Israeli government is recuiting new media project managers for technological reform
Minister Michael Eitan, who is supporting and promoting the technology reform projects for the government services published a document on February 24th, 2009, seeking project manager services for the technological reform project. Several colleagues in social media in Israel were skeptical and smiled ironically regarding the subject, doubting any possibility of success. I, however, smiled, but for different reasons. I smiled, because unlike my colleagues I understand what the public has yet to see. The Israeli government has finally seen the light and got the message. It got the message and is now working towards applying communication tools for an innovative government.
In a country of skeptics, a state inflicted with difficulties and daily aggravation, it is extremely easy for us to criticize our government, since, dear friends, we are simply used to it. The Israeli people are the constant opposition of the government, and usually, with cause (some things should be fully admitted, after all). So let’s just take a deep breath for a moment, and try to order the chaos.
The Web 2.0 age officially began when O’Reilly coined the term in 2004. The meticulous will even state that social media tools were around beforehand, but for our purposes, we will discuss widespread public acceptance: six years of widespread public and commercial use of social media tools, of which four years where the experience is no longer solely personal and social. In addition, since all things arrive in Israel fashionably late, only in the past three years have social media tools become a trend. In fact, the Israeli public, as a critical mass, only discovered Facebook in late 2008 / early 2009, Twitter in 2009, and LinkedIn is still being discovered. To the Israeli consumer’s credit, local social networks such as Café TheMarker, Tapuz, and Mekusharim were discovered and used beforehand. So wait a minute, what exactly are we complaining about with the government?
If the government would have rushed to adopt a technological trend, train it’s employees, use public funds, would we not have grumbled about it? Wouldn’t we throw harsh criticisms at our government? My 65 year old mother still isn’t aware of Facebook (if you can believe it) and barely surfs the web. My mother is a regular citizen, a building engineer in a well-known architectural firm with excellent computer orientation, but she and many more do not use the internet. They just haven’t found the need yet. Should a government rush to use tools which most of its constituency don’t even know how to use? Should the government embrace technologies that even the private sector doesn’t know how to use? And where should they apply them? And how should they start applying these tools? And how can they best be used? Peek out of your puddle, internet and social media prophets, after all, you meet your clients daily, and with a hand on your heart as yourselves, what do you see?
Yes, the government works slowly. We all heard Guy Lerer, the television correspondent, when he reported on the London and Kirshenbaum news show about the “electronic Intifada” performed by our “friends” regarding the Middle East conflict. Some of us even heard Guy Lerer’s interview with Rino Zror on the IDF radio (Galei Zahal), in which he reviewed Israel’s powerlessness in social media “fighting.” In an attempt to respond to his criticism, the VP of the foreign ministry’s propaganda division, Mr. Yigal Caspi, was brought to the air, but his replies were weak and insubstantial. So yes, the government isn’t doing too well, isn’t doing enough, and isn’t doing on time. But let me tell you what the government does do:
Very few governmental agencies around the world embraced social media across the board. So few they are, that they can be counted on one hand. The term GOV 2.0 as an independent term has only taken flight in the past year. And in Israel? Three years ago, the Israeli consulates in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago opened Facebook pages and began spreading information through them, as well as recruiting supporters. The Israeli consulate in New York even launched an official blog, after quite a few conundrums on how an official blog of an official agency should look like. The consulate in Los Angeles opened a MySpace page, that until a year ago was the most common social network in the US. As of today, all of Israel’s representative bodies in the United States have a Facebook page, and they all experiment with other social media tools. The consulate in New York is, without a doubt, the leader, and has won kudos in Israel and abroad, for their innovative Twitter “press conference” during “Cast Lead” operation. Now, many consulates in Europe, Asia, and Latin America are also opening Facebook pages, as did the foreign ministry HQ! We can’t avoid mentioning David Saranga, formerly Israel’s communication consul in New York, who is a social networking evangelist that developed and performed many social networking “operations,” and is now lecturing on the subject and teaching others.
In recent months, the Foreign Ministry ran two courses on “Diplomacy in the Social Media Era.” The course boasted a list of those with practical experience in the field from the US and Israel. Among the lecturers from the US were Mark Drafo, from Washington D.C., one of the leading consultants on GOV 2.0, who was a social media consultant for the US Department of Defense. Among the lecturers from Israel was David Saranga and myself. Everything was done through social media – creating the course, and locating and recruiting lecturers. During the last course I had the privilege of lecturing to the propaganda division, including Mr. Yigal Caspi, VP of propaganda. Some of the Israeli leaders in social media know Minister Michael Eitan’s actions quite well, due to a brainstorming session he had with them about government availability.
A representative event for the Foreign Ministry is The GOV 2.0 International Conference that was held on March 11th, 2010. The conference is a video conference and is organized by O’Reilly. The conference will survey government activities in various countries and discuss them. For those of us who don’t know who O’Reilly is, I will mention that he is a resident of the social media Pantheon, and he is also the one who came up with the term Web 2.0 with a partner. We, the State of Israel, are honored to be a part of this conference. Yaron Gamburg, Training VP, the driving force of social media in the Foreign Ministry, will discuss the activity and efforts of Israel in the social media field. Other countries speaking at the conference are Canada and Great Britain.
To sum up, the Israeli government is performing various activities in the social media realm, some that are advertised publically, and some that are not. In my humble opinion, the deficiencies of those who are active in this type of activity is the lack of knowledge and understanding regarding how to publicize the effort that is already being done. Obviously, there is a lot to learn. Yaron Gamburg summarized it nicely in one of his posts: “When you look at the successes of government agencies in the US in social media, including the US Department of State, we can understand that the road ahead of us is long, and that there is much to aspire to. Public diplomacy, for example, is only one field in which social media can assist the Foreign Ministry to upgrade their activities…”