intersection of technology, music, and art, she continually inspires people in both the technology and music industries. Publicyte editor-in-chief Mark Drapeau caught up with her at the members-only L2 Lounge in Georgetown for an interview.
What's cool about performing at a Microsoft launch event?
I am a believer in and supporter of innovation. Anytime a company launches a product, that's cause for celebration! Microsoft has been so instrumental in getting computers into the mainstream and has shaped so much of the technology adoption we now see in every facet of our daily lives. I am eager and anxious to see what the next generation of products will be.
This launch is even more special because I've known you for many years! I'm excited to watch Publicyte.com grow under your leadership.
Thanks! You used to live in Washington, DC with me, which is how we met - What do you think about the DC tech scene and how it's changed over the last few years?
It has certainly changed a great deal over the past five years! I remember the days when the "DC Tech Scene" was 10 people having brunch at Napoleon in Adams Morgan on a Sunday morning. Now, this city has nurtured a burgeoning hub of innovation, giving New York a run for its money as the East Coast's most startup-friendly city.
What did you do to prepare for the Publicyte.com launch party?
I spent a long time thinking about the right way to put together a soundtrack that encompassed Publicyte's spirit. I wanted to create a sonic environment that is fun,energetic,and uplifting, much like the resource that Publicyte.com is proving to its readers.
What's on your set list?
Over the past year, I have played over 100 shows, so I have learned what works and what doesn't when it comes to creating and performing on a new platform like the iPad. As a result, I have truly crafted and refined my style of uptempo electronic dance music into an experience that is interactive with everyone in the audience. I try to play current "top 40," but remixed in an interesting and lively manner that connects with the audience in a meaningful way that inspires people to think about consumer technologies in a new and novel way.
What apps did you use on your iPad during the Publicyte show?
I use many different apps when doing pre-production work, but the main app I use during the live performance is called Looptastic HD. I have hacked a version that is very customized to my workflow and enables syncing of multiple iPads, and I've spent hundreds of hours uploading my own samples and loops to it. But the beauty of it is that the main app is available in the App Store and it's reasonably priced.
I really encourage people to try to make music whenever they can. The tools and technologies that have emerged in the past five years are making it so easy for anyone to understand music production, and it's my belief that the more people are able to make music on their own, the more they can and will appreciate the good music they hear anywhere else.
Where is digital music headed in the next couple of years?
Given the fact that I've dedicated the past year of my life to exploring this subject, I would like to think that the proliferation of low-cost, touch-screen interfaces are going to transform the way that music is produced and performed. The crumbling record label model is fostering an increased need for new modalities of musical expression. We are also seeing that take place in the younger generation who have exhibited and incredible aptitude and interest in music games such as Guitar Hero and Tap Tap Revenge.
My next project is to tackle the next generation of music education in America. I am so excited to share my plans, but for now, they are under wraps while we are building out the first product.
Thanks, Rana! We're looking forward to seeing you relate your work on the DJ/consumer side of things to the public sector issue of education in the near future.
See exclusive photos from the Publicyte launch event on our Skydrive. Follow DJ Rana June on Twitter at @ranajune, and get more information about music and upcoming events on her website. Art credits: DJ Rana June, ABC News
Guest post by Gary Danoff, an Account Executive with Microsoft focusing on the Department of Defense medical community, where he seeks ways to help the government improve patient care while saving taxpayer dollars.
Baby boomers reading this will probably remember the old 7-UP commercials declaring it the "un-cola." In competition with traditional alternatives Coke and Pepsi, they marketed themselves as something different - and they were. A differently refreshing soft drink for a different customer.
If it worked for soda, could it work for doctors?
If the "be different" concept from un-colas were applied to medical care, what would an un-doctor look like?
Here's what I mean by a visit to the un-doctor. Instead of going to the doctors’ office for an initial diagnosis, there is now a wealth of technology that allows an initial diagnosis to be done from your home. In some cases, you can take and transmit vital statistics like blood sugar readings, blood pressure, and even fitness measures directly to the doctors office.
Many of Microsoft's business partners - for example, FitBit and the Mayo Clinic Health Manager - enable such initial screening and subsequent two-way communication between doctor and patient. In fact, Microsoft HealthVault is one way for consumers to in essence store their personal medical file cabinet "in the cloud" - and they themselves can choose if and when to share its contents with medical providers. (Sounds like more free time and less paperwork to me.)
Doctors, nurses,physicians assistants,and patients using new technologies like these are what some have called the ‘medical home’ style of practicing medicine - AKA the ‘un-visit’.
But wait, there’s more.
What if one day you needed to be transported to a great medical facility, but the best specialist to diagnose your problem was in another city or country. Less than ideal, right? But an ‘un-visit’ can extend right to your hospital bed.
With a collection of technologies that combine HD Video and high speed data connections (check out Sony's MD2GO solution), a doctor who is literally not present in the room with you can observe your condition and communicate with other medical personnel on scene. The doctor can even see you and speak to you and vice-versa.
These are just two examples in which cutting-edge technology is making providing healthcare easier for both the patient and doctor, and is expected to save the U.S. a good deal of money. Now, that’s a refreshing idea.
So, next time your feel a little under the weather, ask your doctor for an ‘un-visit’.
Art credits: Dennis Crowley, Ella Marie
Guest post by Kent Cunningham, the Chief Technology Architect to the Microsoft Federal Civilian and Health business. Follow him on Twitter at @kent_cunningham. A version of this article appeared at FutureFed.
Federal agencies have made improving operational productivity and efficiency through targeted use of technology a top priority. It was my honor last week to testify before the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on House Administration on June 16 to discuss Modernizing Information Delivery in the House. My presentation, “The Future of Productivity,” explored how the House of Representatives could make its business operations more efficient and productive through improved use of communications and collaboration technologies.
Information exchange and collaboration are the lifeblood of our government, and communications keeps it pumping. The House must be able to work collaboratively and securely. This need for managed, enterprise collaboration solutions applies to their own staff and parties, as well as offices across the aisle, Senate offices, and the general public.
The House and other federal agencies recognize that they have some great opportunities to use modern communication and collaboration technologies to improve productivity and efficiency. Microsoft has decades of experience in helping federal agencies and partners implement systems that accommodate users’ desire for choice, flexibility, and mobility, while still satisfying those organizations’ need for enterprise-grade security,integrity and reliability. We also have a particularly deep understanding of government security,privacy and compliance.
My recommendations to the subcommittee included having the House develop a unified, interoperable platform that accommodates users’ desire to choose their own devices and applications while supporting institutional and legal requirements for data security and retention. Ideally, this platform would support both current and future technologies. This kind of system that facilitates user choice on the front end with a unified infrastructure on the back end would allow the House to:
Given how far technology has come in recent years, it is easy to forget how much time and effort it once took to create documents, memos and reports. Documents used to be typed, and mistakes were commonly corrected with white-out. Making one change could sometimes require retyping the whole document. Authoring documents collaboratively and managing organizational workflow was a time- and paper-intensive process that could stretch out across weeks or months as paper copies of each revision were manually shepherded from office to office.
This is not how enterprises produce results today, and it is not an optimal model for the House. As Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) noted in his testimony before the Subcommittee, too much Congressional business is still done on wasteful volumes of paper, and it needn’t be so. I am encouraged and excited by the House of Representatives’ effort to reduce waste and improve collaborative processes within the House.
Read Kent Cunningham's testimony in full on the Publicyte Skydrive.
Art credits: Rob Marquardt, House.gov
The Next Web recently posted an article titled, Why Turntable.fm is the most exciting social service of the year. Turntable.fm is new, hip, press-shy, and earning word-of-mouth on hot tech blogs like GigaOm and TechCrunch and Betabeat (NY Observer). The founders are based near Union Square in New York City, and hang out at the Ace Hotel. They seem to have earned over 140,000 active users in their first month in private beta (check out this discussion on Quora for ideas as to why). Mega-angel Chris Sacca is an investor (and user). Sir Mix-A-Lot recently DJ'd a set there.
What's so interesting about Turntable.fm? Michael Wolf at GigaOm describes it as a prime example of a new "immersion and creation era" of online music, as opposed to the previous "social playlist era" of music, represented by services like Last.fm (which are somewhat new in themselves). Describing the user experience, TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld writes,
Everyone in a room has an avatar and can chat with each other. You can create your own playlist and get up on the DJ table to battle it out. People tend to talk a lot of smack. But it’s fun,and addictive enough that I didn’t leave after 20 seconds... In the end,Turntable.fm is really about hanging out with people and discovering music. If a DJ is playing a song you like, you can add it to your playlist, buy it on iTunes, find it on Last.fm, or launch Spotify.
Publicyte review of Turntable.fm
I decided to try Turntable.fm for myself to see what all the fuss was about.
What was my experience? Well, for one, you can easily discover new audio tracks to listen to. I listen to "chill" music on Pandora a lot while I work, but a Turntable.fm room called IndieChill/Acoustic with 73 active users had all kinds of great music I was utterly unfamiliar with. This was a refreshing surprise. For all the excitement about Pandora's "music genome project," it's actually very a very incomplete genome - seed Pandora with "Moby" and you get Moby every sixth song or so, and the other groups are very straightforward (Morcheeba or Thievery Corporation, let's say). Turntable.fm is user-generated by design, and thus its content seems much more diverse.
Furthermore, the Turntable.fm user interface is incredibly good. I had no problem intuitively figuring out what to do to have a great time.
Besides merely listening, you can also be a DJ yourself. Upload music from your computer, or search Turntable.fm for artists and songs, and put your track in the queue. You accumulate DJ points, and you can trade them in for cooler and cooler looking avatars, much like a videogame. In fact, the entire experience feels more like an immersive videogame than a "website."
There are a number of really interesting features. One cool one, blandly called Room Info, allows you to pull down a menu of recently played songs. Beyond the obvious information, you can see percentages of how people in the room voted about their feelings on a given song (Lame vs. Awesome, in Turntable.fm lingo). This is real-time snap polling of audio information. Another cool feature allows you to see a list of all active rooms, and whether any of your Facebook friends are in those rooms. This is something akin to a Foursquare for online music "locations" - you want to hang out where your friends are hanging out.
The chat room box within a given channel is also an interesting and relevant feature. When I was in a room called "RockStation" (Van Halen, Stone Temple Pilots, and the like), some of the people in the room started to complain that others were "running out of songs" and playing a limited number of bands. The rooms can self-correct for being boring, repetitive, inconsistent, off-topic, and so on.
Another interesting user-generated social feature is that many people make their username their Twitter handle, effectively linking new more temporary social networks around the kind of music you are listening to right now to existing social networks of people on Twitter that tend to be about long-standing interests. You may find over time that there are a cool subset of people who like trip-hop on Sunday mornings who also live in Cleveland that you have other things in common with; say, you all go to the same college.
In sum, Pandora seems very mainstream, orthodox, and conformist when compared to Turntable.fm, which allows subculture to shine more prominently. I like Pandora, but I also now like Turntable.fm - When I wrote about Turntable.fm vs. Pandora on my Facebook wall, someone commented,
Turntable.fm is cool for when I want to hear what people are listening to but Pandora already has my stations saved so when I want less social and more "my station", I still use Pandora.
I think that's valid, and there are uses for both.
Where's the Turntable.fm for education?
Here at Publicyte, we think both startups and music are interesting, but they're not our raison d'être. Here's why I went into the terrific user interface and community of Turntable.fm in some detail, though - I wonder if Pandora vs. Turntable.fm can serve as a metaphor for formal, mainstream education in the classroom vs. information learning outside school?
Dale Dougherty, the founder of Maker Faire, speaks about a "smart grid for education" on which citizens conduct do-it-yourself (DIY) learning and stay connected about what they're learning through social platforms. There are many learning resources (say, a website advertising a free class where you can learn how to cook) out there, but often they're not connected with traditional schools, nor with each other. Dougherty's big idea is a "new public infrastructure for learning," as he puts it. It would be "something that could provide an open alternative platform to connect students to informal opportunities for learning in their own community," where they "will no longer see themselves consumers of standardized education, but as producers of an education that they can create for themselves."
Dougherty piched this at last year's Government 2.0 Expo in Washington DC as an "R&D project," but what if we're closer than we think? Let's openly brainstorm about how the Turntable.fm platform, or something like it, might apply to a smart grid for education.
Imagine a digital school designed to be engaging and fun, like a game. Different classrooms have information about different user-defined topics, determined by whoever is at school learning in that moment; one classroom might be Particle Physics, another Car Engines 101, another still Introduction to American History. You can see who's in each classroom, and how participatory they are based on their point scores and avatars. You can move in and out of rooms at will, with no consequences; there's no "showing up late" for class here. Vote on whether the audio of a brief lesson is "Lame" or "Awesome," and comment on it in the real-time chat room. Give your own hand a try by uploading a three-minute podcast of your own, demonstrating a new way to remember the names of all the U.S. presidents. Go to Twitter and follow a few people from school that seem to be interesting and also live in your state, and try to remember to follow up later to learn more about them.
Most schools as we know them aren't like this, but they could be. Why can't learning be a little more like what I describe above? Between written documents/books which could be voice-transcribed into podcasts, audio/video tracks of lectures, books, etc. which could already be played, and original recordings from amateurs or retired teachers at home, there is a wealth of short audio clips that students could learn from on a social game platform like this outside the classroom. I don't even see why some of the Turntable.fm music features couldn't be combined with learning. Lots of people work and study with music on in the background, or on their headphones. Kids at school generally don't have headphones and music in the classroom, but that doesn't mean that music can't be motivational for learning outside the classroom.
Unquestionably, there will always be a need for mainstream schools, standardized textbooks, professional teachers, and approved curricula. But Turntable.fm might be a model for what the beginning of a smart grid for education outside the classroom looks like. Turntable.fm's simple tagline is, "Play music together." When will someone take advantage of the gigantic business opportunity in information technology for education and build something akin to a Turntable.fm for education with the tagline, "Learn something together"?
Art credit: Epiclectic
Guest post by Sam Khoury, a Public Sector Solutions Director for Microsoft's Office of Civic Innovation.
In just a short time, the Internet has created huge economies of scale for information dissemination, affecting everything from how news spreads among bloggers, journalists, and average readers to how consumers compare sale prices among stores for their holiday shopping. The dark side of such information efficiency, however, is that global criminal elements are exploiting it in various ways. From utilizing virtual communities to talk to each other to going unnoticed under the cover of anonymity, criminals of all types are deepening their relationships with each other and becoming more powerful.
The good news is that this exploitation pendulum swings both ways. Here, I discuss the particular case of those bad actors commiting crimes against children, and how law enforcement is leveraging new Web-based digital image technologies combined with cloud computing to combat the evil work of child predators.
Scarcity to Overload: A Brief History of Information
Once upon a time, not so long ago,I had to call a stockbroker on my phone (a "land line") in order to get information about my investments. Time on the phone was rushed,with a long list of company names and stock prices rapidly spewed at me - after all, my broker had other calls from other clients to answer. Information was scarce, and getting it depended on gatekeepers.
Now, in the Web 2.0 age, there are relatively few information gatekeepers. Today I use my smart phone to pull up screens full of ticker symbols showing real-time information about stocks, bonds, commodities and exchange rates. My brokerage beams them to me like Scotty from Star Trek. Information is "free" to the point where we are practically overloaded with it. We need filters to help us figure out what information is important, or necessary - and what isn't.
This abundance of information is both a blessing and a curse, an opportunity and a risk. Society's newly acquired efficiency in disseminating data, information, images, audio, and video has not gone unnoticed or unused. Criminals and other bad actors like terrorists are now interconnected in loosely joined but powerful social networks that afford both identity and anonymity, which complicates matters for those trying to infiltrate and counteract them. In some ways, the Internet and its massive information dissemination capabilities have empowered and emboldened criminals. Those acting against children, whether it be kidnapping, pornography, prostitution, or similar crimes, are a particularly noxious case to consider.
Child Exploitation Meets Information Overload
Internet-based sexual abuse of children takes many forms, including the distribution of sexually abusive images. The global production and distribution of such images is a difficult problem to fight because of the extreme nature of the offense - Not only do offenders go to great length to hide their identity, but the rapid alteration and redistribution of images around the world makes it almost impossible for the relevant authorities to identify the origin of the geographic location where such abuse took place, and therefore harder to identify and help the victims or apprehend and punish the perpetrators.
If we further examine both the explicit and implicit limitations imposed on law enforcement when it comes to dealing with such a crime, we see that the problem is in fact even more complicated. Not only do law enforcement agencies fight Internet crime with outdated tools in many cases, but there are serious jurisdictional issues that play a major role in reducing the efficiency of combatting this type of offense. This is because the use of the Internet to distribute abusive material is not jurisdictionally bound. Images can be distributed around the world in seconds, whereas law enforcement resources are compartmentalized along jurisdictional and legislative lines.
This disadvantage has resulted in a sizeable performance gap between the ability of perpetrators to commit such crimes and the ability of law enforcement agencies to combat it. This disadvantage is further compounded with recent explosive growth of the Internet and the constant transmittance of billions of messages, images, videos and other form of communicative material over the global network. Further breaking the problem down, the two most critical issues that face law enforcement are (1) identifying new abuse images and (2) sharing information/intelligence.
(1) Identifying new abuse images: Consider the scenario of a particular law enforcement agency that seizes one or more computers containing child abuse material. Potentially thousands of images may have been stored on those computers, and every image must be examined, identified, categorized and checked against images that exist in the agency’s database. Aside from the psychological toll inflicted on investigators who repeatedly handle such material, there exists a massive efficiency problem in processing thousands of images. Further, the process of image distribution may involve cropping, resizing, rotating, or otherwise altering images, making the job of law enforcement exponentially more difficult.
(2) Information Sharing: The 9/11 commission stated that the biggest impediment to all-source government intelligence analysis is the human or systematic resistance to sharing information. Due to the sensitivity of both the materials and investigations, along with a multitude of restrictive operational policies, law enforcement agencies tend to oppose sharing information about child exploitation. Unfortunately, this approach also results in duplication of effort amongst multiple agencies and even countries investigating the same case.
However, as the pendulum swings back, emerging technologies are now beginning to enable law enforcers to combat the new wave of high-tech crimes via the Internet.
Digital Image Forensics to the Rescue
Forensic technologies for digital images have now advanced to the point where they are becoming invaluable for combating child exploitation.
In an attempt to bridge the aforementioned technological gap between perpetrators and law enforcement, researchers have been working on enhancing the imaging technology in a variety of ways. One of the most intriguing and promising image forensic techniques is known as "image fingerprinting." One example of this is software named PhotoDNA, an imaging technology using a technique called “robust hashing” to produce highly unique and reliable digital signatures - In other words, PhotoDNA can produce the equivalent of a human fingerprint for images.
PhotoDNA was recently donated to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in order to more efficiently counteract the proliferation of sexual abuse images. Brad Smith, the general counsel for Microsoft, commented on this in a press release:
PhotoDNA is a powerful technology that will help combat online child pornography. We are very pleased to donate PhotoDNA to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to support the battle against this horrific crime.
In distinct ways, this same technology will also add to the arsenal of technological tools employed via law enforcement to respond to challnges in the area of global child exploitation. Now that any given image can be associated with a highly unique and reliable signature, identification of new images becomes a sigificantly simpler task.
Implications of Digital Signature Technologies
There are a number of implications of digital signature technologies like PhotoDNA becoming part of the law enforcement process. The first is simple: time savings. When every image is transformed into a digital signature and stored in a shared database as such, all newly obtained signatures can be automatically queried against the database. The introduction of an automated image signature search capability will help abandon any labor-intensive process resulting in quickly identifying existing images under investigation and identifying new victims. In concept, this is identical to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) used at the FBI.
The second implication is what one might call "the ratchet," in that the process of obtaining a digital signature is irreversible - once you have it, you have it, and the number of signatures in a database can only increase. In turn, the more images in the database, the more useful it becomes to everyone who uses it. Further, PhotoDNA can even account for very minor changes to the same image, and therefore the "ecosystem" of images around a victim, a criminal, or a case can be better understood as a system of complex information sharing.
Finally, the use of digital signatures implies a different means where information about child sex crimes can be shared. Because, like actual fingerprints or biological DNA signatures, one can have evidence that two people are the same without actually seeing what they look like, sex crimes information can be "shared without being fully shared," which is respectful of victims, does not violate certain local laws, and has other useful qualities.
In the future, a global law enforcement community could be established in order to host a cloud-based repository for such digital signatures that can be queried with new images from the community.
INTERPOL and Microsoft: What's Next?
The International Criminal Police Organization, or INTERPOL, already has such a database for actual images. Software like PhotoDNA takes this concept to the next level.
There are challenges, though. One is that the contents of the INTERPOL database must be submitted via member countries. However, one can imagine that many crimes take place in some countries that are not necessarily working with INTERPOL, and thus this shared database model has probably not reached its full potential in fighting crimes related to child exploitation. Nevertheless, in the future such a model may encourage more global organizations to actively contribute to populating the database.
Large technology companies have a role to play as well. Microsoft works extensively with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) as well as the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) to help in their efforts. Additionally, Microsoft has established a Digital Crimes Unit to advance relevant technologies, enhance enforcement, and establish partnerships that can help make the Internet safer for everyone.
Technology is not a magic bullet. Fighting internet-based sexual abuse of children is a multi-faceted approach that involves complex technological, organizational and legislative issues. Unfortunately, the fight against child exploitation in the age of the Web will be a significant challenge for years to come.
Image of INTERPOL's logo from Wikipedia. Images of stock ticker, a child, CSI, and a digital signature all used under Creative Commons.
Guest post by Jeff Mascott, the Managing Partner of Adfero Group, a Washington, DC-based public relations firm, and he also teaches at Georgetown University. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmascott. A version of this post originally appeared at K Street Cafe.
I recently gave a presentation at America’s Small Business Summit sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about how small businesses and organizations can develop an effective — but manageable — social media strategy. I deliberately stayed away from talking about the latest and greatest tactics, and the newest and coolest tools. Why? It has become far too easy to get caught up in looking at what’s new, interesting, or different. In reality, what we should be focusing on is what will fundamentally help our organizations achieve their missions on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis.
Organizations too often develop a social media strategy that is not properly integrated into its overarching goals. So rather than spending time on the latest Twitter app or discussing the merits of Facebook’s latest design changes, I encouraged attendees not to get bogged down in the tactics. Instead, I urged them to develop their social media strategies in the context of their organization’s key goals.
If your organization is looking to develop or refine your social media strategy, here are six steps to guide you along the way.
Clarifying the Organization’s Priorities: Even if you “get” social media, you can’t jump right in to creating a tactical plan. First and foremost,it is critical to identify your organization’s goals. For a business,it might be trying to win more customers, to recruit top talent, or increase revenue by a certain percentage. For an association, a goal might be to recruit and retain members, to increase attendance at a tradeshow, or to achieve a certain policy objective. Before you even think about tactics, you need to start by understanding what is driving your organization as a whole. Otherwise, you will be implementing a plan that lacks any real purpose.
Setting Social Media Goals: With these key goals in mind, you should move on to develop specific goals for your organization’s social media efforts. One example: increase your Facebook page’s monthly views by 50%. Although traditional PR campaigns focus heavily on setting goals for media coverage, we often skip this step for social media efforts because we have no idea what to expect. But even if social media represents unchartered territory for your organization, forming goals does two important things. First, it focuses your social media team on what is really important. Second, it gives your team an idea of what to work towards, even if that goal turns out to be unrealistic. A corporation would never launch a new product without giving its sales force target revenue goals. That’s true even if the company is completely unsure of how the product will perform. Setting social media goals, even if they are somewhat arbitrary, provides direction for your team and sets expectations.
Choosing Social Media Tactics: Perhaps the most overwhelming step in this process in deciding where and how to spend your social media resources. Over the past few years, there has been an explosion in social media sites, especially those designed to facilitate sharing. But in the past year or two, the dust has settled. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have emerged as the three most widely used social media sites and the most important sites for your organization to consider using. Picking among these sites requires knowing your audience. Each social media outlet has pro’s and con’s for individual audiences. Facebook, for example, is best for appealing to a broad-based, mainstream audience. In contrast, Twitter users – although far fewer in number than Facebook – represent a highly engaged segment of the online population and are much more likely to create (rather than just share) content. Finally, LinkedIn is a professional site that might be right if your organization is hoping to impact the business community or to use working groups. Choose the right vehicle (or vehicles) for engaging your target audience.
Developing an Operational Plan: The next step is taking your goals and your selected tactics to form a comprehensive plan that breaks down what your organization should be doing on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. This operational plan should lay out each activity and assign each one to a specific person in the organization (in some cases, that may be the same person). Your operational plan should also detail how you will monitor responses to your online activity and what your approach to engagement will be (for example, it should detail your comment policies). Finally, your plan should include a process for reporting and evaluating your progress. You might wonder if such a detailed approach will stifle creativity. It shouldn’t, as long as your plan allows for opportunities to be creative along the way. The key is to set specific times to reevaluate and refine your tactics and goals
Getting Organizational Buy-In: Your strategy will only be successful if it has organization-wide support. One way to get buy-in is to involve as many people as you can in the planning process itself, which will create a sense of ownership in the employees who participate. Once you have your plan, be sure to educate other employees who may not have been part of the planning. You should emphasize that social media success will translate into broader success for the organization as a whole, ultimately benefiting every employee. Finally, to the extent that is possible, delegate responsibility for the social media strategy to as many employees as possible.
Implementing the Strategy: The last step involves executing the strategy you have created. At this stage, it is best to think of classifying each of the activities listed above into the following categories: research, design (organizational priorities, social media goals, and tactics), implementation (getting buy in), administration (operational plan), and optimization. As I noted above, implementation will work best if you have carved out time to refine and optimize your strategy as you move forward. These opportunities will ensure your strategy remains effective and manageable.
In the way of a brief summary, one might think of developing social media strategy in the following way. Answer these questions in this order:
What is your overall goal?
Who is the audience you are trying to reach?
What is the narrative you wish to deliver?
Which media will best deliver that narrative?
Note that considering the forms of media to use only comes after careful consideration of your goals, audience, and narrative. Jumping ahead too soon to think about "Twitter tactics" or otherwise can be detrimental to achieving overall organizational goals. When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Image of "design is not my job" from Andy Mangold, social media worksheet from Mike Sansone, and notecard planning from Linus Bohman.