Six approaches for social media adoption – 5. Experiment

Shame on me for taking almost a month to follow up the last instalment of this short series. September was possibly the worst month for blogging I have had and I apologise for stringing you along for such a long time, really.

Anyway, this is the penultimate post on the six approach  and I’ll do my best (without promising, you notice) to finish the series as soon as possible/

So, experiment. What does that mean, and why is it a good idea?

In my mind, when I was putting together this model, it meant making use of free and/or low cost online tools to assess value of social media for engagement and, perhaps, to build the rationale for wider investment in, and deployment of, online engagement tools (so called ‘enterprise solutions’).

Government faces all sorts of barriers in trying to implement these tools on existing IT platforms, and even if it could, the speed of implementation could well be slow. By adopting best of breed hosted tools, many of the drawbacks can be mitigated. There will undoubtedly be nervousness about using hosted solutions outside the corporate firewall, but they can be positioned as pilots – testing the value of the tools and minimising exposure to mistakes or reputational hits.

Using hosted tools (such as WordPress.com) gives organisations the ability to engage and interact on a wide scale at little or no cost and test software on a hosting platform away from the primary infrastructure.

Some of the drawbacks of this option include questions about supplier reliability, the stability and scalability for new online tools, security/ownership of data,  and uptime  / availability of service could be less reliable than hosting it yourself.

If you decide to pursue this option, you will undo need some dedicated resource to set up and support , either in house or outsourced.  You need to think about building, ongoing support, moderation / facilitation, and online marketing. These are significant human resource costs.

Five down, one to go…

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  1. An interesting aspect of this is that hosted services are necessarily limited (e.g. no scripts in WordPress.com) so we can keep the wild experimentation demanded by the zealous client convert who yesterday was so cautious, under some sort of control, while noting requirements for a full-blown solution down the line.

    Much as I hate having to say “No this software won’t let us do that” it can be useful…

  2. Interesting article Jeremy. At the West Midlands Regional Observatory, we chose to experiment with a site hosted through wordpress.com (coincidentally sharing the same WordPress theme as you!) over hosting something ourselves. The main reason for choosing this option was the speed of setup and ability to start adding content immediately. Oh, and it’s free.

    Undoubtedly, the biggest resource has been the time spent by authors in writing new posts.

    From a web admin’s point of view, sure, it’d be good to have more control through hosting our own WordPress site – I’m specifically thinking the design side and third party plugins – but the wordpress.com solution is certainly a nice way for organisations to test the water in blogging.

  3. Gavin – your site is a bloody great example Thanks for sharing

    • andrewlewin
    • October 3rd, 2008

    These days I’m not sure that supplier reliability, stability and scalability are actually drawbacks of the ‘free’ market – wordpress.com and YouTube being good examples. It’s got such a massive amount of hardware about it that to reproduce something like it at local level is prohibitively expensive. So the ‘free’ version ends up being more robust than what you can do yourself.

    On the other hand, a lot of the software is open source or really inexpensive, so even for experimenting it can be worthwhile bringing it in-house for the R&D learning. I was working on a large govt site a few years back and we were getting charged £4,000 for each new discussion forum. Absurd – so we sourced a commercial off-the-shelf product for the princely sum of $229, installed it on the dept server, and it allowed unlimited numbers of forums to be set up from there on. Wonderful freedom for experimentation, very robust (it never fell over in all the years we used it.) And as for the savings …

  4. I’m all for experimenting. And since any experiment worth doing has at least a small risk of failure, let’s plan to fail cheaply and minimise the reputational damage.

    Freeware/open source makes sense for Government, where spending and value for money is under constant scrutiny. It should be a no-brainer that we turn to the free tools before looking at commercial or self-build.

    But there are all sorts of valid reasons to be careful, even so… such as data protection law and the problem of overseas hosting, worries about security, any advertising (political? pornographic?) that may appear alongside our content, and what about propriety of government implicitly endorsing one free tool over another? Just because we’re not paying, doesn’t mean there aren’t commercials involved.

  5. @Andrew – those are good examples of pretty robust online tools, but there are plenty of others that are newer, smaller, and less predictable in terms of reliability. In terms of hosting it yourself, the costs will largely depend on the IT contract you have and the degree of flexibility that provides (we can’t install apps for instance).
    @Neil – good points. Many of those issues are not dealbreakers though if you’re not storing personal information.

  1. October 2nd, 2008

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