This blog started as a tweet basically asserting that the future of government communication is where the people are: social media, broadcast media, and Web. That good old boy print is as good as dead.
The tweet was pretty self-explanatory and I would have left it there, except some people seemed interested enough to retweet it. There was also a reply from Kristy Fifelski, who I know from the Gov 2.0 community, about the digital divide. How would this prediction square with the fact that most people aren’t yet online?
In the interest of starting a conversation, here are some very initial thoughts, based on my own experience and observation over the years.
1. Accessibility compliance doesn’t equate to a better-informed public. It just means that you’re following legal requirements.
2. Great communication strategy goes beyond the letter of the law to determine how people really get information and to get it to them that way.
3. People don’t read, unless they’re bored on the train or doing research or their name is in the article.
4. Here is what people do. They go on Facebook first thing in the morning. Check email but only briefly because they get so much. They text. They talk on the phone. They look at screens in the mall and the elevator. They look things up on mobile devices. They pass electronic billboards. They email news clips to each other with important information. They look at photos. They go on Facebook. They Tweet and retweet. They look at viral YouTube clips.
5. They watch TV, sometimes. If it’s entertaining.
6. People go out to eat.
7. People don’t understand what the heck the government is doing.
8. People don’t care what the government is doing.
9. People are predisposed to think the government is doing a bad job because we’re a convenient enemy.
10. There are more than 70 homeless organizations in Washington DC alone and times are tight. Ending the printing of vanity print publications, especially when regular newspapers can’t make a living in print, is a good way for government communicators to show that they are tightening their belts.
Right now government communications is playing catchup when it comes to communication. We are trying to evolve, in a way, but it’s not fast enough for our many audiences and the fact of the matter is we’re out of money and time. Nobody has patience for excess spending anymore.
Neither is it good enough to throw things up on the web (throw up, it sometimes seems like) and think our job is done. It’s not done. That is not “accessibility.” Neither is providing a snail mail address to request information.
What is good enough? Go to the nation’s public schools and libraries and set up shop. Create virtual games with the “government experience” (divided per agency) and let people interact with us there.
To say that the customer can’t use technology is an excuse. It is we who can’t use technology. And the substitution of long, wordy Word documents for actual communication, communication that is heard and understood and processed, is not going to work anymore.
In the past government communication was about sharing with the public content that had been through the process of vetting and was deemed ready to view. In the future it’s going to be a completely different picture. Our content will be public by default. There will be a sea of information out there and nobody will be able to control it. Nor will we be able to control the conversation.
The predictions in the Cluetrain Manifesto are coming true. We in government communication have an opportunity now to jump onboard and get aligned with the customer. We just have to lose our deep-seated fears – that we will make mistakes, show our lack of knowledge, or become irrelevant. We absolutely are going to do all of those things. But if we step out now, with grace and dignity and asking the public for feedback and forgiveness as we learn, then we will build great relationships as we move forward together.
In the end social media is about those relationships. It’s about great customer service. Listening to the people. Not about technology X or Y or Z, all of which are transitory. Let’s take the principles of great communication and bring them to those who need them the most. That is the true meaning of accessibility.