“Who?” first: planning successful social media strategies

Posted: May 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Design, Metrics, Social networking | 3 Comments »

Not “Mac or Windows?”; rather “who’s going to help?”

I used to dread when friends or family asked: “Chris, what sort of computer should I buy – laptop or desktop, Macintosh or Windows?” The people who needed me most were the hardest to help – they didn’t know how they’d use a computer, weren’t settled on much of a budget, had very high expectations, but little sense of what it would take for them to put a computer to good use.

But turning the question back on them (“how will you use the computer? do you need to hook it up to a printer or a PDA? how much do you want to spend?”) led to embarassment, not insight.

Finally, I realized that people who asked me a question like this would rely on a friend or family member for troubleshooting, when things went wrong. It was surprising that most of my questioners knew right away, when asked, who that techie would be. Of course, if there were problems, they’d call on Cousin Amy, or Joe from church, or that nice man down at the High Tech Depot.


The next time I got the question I responded with a question that was useful, not annoying: “who’s going to help you with your new computer, and what systems do they know?” A light went on in my friend’s eyes: they knew what to do.

The moral: Those first questions about technology are almost always, really, questions about people.

Thus, for organizations, not “Twitter or Facebook?”; rather “who’s going to make this work?”

Now, if you’re an organization seeking social media strategy and technology advice you’ll need a little more help.

Josh Bernoff and Forrester to the rescue, with a shiny (and useful) acronym: POST.

Consider, in order:

  1. People: “[K]now the capabilities of your audience.”
  2. Objective: “Decide on your objective…. Then figure out how you will measure it.”
  3. Strategy: What processes “will be different after you’re done?”
  4. Technology: Twitter? Wiki? Facebook? Blog? etc. “Once you know your people, objectives, and strategy, then you can decide with confidence.”

For non-profits and government agencies, I’d widen the circle of People: your staff, your management, your donors, and your partners are important, too. Who will need to participate in this new strategy to make it a success? What’s their training? What are they capable and motivated to learn?

And I’d start the search for Objectives and – more importantly- measures by writing the stories you’d like to tell when the initiative is a success.

Say you’re putting a state legislature online in a more friendly and accessible way. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say, once you were done, that a particular group of constituents that had been out of the loop for years used your new site to track a proposed law that threatened to hurt them and, instead, shaped the legislation to help them?

That gives you a rich picture of what success looks like — reaching new, non-expert audiences, providing early warning, making legislative content and procedures comprehensible — and how you might measure it.

So, those first technology questions are, almost always, really questions about People, Objectives, and Strategy. Technology, in POST and in life, is the last question, not the first one.

User stories for open government?

Posted: December 1st, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Design, Transparency | Tags: | No Comments »

As we build tools that make government more accessible, are we addressing the actual needs and wants of citizens, or the needs and wants we wish they had?

In Sunlight Foundation’s Open House/Open Senate Project discussion, Clay Shirky wrote:

Without a middle step that helps large, disorganized groups take advantage of the newly transparent information, transparency may in fact further increase the net asymmetry betwee ‘interest group with lobbyists’ vs. ‘interest groups without lobbyists’ in getting the Government to craft the needed bargains their way.

The extreme programming technique of defining “user stories” to be
handled by the software could be useful here. One format is

As a (role) I want (something) so that (benefit).

Possible user stories:

  1. As a voter wondering whether to respond to Politician X’s
    fundraising appeal, I want a summary of his track record on Issue Y so
    that I can decide quickly whether to send him $25.

  2. As an “Issue Y” voter, I want to know whether today is the day I
    should spend the four hours a year I have budgeted for calls and email
    to my Senator, and what I should say to him, so that my four hours
    have as much impact as possible on the Federal Government.

  3. As a policy analyst, I want to identify the Senator who has been
    most vocal and consistent with my position on Issue Y, so can I get a
    Senatorial hold placed on a bad bill. (e.g.
    http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/12/18/victory/ )

  4. As an investigative reporter, I want to know what changed in seven
    months, so that I can explain why FISA legislation that failed in
    December 2007 then passed in July 2008.

  5. As a mash-up programmer, I want access to the geographical
    locations of all the sites earmarked for funding in Bill Z, so I can
    place them on a Google Map.

More on user stories: