I spent the day yesterday meeting with a range of politicians, advisors and staff in Canberra talking about SOSO and looking for some government support. It was a fascinating view of the workings of government – we had some time between meetings, and went and sat in the public gallery and watched the live action in the house of representatives.
One thing that came across is that it would appear that most politicians really enjoy their jobs – there was a buzz around the place, with people rushing here and there, and in parliament itself, they all seemed to be having far too much fun considering they were conducting the serious business of running the country. It’s like a school debating club, where the rules are well known by everyone, but they all push them to the extreme boundary in an attempt to score points off the other team. People shouting out, speakers saying things they know they will have to withdraw, the “speaker of the house” relishing his role as rule enforcer and everyone generally being fairly jovial – all whilst discussing the implications of fairly major tax changes.
Another interesting observation was how out of touch our public service is with what happens in the commercial world and how it can be applied to their roles. I had a number of conversations with digitally orientated folk about using the Internet to engage with the public and solicit involvement, feedback and collaboration. The general feeling was that it was all pretty much a waste of time – that every time they tried to engage, all they got back was people slamming them, telling them how they were going to vote no matter what was said, and lots of trash talk that wasn’t useful. Interestingly enough, this is exactly the same problems most brands face when they enter into the social media arena and lead with information purely about the product – people tell them exactly what they think of it, often in terms they’d rather not hear.
So as marketers, we’ve learnt to manage and control and shape these conversations – talk about topics of interest to your audience, rather than topics of interest to the brand – RedBull’s social media presence is not about energy drinks and their merits or otherwise, it’s about extreme sports, cool content and exciting athletes – using this point of engagement, once the conversation is going and their “fans” are involved, they can then ask questions, discuss other topics etc. etc. This seems to be an approach that the public service haven’t grasped yet, and as a result, are feeling like there’s no point in engaging.
I had a similar conversation with some people involved in law enforcement – we were talking about “environmental scanning” and keeping an eye out for baddies on the Internet. It took me a while, but eventually i worked out this was basically what we’d call “social media monitoring”, and yet it seemed to be really really hard and really really expensive. The idea of throwing up a quick Radian6 account or banging a few terms into SocialMention every other day didn’t seem to be even vaguely on the radar.
So I was left wondering why Canberra seemed so out-of-the-loop on stuff that we’d see as fairly conventional – is it because they’re in Canberra ? Is it because there’s a tendency to work with people/agencies/consultants who “specialise in the public sector” and therefore aren’t bringing the evolving commercial techniques to the table often enough ?
Because if we can be using these sorts of things for selling fast food, driving home preference for one washing powder over another or convincing people to buy this particular brand of cereal, it would seem to make sense for them to be used for slightly more cerebral pursuits like engaging with the population to form government policy, catching bad guys and keeping our kids safe….