The political world is always 10 years behind the corporate world in adopting tech strategies, or so said my former boss at the RNC. As my trips to last month’s South by Southwest and Gov 2.0 conferences proved, he may be right.
South by Southwest, considered the must-go-to online conference, is a huge, annual Austin-based event that encompasses interactive, music and film activities. In 2006 it served as the birthplace of Twitter.
But three years later – at the height of Twitter’s popularity – the social networking tool was hardly mentioned at the conference. Some even questioned if Twitter had jumped the shark now that everyone from Shaq to Congress Tweets.
Prompting big discussion, on the other hand, were cloud computing, how social networks can make money (Wired Editor Chris Anderson’s talk on Free was huge) and mobile applications like Four Square (http://playfoursquare.com/).
Now let’s cut to the Gov 2.0 conference here in DC. Everything was about Twitter – how government agencies can use Twitter, right and wrong ways to Tweet, the need for transparency. It’s great that people from the Capitol to the White House finally get social media, but it’s also plain to see: They’re still behind the curve.
Obama’s campaign success with technology has Washington scrambling to keep up. But politicians need to set their sights higher, ask themselves how to jump one step ahead of where Obama was during his campaign. That means not focusing solely on mainstream applications like Twitter or Facebook but looking ahead to cloud computing, mobile applications and how Chris Anderson’s theory of Free can be applied to political donations.
Also, government officials should have a presence at events like SXSW to detect trends and stay ahead of the curve. After all, it isn’t enough to copy what someone else has done after they took the risk and discovered that it pays off.
And to all those political professionals and government types who “get it,” I say: Shake it up. The problem with conferences about the Internet is that everyone there already gets it; you’re preaching to the choir. So, get out of your comfort zone. Attend more forward-thinking conferences like SXSW, not Gov 2.0.
Your bosses and coworkers who don’t get it? Now, they’re the ones who should be at Gov 2.0 learning about Twitter.
Katie Harbath is the Director of Online Services at DCI Group. She has more than 5 years of experience in the online political sphere including work during the 2008 and 2004 Presidential Elections. Her personal blog is at www.katieharbath.com and she’s on Twitter @katieharbath. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Katie Harbath.