Becky McCray recently posed 23 reasons why local government leaders are scared of social media — though the reasons could equally apply to nonprofit organizational managers, academic directors, or small business owners. Fortune 5000 firms, not so much.
She asked for thoughts at the conclusion of her list and I opted to respond, one by one, to each reason. Here are her original reasons with my newly-expanded responses:
1. We don’t know what to do.
If you knew what to do, you’d be doing it. Ask your customers, constituents, stakeholders, employees, vendors, and others for help, assistance and advice. They will tell you what to do.
2. We don’t want to lose control (of the message, the conversation).
You can moderate blog comments, you can restrict fans from posting on your Facebook wall, and you can only post online content that is vetted through certain personnel. But what’s wrong with losing control? Have you never fallen off a bike when learning to ride and gotten back up — to fall down again?
3. We might draw negative comments.
I am fond of suggesting if you don’t have critics, you’re not doing a good job. Seth Godin goes further and suggests you should listen to your critics before your fans. Embrace the negativity and turn it around.
4. We could run into legal issues.
That’s why there are lawyers like Saunders & Silverstein who specialize in internet and software issues. Matt Saunders is a local friend of mine and he knows his stuff. He’s someone you could seek out for advice. Tweet Matt here.
5. Does this create Open Records issues?
When you consider the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is vested in social media activities, why should you be concerned?
6. What will it cost?
Anywhere from $0 to $100,000. It depends what you want to do. Generally, you would need to pay more than less. Think of existing technologies you would miss if they weren’t there, such as the telephone or the computer or the water bubbler. How much do they cost — and would you have argued they would be too costly when their existence was proposed?
7. Where will we find the time or the staff to do it?
Maybe your staff are already doing it for fun in their personal time. Maybe some residents are already blogging and podcasting about you and would step up for the chance to do it for you. Have you asked them?
8. This is not seen as serious business. We have important things to do.
So do other government agencies, yet they’re doing it. The White House is all over the social media landscape, from Twitter to Flickr to MySpace. If the President recognizes a need to commit resources, why wouldn’t you?
9. If we spend money to get help, we might face public outcry.
You might; but those critics are your friends, remember? Also, hold public forums before doing anything. In fact, I suggest you spend 3-6 months doing strategic planning and internet “listening” before spending money to launch campaigns. I’ve taught workshops to government managers in Washington, D.C. about running benchmarks; trust me.
10. Will there be any return on this investment?
There might. It depends what you do. The state of Utah was able to close all state government offices on Friday as the result of using web services. They didn’t do it overnight, but that ROI was doubly effective in reducing the carbon footprint.
11. How does this fit with what we do now?
What do you do now?
12. Who will do it, and what are they NOT doing while they are doing it?
While your employees are your best evangelists, why assume the person doing it must be a staffer? I’d suggest whoever talks to the press does the work; hire a public affairs officer if none exist. Interns from the local community college could do it until you can find the value in a larger expense. Could a local computer commission be formed to do the work? What about those employees who use Facebook at home? Could they administer your stuff online?
13. What if we mess up?
Go back to the bike analogy. Get back up and try again. Pobody’s nerfect.
14. Why? What for?
Why not? Oh yeah, the people want it. They’re banging on the machine and not hearing from you. If you don’t believe me, walk into the local grease spoon during a busy weekend brunch hour, introduce yourself, and ask for candid feedback on anything. You’ll get more than you need.
15. People will expect follow up and better performance.
That’s unusual from the norm, how?
16. What if it’s a failure?
What if it’s not? Besides, failures are typically stepping stones to repeat attempts and ultimate successes.
17. The Mayor, Council, or the Public might not like it, or don’t like it.
They might not. They also might. I think they will. Ask the diner patrons. Ask your postal delivery man. Ask your mother.
18. What if we accidentally reveal too much information?
Enact a policy so employees know what they can and cannot say on a blog or to a reporter. The Federal Web Manager Council‘s social media subcouncil maintains a running list of dozens of policies at the local, state, and federal levels; that’s one place to start. Moreover, everything you do is paid by taxes and elected by voters, so by holding back you risk losing taxpayers by them moving away or voters not reelecting you.
19. We don’t know the guidelines or rules.
Ever hear of search engines and those who do know?
20. We can’t keep up with changing technology.
Your high school’s computer club kids probably do know this new technology. Seek them out.
21. What would we say?
Say the same thing you said when you wanted to buy a fax machine.
22. This might create jealousy when one employee gets to do it, but not others.
It might. Create a policy who can say what. Diversify the responsibilities.
23. We’re too small.
…and Becky McCray is not a small town business woman in a hick Oklahoma town who lacks the respect of bloggers and social media professionals around the world.
You’re not too small. You just think you are.