Building Information Modeling

lewisNo longer must we be limited to schematic descriptions of what we will build, or tedious cardboard models. Now there is Building Information Modeling. AutoDesk has taken their AutoCad to new heights with Revit and Navisworks. See an example of it’s use on LewisBuilds.com.

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Commentary: Social media agencies to watch

A friend sent me an article by Michael Estrin, Social media agencies to watch, published online August 17, 2009 in iMediaConnection.com. I suggest you read it before reading my comments below.  Mr. Estrin is talking about social media et al. I was recently working on a project that focused primarily on Twitter practices and strategies.  I think it is important to always focus on the needs, challenges of the business and then consider social media as a portion of your solution to meet those needs. Mr. Estrin’s examples show this well.

Excerpt: “…connecting with fans and audiences in niche communities in a conversational, contextual, and relevant way will lead to higher levels of engagement and generate more word of mouth, which has been proven to be the largest driver of conversions, purchases, and other behavioral changes. Enter: new media.”

I was put off at first because of the ‘size’ of the brands he choice to include.  However, most (all?) of the examples he has chosen are excellent ones which match type of use of social media to business need.  I think this is the key lesson in his article. More importantly, use of social media cannot be thought of as a ‘set up once and leave it’ sort of project, like we’ve been doing with websites.  That is why some websites ‘fail’. They are static and quickly become boring. That is where Twitter can become useful.  Simply by putting a Twitter feed on my blog, new content is fresher.  However, my potential reader still needs to ‘find’ my blog or the blog of others.  Twitter can be helpful here as well, my Tweets can include tantalizing headlines with links back to my blog if I have caught their attention. Linking back to ones website is something I am seeing a lot of in government agency use of Twitter.  Useful process for informing or EDUCATING one’s readers further, a function that is in line with government agency needs. A less passive use is to link back to one’s blog and then continuing the conversation.  This requires more attentive LISTENING by a dedicated, allocated human resource.

Another shortcoming of corporate websites and blogs is one must go to each of them. We could spend a lot of time surfing and possibly waiting for loading. I think the trend is for the info to come to the user. Facebook facilitates this. It is a very sophisticated feed aggregator, sorted by both ourselves and our friends. Like a little neighborhood newspaper or coffee shop we are sharing content of interest to us. So, when deciding how to use social media networks for spreading brand awareness, like good website design, marketing by social media really needs to identify their end user and consider potential campaigns to them carefully. AND in considering the ‘neighborhood’ they are visiting, make sure the method is friendly and interesting so it will get shared (cheapest way of spreading it).

Anyhow, this is a long way of saying that I agree with the examples he has used.  I would have been more interested in the article if the brands touted in the article were not so well known. Keeping existing large corporate brands alive is not quite as interesting to me as who is using similar methods to grow and promote their ‘small’ businesses.  I worry that soon there will only be big business. I am interested in your thoughts.

Posted in business, DIGITAL, social networks, Twitter | 1 Comment

Government Tweets: EPA

Why this site?

To examine an example of the multi-channel Twitter strategy.

As a country wide federal agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has split their twittering into:

  • General news feeds
  • Specialized interest news feeds (like RSS)
  • Localized Twitter discussion groups.

As confirmed by the Web Communication lead, their overall Twitter mission includes Education, Outreach, Promote Awareness and personalizing their business. The localized groups are quite recent and are divided into the same regions as the EPA has divided the United States.  Currently epaRegion9 and epaEspanol are the more personalized and hotly interactive, including news links back to their sites, re-tweeting to non-EPA links, responding to followers and tweeting towards interest group hash tags.

While a news feed can be set up with an autofeed tool, interactive social communication requires dedication of some (all?) employee resource time, time taken away from other duties.  In its very nature ‘real time’, one must consider when, about what and how often to tweet so our communique falls not on deaf ears.

Here is one of theirs, Region 9:

@eparegion9: One of the EPA’s more hybridized, conversational Twitter IDs.

EPA Region 9 Screenshot

Joined: November 25, 2008EPA Region 9 Bio

Date data downloaded: July 30, 2009

Industry Sector: Government

Twitter ID: @epaRegion9

Following: 125

Followers: 362

Ratio followers/following: 3 to 1

Postings: 193

Favorites: 9

Account created: November 25, 2008

First post: February 4, 2009

“Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Brown and Bryant Superfund Cleanup http://poprl.com/GW5″

Bio: News, highlights, eco-tips, and other goings-on from the U.S. EPA Pacific Southwest region. CA, AZ, NV, HI, Pacific Islands.

Location: San Francisco

URLS
Twitter: http://twitter.com/eparegion9
Org Blog: some links to greenversations blog
Org website home: http://epa.gov/region09/

ANALYSIS

Background: Dark Blue background with large, lime green, zoomed in photo of a leaf. Color from photo used in sidebar. Trim/link color same as BG.  Colors evoke EPA site choices while not being exactly the same.

Avatar: Gov Logo, same on most EPA Twitter Feeds.  This consistency lends authenticity. However, I found when I subscribed to more than one EPA Twitter channel and used an outside application (TweetDeck) to follow it was impossible to discern which channel I was following.  Suggest modifying each avatar to show Logo in back with some unique identifier in the foreground.

EPA Avatar Alternative

Transparency: It is not clear on the Twitter site who is Tweeting.  However in an email discussion it was discovered that the Region 9 Tweets are by one employee who actually lives within our region.  As a former government employee, I realize one can have mixed feelings about just how public of a public servant one wishes to be.  In addition, employees do eventually change job positions.  Therefore, it is logical to keep the keep the ID more anonymous so it eventually can either change over to a new tweeter or if the work load grows, expand to include many tweeters.  Maybe a query to your follower group would provide feedback on this question.

Bio Link: As with most, we are taken to the Tweeters website, in this case the Region 9 EPA site http://epa.gov/region09/.  I would suggest a navigation box somewhere on the page with avatar images for their “New Media” links such as is housed on the EPA main page.  This could bring more traffic to the Twitter sites, blog and other media links.

Tweet Analysis:

Of a 100 Tweet Sampling: Replies 4, ReTweets 40, Hash Tags 14, Favorite Tweets 9

According to the 100 tweets postedbetween June 12 and July 29, 2009 a smattering (4) were responses while forty percent were retweets of relevant news from those they are follow-ING, many of whom are also follow-ERS. So while this tweeter is clearly listening to what is being said, the conversation is not yet happening on a grand scale.  I commenting at the EPAs blog, Greenversation, asking if they might be increasing their conversation soon.  Within 24 hours I had an email response from @levyj413, the EPA Web Manager.  After quite a lengthy email discussion, he summarized our discussion on their blog  here (July 17, 2009-Thanks Jeffrey!).  His blog posting gives an excellent view of how they divide their work into multi channels. I should also note that although this ID’s first tweet dates back to last November, most of their tweeting is only since the end of this May, only a couple of months.  The other question I consider is this, the EPAs main website is very comprehensive.  I wonder, if ones total web presence is complete…maybe there are fewer questions to be asked of a Twitter business site? Or is it we the public are not accustomed to asking questions of the public agency with expectation of getting a response?  Regardless, simply having started this discussion has inspired other EPA personnel to inquire on how they might increase interactions through social medias.

CONCLUSION

@epaRegion9‘s start is well-rounded, ratio of follower to following is balanced and retweets show a good amount of listening and sharing from diversity of sources.  It will be interesting to see how the conversation increases in coming months and how they decide to  stir it up. I would suggest changing their avatars to make each Twitter ID visually slightly more unique to help attributing their feeds while using Twitter apps, which are a necessity if one is following multiple feeds.  Consider as well telling a little more about who is tweeting for the ID, in general if not specifically.  Makes it a bit more personal.

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Government Tweeters: 10 Downing Street

Why this site?

The UK Prime Minister’s group are heavy into their social media use and Twitter is but a part of their total strategy.  Not every event, news or discussion they are having is reflected in this channel.  Unlike many other government agencies (whom I will get to eventually) they are selecting bits of content for their Tweets and thus not overloading their followers. I show this in alternative to my examination of WSDOT & EPA who have split their streams into broadcasts or conversations (mostly).  These are two very different strategies.  I am guessing they involve different evaluations of use/need as well as resource allocation for maintenance.

@downingstreet: The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Twitter presence.

Downing Street screenshot

downingstreetbio

Joined: March 26th, 2008

Date data downloaded: August 7, 2009, images at a later date

Industry Sector: Government

Twitter ID: @downingstreet

Following: 497019

Followers: 1119785

Ratio followers/following: 2 to 1

Postings: 1422

Favorites: 1

Account created: March 26, 2008

First post: March 26, 2008

“No10 news: Entente Cordiale to enter “new era” – PM: Gordon Brown has spoken of a “shared.. http://tinyurl.com/2px2ld”

Bio:  The official twitter channel for the Prime Minister’s Office based at 10 Downing Street.

URLS:

Website: http://www.number10.gov.uk/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/downingstreet

Facebook: Yes

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/downingstreet/

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/DowningSt

ANALYSIS

Background: Black to match their website.

Avatar: They very cleverly chose the rest of their address for their avatar, numerals ‘1 & 0′. Given public agency employees may move around, it would be impractical to use a human avatar.  They are open about who is posting however (see ABOUT/Who is? above).

Bio: As it is more important that they establish authenticity than personalization, their bio simply states they are the official Twitter channel for the Prime Minister. Within their recent tweets, more bio information was readily supplied in response to an inquiry about who is tweeting.  For further personalization, they might consider adding “is run by civil servants in Number 10’s Digital Communications team” in their bio line.

Transparency: While not included in their bio line, they are quite open in their conversations about who they are.  I would suggest they include a line in their bio to clarify this. “@moominxsammi The Downing Street Twitter feed is run by civil servants in Number 10’s Digital Communications team. (Jul 28th, 2009)”

“@Broookeeh My name is Ian and I work in the PM’s digital communications team – website, twitter, photography etc (Jul 8th, 2009)”

Bio Link: Takes us to their web site home page http://www.number10.gov.uk/ Their government home page is unique among many of the agency home pages I have viewed in that their sidebar is filled with links to their other social media links with current updates.  As they continue their conversations through these other mediums, their strategy of linking back to their home page seems a strong one.  I first wondered where their blog was.  However, once I looked further into their Facebook application and their other social media platform usage I started to wonder why the rest of us were maintaining blogs? The overall effect felt dimensionally comprehensive and I felt very satisfied that I ‘knew’ this agency very well after my wander.

Tweet Analysis:

Of a 100 Tweet Sampling: Replies 34, ReTweets 4, Hash Tags 4, Favorite Tweets 1

According to the 100 tweets posted between June 11th and August 7, 2009 about one-third of their tweets were in reply to follower querys, with a small number of retweets and hash tags (four each).  Conversation responses were clear and concise, yet personable and at times humorous without being disrespectful.  Digging deeper into their links and website it is clear that Twitter is only part of their social media strategy.  It also appeared that they only post a small portion of their news through Twitter, more of it appears through their website link back. Here the bio link shows us update options in SM formats. Very tasty!

CONCLUSION

Combined with Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Bebo, 10 Downing Street is well on their way to de-stuffying their government image and increasing their communications with the next generation (i.e. http://www.bebo.com/bigthink). I found Facebook especially impressive, they’ve developed a more extensive application to join and share than other groups have. Their page includes videos, news, photos and uniquely e-petitions, speeches and transcripts.


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Government Tweeters: How are they using it?

Introduction

As a former government contractor and public servant, I am interesting in exploring how government agencies are using Twitter.  My quick profiles come from a variety of countries and levels of government looking for patterns.  Social media tools offer government the opportunity to bypass traditional media filters and reveal themselves as more than a closed door.  Are agencies telling their stories, carrying on conversations, answering questions of their constituents, improving Joe Public’s perceptions?

Methodology for choice

I knew of a few, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) whose blog I had conversed through last fall; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who have another blog I’d read (in addition to applying for an internship with). As a former Port of Seattle employee, I wondered if Ports were getting involved in Twitter. I found Ports at San Diego, Pittsburgh, Austen, Long Beach and our own Camas, Washington had jumped on board but were mostly RSS feeds. For contrast I decided to scout outside the United States. I found most my Tweeters by looking at follower/following for peers.

Twitter Usage

Expected:

  • News
  • Education with links back to site or news stories

Hoped for:

  • Improving public perceptions with community through conversation, one-to-one aid, crowd sourcing solutions.
  • Localized feel: Making the government seem smaller and friendlier

Metrics

Objective counting of 100 tweet sampling will be analyzed to determine degree of interactiveness with community by counting @replies, RT (re-tweets) of stories by others, # hashtags showing awareness of community interests and use of favorites.

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Small Business Venture?

When employment is down, one option is to hire yourself out.  One can join a group and hope to be hired out for a set duration, thus gaining both some income and continuing to build work experience, maybe even with potential of full time employment. This was a reasonable strategy during the early 1980’s.  Or you can hang out your own shingle.  I know from personal experience (2 businesses) that it is IMPERATIVE for a truly small business to keep operating and overhead costs to a bare minimum.  If you can operate out of your home, so be it.  I just re-organized my home office towards making it less a clutter catch all and more a place I could actually discuss business.  The next will to be to repaint our living room, also our entry and first impressions location so it is a bit more professional.  Next will be to paint the front porch decking and replace the  front door (leaking a lot of hot air).  Several things are accomplished here. 1) Since I am spending more time at our house, it will be more pleasant. 2) It is work that needs to be done and keeps my potentially idle hands busy. 3) One of my former businesses was to renovate businesses, so I have both the tools, most of the materials and experience to do this both well and efficiently myself (keeps costs down). 4)If I gain some business that requires a longer meeting, my place will make a good impression for my client.

The Small Business Administration has some great advice on starting your small business.  I also suggest spreading you risk by submitting resumes to service groups, continue job hunt and starting your business (frugally).  Your own business cards will help when you are networking to spread your name around, increasing your income opportunities.  I just got handed a Twitter Card. Small, interesting with barebones information it piqued my interest.  And they are inexpensive. Get them at Zazzle.com, Moo.com and perhaps others.  Moo.com has a mini printed on recycled paper and I am going to check that one out.  They come in a package like a skinny pack of gum, so very easy to carry with you.

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The future looks bright, I gotta have Drupal?

My friend DD pointed me to an article announcing the imminent death of Dreamweaver.  (Darn, I still needed to update my skills to CS4…which is still sitting in its box for these past six months.) Reading further, the author discusses dynamic versus static site design and the ready availability of such free platforms such as this one, WordPress.  For instance, I have a fairly decent selection of free ‘widgets’ that can create a more interactive web experience for my readers.  Without much experience or sophistication a new user can establish a basic, interactive web presence much faster than I could manually code or Dreamweaver pastiche a design together.  Doesn’t mean the design is going to draw you in, however.  I think that is where Dreamweaver still maintains it edge.  I am however, concerned with where WE are headed.  I, and art educated professionals have discussed at length the seeming decline of ‘taste’ coinciding with the rise of UGC, User Generated Content.  Your average Joe or Jill, without benefit of 4+ years of design school appears to have a decidedly different take on what is compelling to view, what draws them in.  “I know what I like”.  How much of formal design training panders to an elite audience I wonder?

And Drupal? CMS (Content Management System)? I confess my ignorance.  But research is cheap online. Lynda.com carries Tom Geller’s six hour video tutorial series on Drupal.  You can use their one day pass to check it out, or sign up for a month pass for $25.  I for one will be checking it out. Gotta stay ahead of the curve

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