I'm speaking today to a Social Media Public Sector Workshop for the Government of Canada. It's an interesting topic, because while government clients are desperate to harness the power of social media for their social marketing, they are constrained by a number of rules and regulations.
One of the biggest is the Official Languages Act. According to some of my government clients, everything put online by the government — including user comments — must be translated so that it appears in both English and French. As you can imagine, this makes real-time online community building almost impossible (unless they employ a legion of simultaneous translators, as in the U.N.!)
Another huge challenge is privacy. The Government of Canada has rules about setting cookies, or take other information from users, except in very specific cases. And Google Analytics, which sends private information to the States, is also problematic — limiting measurement.
As well, there are accessibility standards, and a major concern about trolling. How can they possibly get anywhere near a social network? They're also gun shy, because of the responses to CRA's "underground economy" video contest on YouTube.
We were able to make some great headway in collaboration with Public Safety Canada on their 72 Hours emergency preparedness campaign. In short, we avoided the pitfalls of trying to engage people conversationally on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Instead, together we found and engaged interested bloggers and organizations directly, recruiting them to champion the cause and campaign on a secondary level.
As well, we worked with Lee Lefever to develop a Common Craft video on the subject, developing copy in English and French to meet language standards. Lee then shared the video through his own networks, and it showed up on YouTube, giving us even more reach:
We also developed a quiz on MSN about emergency preparedness that drove 47,826 people to getprepared.gc.ca, and created badges for partner sites. Future plans include a podcast strategy.
So my message to government today will be: don't be scared of social media. Just be careful, creative and resourceful.