iPerson: rebuilding a nation

Kim Jong-un

BBC yesterday used the above image of Kim Jong-un, northern Korea’s supreme leader. The post on BBC’s magazine monitor is funny as it exposes Kim’s obsession about being important, much like his grandfather. In the fifties, grandpa Kim Il-sung would issue on-spot guidance and his people would take notes, then execute it. BBC’s reporter makes fun of people around the young Kim still doing so today, all on identical notepads.

True, maybe they need iPads. But that point only just barely scratches the surface.

What Kim Jong-un is up to is building his personality cult. Very little was done for him by his father, although Jong-un had been declared successor already two years prior to his father’s demise.

In modern times, and specifically in Communist nations, the art of building a personality cult was maybe best conducted by Stalin. Others too have used means of mass communication to popularise themselves extensively. But none have been reprimanded so heavily as Stalin by Krushchev. In fact, in Kruschev’s address to the 20th Party Congress, we find repudiation not only to Stalin building a personality cult, but to a whole array of grievances to Marxist teachings. This includes repression of the collective leadership.

Korea is under its third generation of Kim, and Jong-un’s father: Jong-il, had been cast as a deity. The official biography has his birth announced by a swallow and the event greeted by a double rainbow. The reporting of his death in 2011 has a fierce snow storm pause and the sky glow red. His word was final, and any deviation was considered as a sign of disloyalty. After his death, he was proclaimed Dae Wonsu (a title only afforded by Jung-un’s grandfather, and which means Grand Marshal).

Game over.

It is not the iPad in the hands of people taking notes which is missing, then. It is what the iPad represents in a modern society. The “i” stands for internet, individual, instruct, inform and inspire, said Steve Jobs in the 1998 launch of the iMac. All of these are powerful tools for a modern society which Jong-un can aspire to progress if he truly is to be the personality that his land needs in 2014. The policies of openness and transparency, termed Glasnost by Gorbachev, brought about the start of a collapse of a frightful era for Europe and the world. That process, more than twenty-five years later, is still ongoing. Is Kim ready?

Governments going social. Mind the gap.

“Why do you want to take up social media?” asked the wise man to the politician. “Because everyone’s doing it…” was the scathe reply. Politicians in government and those aspiring to be, worldwide, have jumped on the social media bandwagon. Those forcing their public service organisations to do likewise, without thinking, are in for a surprise. This is not about a facebook page with many followers and a moderation policy.

Governments have legacy and countries have a future; and the distinguishing feature we look out for in democracies is openness. It’s not the means but the end which matters. Social media is the demonstration of openness of this decade – it will be superseded by other more faithful representations sometime (soon).

So what’s at the root of a successful social media strategy if it is to be truly exemplary of a positive transformation? Of openness that lasts beyond the medium itself? Two key points:

1. Instilling a culture of collaborative interaction between public service and the customer (the citizen). The official will listen and act with service improvements and policy formation that is worthy of a rolling democratic process.

2. Bringing together true citizen activism. The age of representative democracies with ‘elders’ or politicians who decide everything for everyone is clearly over because it’s not allowed by the voter anymore. Voter turn-out is going down. The age of blind trust in the civil servant is also clearly not the case. People are informed and have become knowledgeable customers who demand explanations. But, do people care to make it better for everyone? Do they feel that they are empowered to do this? The answer on a general global landscape is “no”. And this can be reversed if and when public servants become demonstrably interested in the public’s point of view – and act on it. Then people will speak up, will become active in change, and will become more appreciative.

This is when we start harnessing social capital.

Everyone will agree that there is a great deal of ‘known’ that’s untapped. All of this ‘known’ is in the heads of our customers, prospective customers, employees and even in the heads of those who currently don’t care. Tapping it means involving people. That’s only possible when the institutions reformat to become collaborative from the top > down. That’s to say that change must first happen internally by opening up to the cross-section of the population that’s the employees.

Employees are the organisation’s main asset in the drawing and execution of a social media strategy. Those of them digital natives have the added benefit of having an affinity for the medium. All of them collectively have an understanding of the service offered and of the customer expectations which is unmatched by anyone else. Employees will understand that the organisation’s reputation can flourish through social media activity. When they are encouraged and trained to be active, online discourse can be distinctly of much much higher quality. Goes without saying, that this will attract other customers and will breed organic growth which is priceless.

We’d like to see employees, seasoned customers and others interact with little formal intervention, harnessing social capital, and thriving on a culture of ‘self-help’ within the community. Self-help is in fact what I figure can be the evolution of a truly transformed public service which tangibly draws on the strengths of openness. A collaborative workspace without citizen activism would otherwise become unmanageable. In contrast, with activism in place, front-offices can focus on handling the truly off-shoot or more sophisticated cases.

We may indeed mature to a point where self-help works so well that people are better educated (and have less issues) and where 99% of issues can be resolved voluntarily within the community. The closer we get to that point, the more governments can focus on governance rather than execution. Dream maybe, but certainly a goal if we need to truly do more with less!

googlegoesgaga… Lady Gaga does it again!

In my post of Feb 9th, I compared Obama to Lady Gaga. She had 8 million followers then, a number which increased at the rate of over 20,000 every day to count 8,831,651 as I write. Lady Gaga hasn’t been sleeping on her online success and followed on the steps of Obama / Biden’s “Transition Project” (December 2008) which allowed any registered user to make or vote on questions that the Whitehouse then answered.

Since then YouTube put together the Worldview Channel and Barack Obama was back to answer questions in January 2011, followed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, US Parliament Speaker Joe Boehner and now… Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lady Gaga’s official YouTube channel now allows people to ask questions and vote for the most popular ones which she will answer. This Gaga project is open till the 18th March and, with this degree of openness, the star has joined a league of world leaders conquering web 2.0 tools to engage with her fans! The woman does not stop there with social media! She accepts questions also over Twitter with any tweet tagged #GoogleGoesGaga being syndicated directly to the channel and qualifying for voting. And in her own words…

Millions must be searching for “Lady Gaga” on Google as that term scores 69/100 in Query Popularity on Alexa. This especially when compared to “Barack Obama” (52/100); “Obama” (57/100); and “Whitehouse” (40/100).

The question submission and voting uses Google Moderator. It was launched in September 2008 and first used with a bang the following December in the Obama / Biden Transition Project – “Open for Questions”. Since then Change.gov, the project’s website, has now closed. Google Moderator continues to make crowd-sourcing a reality and is now a freely available API.