Communications And Conversations Are Not The Same Thing

Mitch JoelPosted by

I’ve spent the past few days speaking at two very different Government events (one in Ottawa and one in Toronto). Both groups asked questions about the many challenges they face – as individuals – who would like to leverage their Personal Brands, Social Media and Web 2.0 in Government. There’s no denying that there are many hurdles for Government to overcome if they truly want to embrace the brave new world. Government communicates with one voice and one brand, and all communications have an approval process that makes getting a loan look turning on the lights. It’s complicated, sometimes antiseptic, and must be thoroughly translated into both official languages (English and French).

The standard comment from participants was: "We’re believers. You’re preaching to the choir, but how can we do anything when the approval process and rules are so rigid?"

It’s a fair question, but I’m beginning to see what is a common misunderstanding.

Social Media and Web 2.0 is not a communications tool, it’s a conversational tool. It’s not semantics and it makes a big difference.

If someone calls or emails the Government, does the same process apply?

My guess is these rules are in place because because the Government said the Internet is like publishing anything public. The exact same rules they have for how they produce all communications materials must apply to the Web as well. I’m not sure this is the best approach. If Government officials can conduct newspaper interviews in English or radio interviews in French, why can’t they also Blog, use twitter or contribute to a wiki?

I think there is a fine line to what is a communications deployment versus taking part in the multitude of conversations that are ongoing.

The other aspect is that employees in the public sector – be it as a public servant or on the political side – need to understand that we are in a transitional period. These new platforms for conversation are still very new, and I’m sure there are some very smart people in Government watching how these online environments unfold and develop before integrating them as core to their community connectivity.

The trick will be in taking getting onboard before the general public (and the exact people they serve) think it is too late.

Based on the thousands of engaged people I connected with over the past few days, I think the Canadian Government (both national and federal) will be just fine.


  1. “Social Media and Web 2.0 is not a communications tool, it’s a conversational tool. It’s not semantics and it makes a big difference.”
    That’s so true!
    I agree that it is a tremendously important distinction to make. Communications is one-way…conversations are two-way.
    Maybe part of the issue is that Governments (and businesses, for that matter) aren’t used to conversing with their clients/citizens, they are accustomed to telling them things that will instill a sense of confidence (in the case of Gov’t) or make them buy their products (business).
    It’s a fundamental shift in the way we think about marketing products and services to people. It’s hard for anyone to wrap their heads around.
    It probably will be a “wait and see” attitude from Government for some time yet. But maybe once they start to realize that actually listening to and engaging your citizens in a conversation is beneficial for all, things will start to change.

  2. Shouldn’t “…I think the Canadian Government (both national and federal) will be just fine.” be “…I think the Canadian Government (both provincial and federal) will be just fine.”?

Comments are closed.