Saturday, May 30, 2009

Focused Engagement: From 4 to 400 LinkedIn Group Members in 4 Months

As someone who is studying the intersection of social media and generational diversity in the workforce (with an emphasis on the public and social sectors), I am intrigued by a couple key questions right now: What drives people to become engaged in social media? What are the decisive moments or key motivations that move a person to recognize social media as a viable tool for advancing their personal or professional pursuits? I would like to take the lessons learned and assist organizations to overcome the barriers to adoption so that they might accomplish their mission more efficiently and effectively through collaboration tools.

Two weeks ago, I learned that Jeffrey Vargas – the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Agency - launched a group on LinkedIn that has grown to over 400 members in just a few short months. We had dinner back in January and I shared with him my philosophy of social media engagement at that time. I can’t take credit for the growth of Jeffrey’s LinkedIn group because he is a dynamic community builder in his own right. Yet much of the membership increase happened in the weeks immediately following our conversation and I wanted to learn more.

I posed a few questions to Jeffrey so that we might benefit from the return on engagement that he’s gained from his first focused experiment with social media.

Q1: What’s the history of the CLO Group on LinkedIn and what was your baseline knowledge of social media?

I started the Chief Learning Officers Network in late November 2008. I had no real knowledge of Web 2.0 capacity. I had been a member of LinkedIn for a few months, joining because friends bugged me to be a part of it. After a while as a member, I began to join some groups basically to see what would happen. I didn't see a group for CLOs so I started the network thinking and hoping to get 20-30 folks over a period of a year or so. I started the group because nothing was in existence in LinkedIn and thought our community needed something – a place, a forum, something to communicate around ideas. I figured I would start it before the Christmas season and see what happens over the holidays. If the group wasn't moving forward, I would just delete it come spring.

Q2: What was it that motivated you to try something new with social media?

Basically, LinkedIn was a place for me to find old college buddies. Before our talk I had my group up, but I didn't really actively seek new members or really communicate much with those who joined. I just figured things would "happen" and individuals would just start to collaborate. The conversation we had over dinner convinced me that I needed to spend more time in the network, I had to "work my network." Literally, I had to start communicating with folks who took the time to sign up. Before our chat I thought success was just starting the group and anything the group did would be gravy (let's call it success plus). I realized that was a "passive" model and I had to change my thinking, and basically think of the site more as a "place of engagement" where I would reach out to members, ask them questions, and seek their opinion. Our conversation helped me see that success might be achieved through focused engagement.

Q3. Can you describe what has happened since launch?

The November launch was uneventful; folks started to come in groups of 5 or 6. Post-holidays and after February something happened - some days I would get 20-30 requests to join! I'm not sure why things happened; I did reach out to some members/begin talking with them on email and exchanging ideas. The discussion groups seemed to pick up as well. Sometimes I would get multiple requests to join from the same organization which seemed like an indicator that folks were talking.

Today, humbly I tell you that the interest in the group has totally exploded, and gone international - requests to join come regularly from learning professionals from around the world. As of today we have over 400 learning professionals in the Chief Learning Officers Network, I don't have a breakdown of actual CLO's - the group is a composite of individuals with learning and development responsibilities and folks who are actual CLO's, seasoned with some vendors.

Q4. To what do you attribute the rapid growth? How did you disseminate information about it?

Growth is due to word of mouth – has to be since I don't advertise it anywhere and I really don't talk about it to other leaders. Why? Because the metric of success being bigger numbers doesn't work for me, so there was no need to "talk people into joining." That's why the interest in the group is so surprising. 0I never expected this much interest so actually I never develop a marketing strategy either.

It's interesting that not only do I now get the usual request to join, I also get Inmail/Email for individuals who are providing me a business case/justification for why they should join and how they expect to contribute to the group, almost like a self-imposed application process. I have received emails from folks who have said that "so and so recommended that I join and here is how I want to contribute..." I haven't' let everyone join and have gotten some not so nice emails from folks who really didn't have a connection with the group but the integrity of the group matters to me so I don't mind taking a few hits.

Q5. What's the biggest outcome or ROI/ROE for you to date?

The group has become known as a place for leaders in learning to share ideas/thoughts/connect – something that was just not possible a few years ago but made available through advances in technology. We know that CLO's who would have never met have connected on issues of commonality; some folks have begun working together/collaborating. There is interest in doing a CLO conference in web 2.0 (leaning toward Second Life) where we will have a day of discussion on common issues. I'm forming a team of five CLO's/learning professionals to plan it. On a personal level, I've been invited to a CLO's only retreat (for 150 CLO's of major private sector organization) and have been asked to be a presenter (not something I sought but humbly happy to support) - without the network the folks in charge of the retreat would have never found me.

Q6. What ideas do you have for the future with LinkedIn? Beyond?

I want us to be a "real-time think tank" doing things like developing and deploying surveys to the group on learning and development topics, taking the information that we uncover and share it with the greater learning community. Also, I hope that the group can help government CLO's look for, and then execute, ways to collaborate and share costs in the design, development and execution of strategic learning initiatives. I want to ensure a safe forum for CLO's to noodle ideas/be creative and inventive and test (success is great and failure is ok, too). Perhaps we can host an annual Web 2.0 conference and develop a CLO academic curriculum because right now there isn't identified (that I've seen) basic curriculum for a CLO (either at the undergrad/grad level).

Q7: Any final thoughts or insights for readers?

Whatever we do I want it to be sustainable and meaningful - the bigger means better metric is a data point, but not my goal. If we stay at 400 members and we don't add a soul, I would be okay. For me it's much more important that we are doing something with folks who took the time to join and ensure that they will make use of the group and feel a part of the group than just getting bigger. Ultimately, the group has to be relevant and sustainable beyond even my own involvement; this group is not about ego, it's about change. What I won't let the group become (if I can help it) is to be very vendor-focused – a place for anyone who has a product for CLOs to showcase their capacity. It's great to have some vendors who really want to be part of the community and others to be part of the network but, at the end of the day, the group is developed for CLOs and I want to stick to that mission.

If we were to glean five lessons from Jeffrey’s LinkedIn success, they would include:

1. Focused, active engagement leads to the greatest returns.

2. As with any endeavor, the more you give, the more you receive.

3. Although the hallmarks of social media are openness, transparency and participation, it is okay to limit access to your network if that ties back to your ultimate goal.

4. Establish a clear set of outcomes and a vision for the future.

5. Bigger is not always better. A relevant, active group of people that brings value to one another may be a more meaningful measure of success.


Thank you, Jeffrey, for sharing your insight!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Blogs as Bridges: How Web 2.0 Connects People Across the Ages (and Agencies!)

Below are the slides from a presentation that I delivered yesterday for the Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, NC. I had a lot of fun and folks in the audience - including members of EPA's Web Governance Council and @jesuimoi (Cheryl Thompson, Web Manager for the Office of Communications and Public Liaison at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) - made it highly interactive and relevant. Special thanks to @levyj413 (Jeffrey Levy, EPA Web Manager, Federal Web Managers Council and Social Media Subcouncil Co-Chair) for insight to tailor it to his agency colleagues.

Friday, May 22, 2009

RecoveryActTraining.com: An Experiment in SEO and Social Media

You've seen a lot of posts from me regarding the social media activities of other agencies. Never have I highlighted an endeavor from my own organization. Well, this post changes everything! Here's the backdrop:

Throughout its history, the Graduate School has always adapted in creative ways to the changing needs of government. A few weeks ago, several colleagues and I gathered to discuss the ways in which the Graduate School could support agencies as they grapple with the need to respond efficiently and effectively to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Several people planned to make direct contact with agencies to learn about their training needs. We also intended to use traditional media (brochures, magazine ads) along with a dedicated space on our website, well-placed banner ads and an email campaign to make them aware of our relevant course offerings.

Then I said, "Why don't we see if recoveryacttraining.com is available? If so, let's buy it and build a website that will strive to be the top hit in a search on those words." My remark caught the attention of a senior executive and she moved right away to champion the cause. Within 24 hours, we purchased the .com, .org and .net domains. A day later, we secured the participation of another member of our team who had created a similar website (our Pacific Islands Training Initiative referenced in this GovLoop Member of the Week profile for Anita Arile) to assist with the build. By the end of the following week, our President and CEO Dr. Jerry Ice expressed his openness to producing a video for the project. Four weeks later, I am proud to report that RecoveryActTraining.com is live! It represents what I would deem our first full foray into the use of organic search engine optimization and social media tools.

There are 10 lessons learned from this project that I would like to share with you:

1) We started with a clear business need that tied to our mission. Our goal was established from the outset: help government agencies at all levels (Federal, state and local) to find the training that will enable them to respond successfully to ARRA. This goal tied directly to our mission, which is "to develop people and to make government more efficient and effective."

2) We had a champion and organizational support from the highest level. When one of the Graduate School's senior executives decided that this project should happen, it moved forward swiftly. She secured the project charter, removed road blocks, pushed the process and elicited executive buy-in. Even our President and CEO became involved, indicating that this kind of project was a priority for our organization.

3) We had 3-4 committed team members. I had a vision for creating the website, but I knew that I did not have the technical background to make it a reality. That's when we called upon an employee at our Hawaii campus to help. Knowing that he had a busy schedule which included trips throughout the Pacific where he would have limited bandwidth, we defined the project parameters (both time and scope) and divided the tasks based on our strengths.

4) We drew inspiration from a best practice website. Just before we launched the project, I had been admiring Neighborhood America's website. In particular, I liked their ability to provide a lot of information in a small space with an accordion-style menu on their home page. We didn't copy it completely, but you can see its influence on our design. Imitation is the highest form of flattery after all!

5) We kept it simple. When you arrive on the site, you are greeted by the smiling face of our President and CEO along with a video message. The rest of the site provides quick access to the real information that people were seeking when they arrived. No extra pages. No bells (but maybe a whistle or two).

6) We tied it closely to our organizational brand. You'll see that the main banner at RecoveryActTraining.com matches the header on our primary website. Throughout the process, we worked with our marketing and communications department to ensure that we preserved our overall branding with font, colors, and other aspects drawn from our main Web location. We also used the same language and content that was created for our brochures and other print media. It saved time and ensured that we maintained harmony.

7) We drove traffic to our main site. Rather than creating a stand alone Internet presence, we knew that our primary objective was to encourage visitors to view our main website. Every single link (with the exception of the social media sites) invites guests back to our main location. And every page opens in a new window for easy navigation back to RecoveryActTraining.com in case another curriculum area catches a visitor's attention.

8) It's not perfect. One thing that made me fret a bit was the fact that our social media sites (Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo) did not have much content. We could have waited to go live until all of the potential content was in place, but we recognized that this project represents just the beginning of our efforts to have a more comprehensive Web presence. In fact, we have sparked energy around the School and are getting great photos and video content that we are posting soon. (So stay tuned!)

9) We used meta-tagging and social media to improve SEO. Admittedly, this is not my strong suit, but our Website design guru used meta tags to increase the likelihood that the site will be found by search engines. Our goal is to be the top hit for a search on (you guessed it!) "recovery act training." It would be great if we could be the top hit for variations, but we optimized it with a relatively singular focus. Of course, we are also using our social media tools to improve SEO by posting links at sites with heavier traffic and excellent search rankings.

10) We plan to measure the project. Finally, we installed Google Analytics on the site so that we can track visits and determine if we achieved our objectives. We plan to check every two weeks for the first three months, then monthly thereafter. Perhaps I will have a success report in a couple months to share with you here!

Have your projects followed a similar pattern? What other ideas and lessons learned would you share for your Web-based endeavors?

Monday, May 11, 2009

5 Ways Government is Using Social Media to Recruit the Next Generation

Originally published at FedManager's E-Report on behalf of Young Government Leaders.

In an essay entitled Federal Brain Drain to Brain Gain: Fixing Government College Recruitment released in mid-April, Stephen Anders (a Masters of Public Policy Candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School) recommended that Federal agencies should “increase their presence on social networking sites” like Facebook and LinkedIn to improve their recruitment strategies. Anders indicates that the private sector does a better job of recruiting than government in getting new hires. In light of Anders’ account of government recruiting, you might be surprised to learn that several agencies are using social media effectively to recruit the next generation of public sector personnel. Below are five ways that government is leveraging social media to attract potential applicants:

1. U.S. Coast Guard Channel on YouTube: From the Red River floods that ravaged North Dakota to the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency landing, the U.S. Coast Guard plays a critical role in responding to the needs of fellow Americans in moments of crisis. You might see a sound bite of their heroic efforts on TV, but you can also catch the Coast Guard in action any time on YouTube. Travel with Commandant Allen, who has mandated social media as a vital part of the Coast Guard mission, or catch fearless Coasties conducting safety checks by airboat, rescuing stranded citizens from swelling rivers, and saving lives in stormy seas. After watching a few of these men and women serve our fellow Americans, I felt like joining the Coast Guard. Precisely my point: how many young people will view these videos and explore a career with the Coast Guard? By the way, the Coast Guard has at least two other sites in addition to the official channel: US Coast Guard News and Coast Guard On Demand. How can your agency capture employees on camera as they perform their vital public functions? Buy a Flip cam for under $200 and have fun. Bust the reputation of bureaucrats being stodgy and boring and allow potential employees to see you enjoying your job!

2. State Department DipNote Blog: While all State Department employees aren’t engaged in espionage or excursions to exotic locales, you can get a flavor for the foreign service as a regular reader of the State Department’s DipNote blog. The last several posts feature photos from the Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership and an account of U.S. Ambassador Stephen Nolan launching a solar energy project at Kaziikini Campsite in Botswana. If I were a young women looking for opportunities to have a global impact or a student seeking “green” employment, these posts would be appealing. So you might be wondering people really read it? Just this week, DipNote celebrated a major milestone as it surpassed 5,000,000 page views. You don’t need a specific recruiting aim to begin blogging. How can you communicate your mission in a compelling manner? What information about your agency might inspire a young person to pursue employment with you? In case you’re interested, I’ve written two other blog posts about State’s extensive use of social media – all of which are points of contact for meeting the next wave of diplomats (please see here and here).

3. UK Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) on Facebook: Since we traveled beyond our borders in the last example, let’s take a look at how the United Kingdom has found Facebook to be a helpful recruitment tool for teachers. Meet Elizabeth Doyle and Kaol Rasarathnam who, in partnership with the UK’s Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), created two complementary Facebook pages where 2,000 fans are finding information about careers in teaching. Each site features 10 teachers and teaching career advisors who are available to answer questions that range from “What are the main software packages used by students in secondary schools?” to “I have an interview at Cambridge University for secondary biology teaching – any last-minute interview tips?” Based on my brief review of the sites, it appears as if each question is answered within 24 hours with an average of 2-3 questions per day. Note that the site uses a team-based approach to respond to inquiries – a best practice model for government websites that require regular citizen interaction. How can your agency use Facebook not just as a place to post static information, but as a platform for dynamic interaction?

4. GovLoop Social Virtual Network: When more than 10,000 government employees and private sector colleagues get together in one space, someone’s bound to find a job. GovLoop, a social networking site built on the Ning platform, has been dubbed the “Facebook for Feds.” Government employees at all levels – Federal, state and local – gather in this global, Web-based community that has successfully brought prospective employees and employers together through Web 2.0-style recruitment. Over 100 jobs have been posted on GovLoop directly from managers and colleagues hoping to expedite their current hiring process. For example, a DHS component was looking to quickly hire 12 positions. By posting the openings on GovLoop (with a link to the official USAJOBS.gov recruitment site), the agency received dozens of applicants directly from GovLoop members with great experience in the Federal sector. In another example, a government contractor was looking to expand its social media practice to aid government. By posting on GovLoop, the contractor was able to target the exact people with “Gov 2.0” skill sets. Qualified GovLoopers were eager to land a position that matched their interest, too! Are you using GovLoop as a place to search for new hires?

5. State of Missouri and Second Life: Apparently you can find some cool cats by using Second Life as a virtual recruitment venue. In September 2008, the State of Missouri hired its first employee based on recruiting activities in Second Life. The applicant “came to our job fair as a tiny cat with a red bow tie on,” said Missouri CIO Dan Ross in a Government Computer News story. The well-dressed feline was impressive enough that they conducted a follow-up, in-person conversation. The rest of the recruitment process was staged in Second Life. Check out the video below to learn more:



CIO Ross encourages other agencies to explore this low-cost recruitment tool. Missouri spent less than $100 on this first foray into Second Life and doubled the budget to $200 in this fiscal year due to their initial success.

Okay, so now that you’re convinced to blend social media with your current recruitment activities, how do you get started? Here are five tips:

• Establish a presence in the online spaces where your potential recruits spend their time

• Empower key employees to be online brand ambassadors for your agency in these spaces

• Engage employees who are adept at using these tools in devising your recruitment strategy – even if they aren’t in human resources

• Educate staff on the “what?” and “how?” of social media so that they feel comfortable in their first steps in online forums

• Evaluate your return on engagement regularly to highlight successes and recalibrate tactics based on lessons learned


It’s no longer enough to post jobs on an agency website or central recruiting sites like USAJobs.gov. Your potential employees are talking to one another in social networks all over the Web. Those governmental organizations that recognize this new reality and incorporate social media into their overall recruitment strategy will see the most significant “brain gain.”