One of the last sessions on Sunday at the Congress Camp unconference focused on the concept of creating an online resource for Congressional staffers to use in applying social media for government. The session was proposed and facilitated by Wayne Burke, one of the organizers for the event. Suggesting the session itself catalyzed a discussion of the language used to describe the “best practices.” Something catchy, like a “geek’s guide to social media in Congress” drew some appreciation. In the end, best practices stuck. Here’s a guide to the discussion, including a goal, an audience, a hosting plan and a way forward.
“Bridging the gap between citizen knowledge and Congressional needs”
Semantics aside, the goal is simply help Congress use social media better by leveraging the knowledge of the online community and experience of existing staffers. Choosing the right title matters, since users will be searching for it online. A Congressional staffer present, a deputy press secretary, said that she believes it’s likely there’s only one contact in the each office for social media use. That person needs to get good information somewhere. That makes the audience new media officers (or their bosses) searching for ways congressional offices could do to engage their communities.
The discussion then turned to where the repository would be hosted – foundation, House servers or another location? After going through the option, CongressCamp.org was a consensus choice, extending the weekend’s activities further into time.
Another staffer present posed a scenario rooted in recent reality, given that the officer where he works on a press staff of 4 people is currently redoing website, to launch in October. What would have been helpful would have been one place where experts and colleagues share “what you can do, here’s a tool that’s helpful for that task, this is how it helps to do it and, this is how to explain it to your boss.”
Ease of use is also critical. Navigation and UI is key, as is using simple, declarative language. The resource should be editable by community members, which makes permissions an issue. Authentication to prevent vandalism is important, as is a means to flag content to the community. Users are more likely to benefit from a canonical document that evolves over time, as the wiki grows.
The Congress Camp attendees agreed that different sections for committee versus. Representatives and Senators wasn’t needed, at least to begin. Similarly, the resource should not be broken up by party. A staffer present, in fact, noted that he was impressed by how non-partisan the technology has been to this point.
The resource should provide case studies and examples of successful use of social media platforms by Congress, including an emphasis on care in the approach. For example: “Twitter helps us promote our hearings” but we need to dedicate resources to listening while sharing information.
Dealing with different levels of knowledge can be a challenge in educating others about new technologies; sometimes people who get it are bored, those who are new are overwhelmed. Therefore, there should be a gradient of tools and examples for each level, with a natural progression.
Assign different roles to key stakeholders, including software procurement, design, content seeding, promotion and then community management.