Lessons in social media policy from the EPA

When social media tools and techniques are applied to government communications, agencies are able to meet the obligation of transparency and “open books” initiatives in ways that were impossible to imagine just a few years ago.

One of the tricky things about overseeing social media initiatives is introducing tried and true marketing, public relations, and editorial techniques into a realm that is chaotic, unpredictable, and often unforgiving to missteps.

As if that wasn’t challenging enough, government transparency increasingly is becoming the responsibility of staffers from a variety of disciplines and positions outside of public relations; Web developers, writers, editors, and content managers all play a large roll. Where we once created static documents and pitched media, our jobs are expanding toward not only spurring discussion, but also participating in it.

A strong social media plan and policy is critical to success.

Jeff Levy, director of Web communications at the EPA’s Office of Public Affairs, was kind enough to share with me his agency’s social media policy.

Jeff’s shop has developed a terrific flow-chart that adds a visual methodology of determining when and how to participate in online discussions. Also check out the EPA’s social media guidelines. Both documents are well worth examining.

Kudos to Jeff and his team at the EPA.

Flow Chart http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf

Interim Guidance Representing EPA Online FInal http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf

7 things I like about the Amazon Kindle

amazon kindleIt’s been a few weeks since I got an Amazon Kindle as a gift from my  wife. Here’s a quick and hastily written review of the device based on my experience thus far.

1. Portability

I went to West Texas to visit family over Christmas. I brought six books, three magazines and several newspapers with me on a device just a little bit bigger than a DVD case. I travel quite a bit, so it’s great to carry books, magazines, and blogs with me without eating up a lot of physical space. In terms of virtual space, Kindle can hold up to 1,500 books.

2. Selection of Titles

This took me by surprise. Amazon says they stock just under 400,000 e-books in their Kindle Store. So far, every book I’ve searched for has a Kindle edition, usually priced around $8. Titles are delivered straight to the device in about 15 seconds. I can shop for new content directly from the device.

3. Internet

Kindle includes a lifetime subscription to 3G wireless that Amazon is entitled to change on a whim, according to their TOS. So far, I’ve had a good connection to the cellular networks that tether the Kindle. The device has a simple, built-in browser. The browser’s display isn’t very pretty — it resembles cell phone Web browsing from 2003. Regardless, I can easily check my Gmail, access Wikipedia, or read CNET and Slashdot from the Kindle with little effort

4. Ruggedness

Kindle is less than two inches thick and weighs about 10 ounces. While I wouldn’t take it to the beach, I wouldn’t have a problem taking it camping or carrying it in my backpack to read on my lunch break or on a layover. Sadly, the newest generation Kindle doesn’t include a case, but you can pick one up on Amazon for about 30 bucks.

5. Readability

My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t like reading the Kindle. How pleasurable can a digital screen be? I was surprised that Kindle’s display allows for easy reading. I’ve noticed that reading in low-light can be problematic, more so than with a printed book.

6. Free Stuff

Amazon offers quite a few free titles. There are also a lot of Web sites and blogs that specialize in connecting Kindle users with free content. My favorite is the Gutenberg Project.

7. Battery Life

I go four to six days before I need to charge.  At this point, I can get a very solid charge in an hour or two. Battery life is greatly improved with wireless connectivity turned off.

The Not So Good

Navigation on the Kindle is clunky and a little slow. It’s easy to reach the Home screen, which is where you find your list of titles, but navigating indexes of newspaper stories and book chapters is not very intuitive. I expect this to improve quite a bit in future iterations.

DRM. This is a big one for me. I celebrated when Apple removed DRM from the iTunes Store, giving customers freedom to move their purchased audio tracks around as they see fit without the restrictions of Digital Rights Management. It bothers me that Amazon could potentially remove purchases from my device or monitor what and how I read.

Paying for Blogs. This one really sucks. Kindle users can subscribe to blogs for .99 each per month. I read dozens of blogs daily. The idea that I have to pay to have this otherwise free content sent to my device is ridiculous. One way around this is to bookmark Google Reader in your Kindle’s Web browser, but navigation is still pretty lame.

Overall, the Kindle is a great device. A few glitches aside, I really like what it does.