Thursday, May 1, 2008

Marketing .gov

I think that I've mentioned before that I work in state government. Which generally causes me no end to frustration to be perfectly honest.

Jeffrey Zeldman posted a great example of areas that should change in government. So often in government, it's such a monolithic institution, changes feel akin to glacial movements... um... before current climate change. I think that a big part of that is the culture of government. There are many government services that people simply can't go to another source to achieve. Permits, licensing, taxes, etc., etc., ad nauseam all come from .gov agencies. This tends to breed a certain lethargy and a sort of, "They'll come to us," mentality that usually drives me nuts. That isn't to say that no change is taking place inside government, nor is there complete and utter unwillingness to change. Change just takes time, and sometimes vast amounts of it.

I've said on several occasions to my good friend Kirk Keller: "I don't need changes made on a weekly or monthly basis (although there are areas where we could/should probably do that), but when we have a good idea and direction to go, can't we just decide to go there? It might take us 5, 8, 10 years or more to actually get there, but at least we know we're headed in a direction!" What I don't like about the 10-year-plan is that if you finally find out that you're headed the wrong place, it's all in writing from on high and virtually impossible to change. That's both sad and unfortunate.

One place where I believe that government could affect some positive change is in the area of marketing. Most government entities that I come in contact with simply don't think it is in their interest to market themselves. It's not that they lack staff with marketing on the brain, the culture simply isn't there with management. Which drives those of us with marketing on the brain utterly insane!

My background is heavily steeped in sales so I tend to follow the line of reasoning that says, "Everyone, everywhere is selling something to someone. A-B-C." Doesn't matter who you are. If you're applying for a job, you're selling yourself. If you're hiring, you're selling your organization. If you're launching a new product or service, even internally, you're selling the benefits of that new thing...or at least you should be. A-Always B-Be C-Closing. This is oftentimes not the case in the G-O-V. Jeffrey Veen, when he was back at Adaptive Path, wrote a great article about the failure of content management. CMS generally fails due to resistance to changes in internal workflows. Government needs to get better at communication, and why not start with internal comm? Most of us at least have email and inter-office memos and an Intranet. That seems like a pretty low barrier to entry.

I'm going to sandwich a shameless plug to the MO Digital Media Developers (DMD) Group in the middle of this post. The DMD has been meeting monthly for the past I don't know how many years... at least as long as I've been an employee with the state (which is 8 years for those who are counting :P). It's been an incredibly positive influence and a great resource for any Missouri state web developer. So this is my little chance to market that resource. If you're a state developer and can spare a couple of hours once a month (come'on, who can't find two hours really?), I'd implore you to attend. You won't regret it!

As far as the bigger picture of government is concerned, the biggest challenge that I see will be a willingness to change the internal culture. Moving from a seat on the throne where unwilling subjects come to us, to a more open model where we embrace sharing of our information and we go to meet people where they are, that is going to take some effort. Tapping social media as a tool for this is a fantastic opportunity for us to move our messages and services out to the public and change our model of communication.

I'm going to remain hopefully optimistic that government can see this as an opportunity rather than a difficulty; the only real obstacle in this battle is ourself.

1 comment:

Gardner said...

I had no idea you worked for the Conservation Department!

My dad (way back in the day) was a conservation agent, but of course isn't any more.

Their website looks good though. :-)