Friday, January 23, 2009

Wondering how quickly our government will move to more open communications tools and strategies in today's changing world

One of my favorite cartoons, Zits, has a strip where a 15-year-old girl is texting the Social Security Administration to provide her with "a cuter social security number." When confronted by the strip's leading character that she can't do it, she replies that she's a "Fifteen year-old with entitlement!"


It's ironic that Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, the writer/artist, for this strip have captured a change in young people's attitudes towards communicating with the government. As President Obama has noted in many published reports that government, through the newly changed Freedom of Information Act as "perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent."

However, our government needs to make some significant changes in how it communicates with people. While President Obama has the "First Blackberry," there are some significant changes needed within communications infrastructure especially for government public affairs professionals.

For example, an Air Force public affairs office can't monitor Twitter or blogs because of their communications team's worries that viruses and other issues could disrupt a base's email system. However, there are ways to get around it, as well.

I posted a previous blog a week after the election about the need for public affairs people to embrace social media tools. After posting it for discussion on the Military Public Affairs group, I got a great answer from Paul Swiergosz, who works in public affairs at Fort Drum.

He wrote:

It will be a cold day in hell when the Army lifts their blanket restrictions for all PAOs. Armed with the argument that I had to monitor the social media to get a full feel for what was being reported/discussed as well as the OCPA memo authorizing me full access, I was rebuffed at every turn...

No problem - we spent $3000 a month to get a contract satellite Internet provider while deployed and we got access. Problem solved. Also got my forward thinking commander to resource a web site operated off a .com server ( ) so we could blog, chat and get around all the slow-poke restrictions of using the .mil system.

In time, others, not as enlightened as Paul Swiergosz, will embrace the use of social media tools within their government communications strategy. The problem is that people like the fictional 15-year-old in Zits are characterizations of our youth who expect government to move quickly.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Matt, You have identified the problem in government communication and communications. One is worried about what words are being said and the other is worried about security and it is much easier to build a box and secure the information than it is to listen, respond and reflect. The challenge will continue to be which is more important and, by the way, the responsibility of the government.