If you work in social media on any level, you probably hear the word “engagement” a lot. It’s a buzz word, admittedly, a nebulous term that’s difficult to define and measure, but still valued by social media professionals as a benchmark for success.
With the Obama campaign’s experience in leveraging social media to successful results, it’s not surprising that The White House would incorporate social media into its overall offline outreach.
Last week, The White House announced that it had changed the name of its Office of Public Liaison (yes, this is the office that Kal “Kumar” Penn left showbiz for) to the more social media-friendly sounding Office of Public Engagement. A Whitehouse.gov press release states:
OPE will help build relationships with Americans by increasing their meaningful engagement with the federal government. Serving as the front door to the White House, OPE will allow ordinary Americans to offer their stories and ideas regarding issues that concern them and share their views on important topics such as health care, energy and education.
Here’s the president’s video announcement of the office and its objectives.
There’s already a blog on the OPE website that’s still in its early “cheerleader” stages that most organizational blogs go through, with peppy introductions and no bad news. A citizen’s briefing book, has also been released featuring (presumably vetted) comments and suggestions left by citizens ont he Obama transition website, Change.gov. Apparently there will be more opportunities for online interaction, though they haven’t been detailed yet.
This is undoubtedly a positive step toward transparency on behalf of the White House, and certainly a model for organizations to watch, but what does this mean, exactly? How will we be able to assess the success of this office and their efforts? How does this office define “engagement”exactly? Is it just awareness of the OPE and its efforts, or collaboration with citizens? (clearly direct two-way conversation is not yet part of the equation, considering the OPE blog doesn’t currently allow comments, similar to the Whitehouse.gov blog.)
This is not a criticism solely directed toward the White House OPE: most organizations/companies don’t really know what the heck they mean by engagement either. It seems primarly approached as an evolving process, defined and guided by the community – whoever that happens to be in the case of the OPE: everyone? America?
As I’ve said earlier, the true test of the White House’s social media strategies, via the OPE and elsewhere, will come in a year or two when the honeymoon stage is over and the limits and challenges of transparency become more apparent.