Just five months into the role, it appears Justin Herman is handily leading the government’s march toward a new communications model that includes agencies talking to each other virtually, collaborating on what tools to buy, finding free services and using the Internet to communicate with the public.
I like it when I move faster than the private sector.” – Justin Herman
Since he became the General Service Administration’s (GSA) social media manager, Herman has worked to develop networks where agencies can share successes, problems, and find solutions without having an onsite meeting or using paper documents to communicate.
“Some agencies have teams dedicated to social media engagement services, while other agencies have one-deep shops or part-time managers,” Herman said. “That’s why it’s important to have a federal-wide solutions scale not only for the ‘all-star’ social media agencies, but also the ones who truly need to do more with less and look to the community of practice as their extended team. We got the tools, and we got the talent.”
Any excuse that “we have to wait for a better platform mentality” slows down the progress, he added.
Herman, 32, and the GSA Social Media team are solid advocates of the Digital Government Strategy, developed by the White House, GSA and other contributors and issued May 23. It states: “The public expects to be able to interact with government anytime, anywhere and on any device, so agencies must ensure they can live up to these ever-increasing customer demands.”
GSA’s Social Media team, part of an ensemble cast for innovative services such as finding other agencies working on the same kind of projects, sharing ideas easily and finding the best people to handle a project regardless of where they are located.
“We’re working with Social Media leaders from all walks of the federal government to identify and solve our toughest challenges, and unmistakably improve the services and cost savings all our agencies critically need,” he said.
It’s essential that government turn to a new way of communicating among its agencies and to the public, said Andrew Einhorn, the chief executive of OhMyGov Inc., a software and consulting company that specializes in services for the government.
Twitter, for example, can help government spot duplications among agencies. And Social Media can increase efficiencies and communication in government, Einhorn said.
“One of the best things government can do with Social Media is test their ideas for free before putting them out to the general public,” he added.
Alan Balutis, senior director at Cisco Systems Inc., and a former federal IT executive, said: “One wouldn’t think of launching a business or advertising plan today without thinking about how to incorporate and use social media. It’s now a given and an essential in the private and non-profit sectors.”
Herman’s accomplishments to date include:
- Created the first federal-wide Social Media Community of Practice, which brings together more than 200 federal practitioners from over 40 agencies and offices for an exchange of ideas and information.
- Leading the government’s side of the online Federal Social Media Directory. Agencies have been required to start loading their information since May but it’s been slow. The directory is expected to go public later this year and will spell out what every agency is doing on Social Media and what’s on the drawing board.
- Implemented a regular Social Media Census for agencies to report their metrics and progress, which had never been tracked. That includes traffic numbers, what features are still to come and what they have learned from their customers who are able to comment at any time about the service.
- Created a Wiki for all federal agencies to share their best practices and see what others were doing. It’s better for agencies to share apps ideas than create silos of them, he said.
- Provided assistance to the Army’s Online and Social Media Division, where social media specialists from GSA’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government last month consulted with more than 50 Department of Defense social media staff about the new federal-wide Social Media Community of Practice program.
- Organized the first Federal Social Media Camp in June attended by more than 100 federal employees from different spheres of government, including attorneys who handle legal ramifications, budget experts and technical support.
Herman said he consults every week with technology experts at Facebook, Google, Twitter and with Anil Dash, a blogger, entrepreneur and technologist, to get their ideas and feedback as he looks to develop new tools.
He’s encouraging federal social media specialists to take part in Google Hangouts, weekly meetings, online discussions and list-serves. He said there are many after- hours collaborations by the new breed of fed who isn’t satisfied at all that the federal government is slower than private sector.
“I like it when I move faster than the private sector,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated on August 28 upon learning of errors that overstated Justin Herman’s responsibilities.