For Managers, Too: Web 2.0 and the Changing Role of PIOs

By Wigington, Norm | Public Management, October 2008 | Go to article overview

For Managers, Too: Web 2.0 and the Changing Role of PIOs


Wigington, Norm, Public Management


Within a relatively short span, the public information officer (PIO) at all levels of government has emerged to fill a contentious but necessary role. Today, the PIO is as integral to good government as a financial officer, a computer analyst, or human resources manager. Indeed, no city, county, or agency manager would ever consider an organization complete without adequate assistance in meeting the information challenges of our brave new media world.

Rapidly changing technologies have made today's talented and dedicated public information officers indispensible, but is anyone identifying the skill sets needed for the next generation? Are your PIOs ready to be content managers for the new generation of media-savvy consumers? PIOs are already being besieged by the second generation of Web users familiar with the most recent applications.

Skittish city and state managers hesitate to allow PIOs the freedom to explore these new applications; PIOs seem to defy traditional supervisory skills. Having only recently learned how to maximize exposure on the Internet, public managers see another learning curve looming in their future.

WHAT IS WEB 2.0?

The next generation of government consumers will be Web 2.0 users. Web 2.0 is a term of anxiety used by some and derided by others; there is actually an argument about whether it exists, but for the purposes of this article that is a foregone conclusion. This recent upheaval in the electronic ether is as though the original Internet, once unstable, unproven, and unsafe, suddenly transformed itself into a second creature that by comparison makes the first generation, Web 1.0, look like a pasture of domesticated and contented Web sites.

The war zone has moved on to Web 2.0, a conglomeration of trends, unreliable beginnings, collapses, and outrageous successes. Web 2.0 does not describe any single dramatic change in usage or application. It does reflect a paradigm shift among users. It is the users who have transformed the Net. Remember e-books? We were all going to download written masterpieces and read them during lunch. Well, once academics felt secure enough to download volumes of Jane Austen novels, the true users, the 18-year-olds, were testing the limits of technology by showing their personal tattoos in real time. And, on a more positive note, they also found the Last Lecture and watched it in droves.

The platform that made this possible was a community created by users for building a world of information sharing, collaboration, and creativity. Although rooted in the first World Wide Web, Web 2.0 was first readily identified by the number of social networking sites--MySpace, Fa-cebook, and Linkedln--that have come to characterize the second tier of applications.

In addition, a complementary series of technologies and applications designed for social commentary emerged; today, there are blogs, vlogs, and You Tube. Today, we can use RSS feeds and Twitter, plus digital distribution through podcasts, webinars, and wikis. Even virtual meetings are now used through Second Life and WoW (World of Warcraft). Web 2.0 simply cannot refer to a single updated application; it is changes brought to the Web by the users themselves.

WHY PIOs?

Government leaders are naturally reluctant about going forward into an arena with so few bona fide rules, but realistically they have no choice.

The power of the 2.0 community is still emerging, but we already know it can create presidential candidates and ruin careers overnight. Governments today typically are represented in Web 2.0 only on the negative end of the Colbert Report.

Professional government managers, at every level, are interested in getting their stories out. They want to be represented as informed decision makers, persons for whom tough decisions are not lightly undertaken; and government employees are, as a whole, a sober and serious population. …

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