In Washington They Ask, "What Can We Actually Use?"

As many of you know, I’ve spent the better part of the last three months looking for sustainable employment. Historically (in the past two years), I have focused on technology startups outside of my geographical region, but, as time has gone on I have seen increasing value in planting roots with a local firm.

In this process, I have interviewed with agencies, political action comittees, social cause organization, activist groups, development shops and even the occasional PR firm. However, by and large, most of these organizations are connected to the Washington government machine in some way.

A question that comes up frequently in interviews, specifically because I have a unique position as “power player” in the web space, is “What is out there that is new that we can use?”

This question has been answered in a variety of ways, being refined for each organization and group. Different folks, different strokes, different spokes.

As an early adopter of most new web technologies, I recognize this question. It is a question that generally stems from the desire to “be relevant” but often doesn’t consider the mission and constituency. So, in an admittedly generic and assumptive way, I’ll answer this question, and leave you scratching your head as to why I get hired for my social media strategery… There is nothing new out there that you can use.

Nothing. Absolutely Zero.

The principles of communication are really simple and have remained consistent over 10,000 years of recorded history… Talk to people the way you would want to be talked to. Give people information the way they want to consume information. If that’s a YouTube video, make a YouTube video (Bonus points if you can articulate a surefire way to make a viral YouTube video! ;-) ). If you have a thousand attorneys on a email newsletter, then communicate with compelling email newsletters (and talk to my buddy, Greg Cangialosi, over at Blue Sky Factory about their solutions). If your constituency wants a “pull” aggregator of interesting related content, give them a Delicious feed. If you are dealing with foreign wars, try to communicate with photography. If you’re dealing with climate change, work with a Google Maps mashup (build one!) showing the effect of rising sea levels and deforestation.

In other words, communications principles always remain the same: communicate with people on their level with respect. The execution of such principles varies according to organization.

Putting aside the “best tool” question, the real question becomes: How will you use the tools available to execute on mission, not simply be sexy?

Answers?

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

8 thoughts on “In Washington They Ask, "What Can We Actually Use?"”

  1. Great post. I think you are right on in terms of the key principles of communications staying constant, even as the tools change. You have to use the tools that are appropriate for the job, be they Twitter, email, or YouTube. If you audience isn’t on Twitter, then what’s the point?

  2. Aaron, I hear ya and agree completely. I have a bit of an interesting flip on that idea where I work. I work at a brand and reputation agency in Minneapolis as an interactive designer. I spend a lot of my time researching and learning about social media; one, to do my job better, and two, because I find it interesting. I see all these social media technologies as a great means of implementation for certain clients of ours, but I have the hardest time convincing my coworkers that they should consider it. The agency I work for is historically a traditional ad agency, and they seem to be a little hesitant to try out this new world of social media.

  3. Aaron –

    You are right – the key elements of communications haven’t changed and you always have to look at your audience when developing messages. How you say something to Congress is different than a reporter for example – not that the message is different, it’s how the audience wants to receive information that might be different.

    Anyway, good post and I hope you land something slightly more sustainable long-term.

  4. I don’t think “new” is always better. Sometimes the “existing” stuff is perfect; you just might need to look at it a different way.

    1. Amy: How would, for instance, the FBI run a counterwar on terror with Twitter or Facebook? Certainly OPM could use LinkedIn (and pretty sure they do), but yeah… sometimes you have to go back and build something new for the mission.

  5. I took a lot from this post in agreeing that you need to give information to people the way they consume it. That is valuable information for any type of business or website, and I am going to take that in to consideration a lot in the future.

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