Implementing Social Technologies in Government, Part 1: Five questions for managing expectations and getting started

Look around any airport, restaurant, vacation spot, or even kitchen table these days, and you’ll find people on smartphones and other mobile devices. Technology has advanced so far that people expect to get whatever information they need wherever they are. Through smart devices, Wi-Fi, and mobile applications, the world is more social and connected. Blogs, wikis, podcasts, Twitter, and You Tube are changing how we share information, learn, work, network, and most importantly—communicate. For the federal government to keep up with public expectations and communicate its value, agencies must keep current with changes in social technologies; understand the capabilities and options available; and know how their stakeholders are using particular technologies. Since technologies are constantly changing, where should government start?

Understanding customer expectations is a #1 priority. So, before you book a room and start interviewing your leadership or pitching them on a new technology, you need to evaluate which social technologies are right for your agency and stakeholders. By asking the following questions, you will have the background information needed to eventually develop, implement, and iteratively update your social technologies strategy.

1. Does the technology facilitate connections and increase the flow of information sharing?

Go where the people you want to reach are. It sounds simple, but many organizations get distracted by the latest shiny new social medium rather than focusing on finding the one that has the right mix of people.

2. Is it user-friendly, easy to navigate, and sign up for?

If the technology can quickly integrate with different mobile devices and Web interfaces, such as Twitter and Facebook, you will reach a greater number of voices. Note: stakeholders don’t like to buy extra pieces of hardware, and requiring too many passwords to sign up is a barrier.

3.  Does it empower your target audiences and build community awareness?

Can your community members engage with one another and build relationships over your social technology platforms without government supervision? This shift of power builds trusted networks and alliances, which over time can increase awareness and buy-in of the initiatives being developed.

4. Will your different stakeholder communities embrace your social technologies and create relevant content to sustain the platform?

Successful technologies, including blogs and Twitter, make it easy for people to create content, benefit from each other’s content, and provide an invaluable degree of back up and crowdsourcing during emergency events.

5. Is your technology (platform) open and does it welcome new applications and upgrades?

To be viewed as a “go-to” resource, known for timely information exchanges, your technology should work with new apps, such as TweetDeck or HootSuite, which are easy to load on your mobile device and desktop. In addition, it is important to ensure your privacy settings aren’t overly complicated or easily vulnerable to firewalls.

Once data from these questions is distilled, you will have a framework on what direction your office is going. In the coming weeks, my blog posts will break down what this all means to the future of government communications. At the end of the day, social technology planning is about consistently collaborating with your various stakeholder groups and connecting over multiple platforms in different shapes and forms.

In review of the five classic stages of innovation and technology readiness, as first published in Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett Rogers at Ohio State University, most governments today fall between the late majority and the laggard’s stages. Through our collective action to do more, we know government agencies nationwide wish to move into the early majority stage in 2014.


Innovators and early adopters


Early majority


Late majority




Scaling and optimizing





Governments need the best minds to come together and facilitate an open dialogue on how to customize social technology planning for their individual cultures and stakeholder groups. The notion that lots of people working on a complex problem can solve it better than only one person has never been more correct. If you are interested in future collaboration on this fascinating topic, please contact me at or leave a comment on our blog. As always, best wishes for continued success.