New Media For the President

My colleagues at IIP did a superb job of supporting President Obama’s address in Ghana on all new media platforms.   

The center of the program was sending SMS highlights of the President’s speech as he delivered them.   Three of our colleagues watched the live coverage and released the highlights at the appropriate time.    Computer penetration in Africa is not as extensive as it is in most of the rest of the world, but Africans have innovatively connected themselves to the world with cell phones, so SMS is a way to go there.  I thought President Obama gave an excellent speech.    It helps to have good and interesting content. 

BTW – I feel no compunction in bragging about this shamelessly because I had almost nothing to do with the success except that I was standing nearby. That was the beauty of this operation. It was largely self organizing, with everybody not only doing their jobs but being proactive in taking leadership roles where appropriate and following the lead when it made sense.  In my time in government, I have rarely seen such a large operation run with so little tension and so much good humor. Life doesn’t have to be tough.  You can usually get better results with happy and engaged people.

Chrissy asked me why I thought it worked so well.   It might be too soon to tell, but I think there are several things that have been working and growing, as I mentioned the previous post, that are now flowering.   IIP has been building new media skills for years now.   It takes years to grow people, acquire skills as an organization and build trust.  We have grown people with skills and more importantly the innovative attitude that overcomes obstacles and finds opportunity.     Into this mix, we have added some really great young people, who have grown up using the new technologies.   They feel as comfortable with the various new media as I do watching television.   By a combination of foresight, planning and luck, we just have the right kind of people for what we are trying to do right now.

On the cynical side, IIP currently has no political appointees, which is rare enough, but even more remarkable is that our big boss is a career FSO who has been in charge at IIP for about three years, so we have had stable, non-political leadership across two administrations.  This meant that our programs could continue to develop w/o the transition hiccups.   Don’t get me wrong.  We all love the energy, enthusiasm and skills brought by political appointees, but sometimes the reach of their enthusiasm exceeds their grasp of the realities of the situation.

What was so remarkable? Lots of things just worked.  When everything works as it should, you really have achieved excellence. And some things were outstanding.

I am not a big fan of Second Life, but I have to admit that it worked well in this case.   Our colleague Bill May had some friends who organized a virtual discussion group that featured viewing of the speech and discussion by/with experts.  IIP let them use our “island” in Second Life (for those unfamiliar with it, Second Life is a virtual world, where you can set up virtual events and build your own online communities on your own virtual islands.) but interested individuals carried the load.   The new media requires that you relinquish some control in order to achieve better results, and our leadership was wise enough to let it be.

Beyond that, IIP’s bloggers blogged and twitted the program.  CO.NX did their usual interactive good work.   We distributed translations in English, Portuguese, French & Swahili important for Africa, and of course the usual Persian, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese & Russian.   And everything got out and posted almost immediately. 

Of course, our overseas posts, especially those in Africa, localized our products and did their own programs. I understand that our post in South Africa got 250,000 participants in their own SMS outreach in the first 24 hours.   

It was just excellent all around. It worked. I am proud to have been standing nearby.