Topeka, KS doesn’t like Social Media

screenshot of City of Topeka website
Topeka uses social media, right?

Wouldn’t it be weird if Google, KS blocked Google from their own computers?

Unfortunately, that just happened.

OK – it’s really Topeka, KS (Topeka renamed the city for that Google Fiber project). And they didn’t really block Google – they blocked Youtube (which Google owns).

But still – there’s some irony there, is there not?

Go read this newspaper article, City tightens control of employee Internet use. Then come back here, and let’s discuss.

Here’s what I find odd about the city’s recent decision to block staff access to social media sites:

Oddity #1:
“City spokesman David Bevens said the city prohibits employees from using their work computers to access YouTube, as well as the Facebook and Twitter social media sites, but some employees have nevertheless accessed YouTube on those computers … “

That’s got nothing to do with social media, and everything to do with employee performance. That’s sorta like saying “obesity has become a health issue at our organization, so we blocked employee lunches.” In other words, the city is dealing with the symptom, rather than with the real problem – in this case, employee performance. Blocking Youtube won’t fix that problem, I’m afraid.

Oddity #2:
“Stanley [interim city manager] said he was disappointed to learn the problem was directly related to the perceived need by some employees to access popular social media websites, such as YouTube and Facebook.”

It’s more than a “perceived need” – the city actually has official Youtube, Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook accounts. So yeah – “some staff” definitely DO need access to those sites, to do actual work.

And since those social media sites are essentially official city channels, I’d go so far as to say all city employees need access to them. At work. Otherwise, the city is blocking official city communications … from city employees. Nicely done, Google, KS!

Oddity #3:
IT manager Mark Biswell is quoted as saying this: “While these websites have value in terms of information transfer and marketing, they also pose an organizational risk in terms of lost productivity and through the potential introduction of viruses and worms … “

First off, let’s deal with that perceived “lost productivity” thing. Recent studies actually show that employees have increased productivity if they have access to social media. Want more productive employees? Give em access to Facebook and Youtube.

Second, that virus and worms thing. Social media sites like Facebook and Youtube don’t become popular if they’re sending out tons of viruses – instead, they get sued (thanks for that thought, @billludwig!). I sincerely hope that most IT managers know that “viruses and worms” generally don’t come from social media sites like Youtube or Facebook. They come from spoofed sites, rogue links in forwarded emails … and from uneducated staff. A better way to approach computer security would be to 1. unblock Facebook and Youtube, and 2. Train staff on appropriate use of web technology, and how to NOT click on those weird links or ads.

Oddity #4:
One last thing. The IT manager is also quoted as saying this: “Biswell said that to balance risks with the informational value of using such sites, the city was taking a proactive approach by cataloguing and safely providing employees access to YouTube videos that have business value related to training and education … The approach is the same one used by educational institutions, he said.”

That’s because the people at “educational institutions” are, for the most part, kids. Don’t treat your adult employees like kids. ‘Nuff said.

So why write this?
Thankfully, I don’t work at a city library, so I haven’t had to deal with this. But some of you librarians have dealt with this, head on. Library Directors – don’t let this happen to you! At least be informed, so you can intelligently argue your points to city administrators, city IT managers, or a city attorney. I’d love to hear from some libraries who successfully argued their points, and were able to keep or get library access to social media sites.

In other news, on Friday I tweeted a question to the City via their official Twitter channel, asking them how they were going to respond to my question, since they are now blocked from using Twitter.

Still no Twitter reply. I wonder why?

Three Questions every webpage should answer – conclusion

Last week, I focused on three questions every webpage should answer. The questions were:

  1. What can I do here?
  2. What should I do next?
  3. Why should I care?
And now, I have a question for you. Are there other questions a website or an individual webpage should answer?
Said another way, what do your website visitors need to know … at a glance? And what’s the best way to provide this info?
Discuss in the comments please – thanks!

Three Questions every webpage should answer, #3: Why should I care?

Why Should I Care?

One more question every webpage should answer – #3: “Why should I care?”

This one comes from my library’s Executive Director, Gina Millsap.¬†Another way to ask this question is “Why would I want to do that?” or “What’s in it for me?”

This is where your PR, marketing and promotion skills come into play. Why? Because you need to sell your content to your customers.

Selling? I hate selling – I’m a librarian, for peet’s sake!

Yep – I get that. But just putting information about something up on a website doesn’t mean people will attend that event, read that blog post, or check out that book. Sometimes we need to go a bit further, and work on convincing our customers to take those next actions I talked about in my last post.

The goal on a website is to move people from point A to point B – from reading a book review to actually checking out the book, for example. This isn’t selling as in “smarmy used-car salesman” selling … but it IS a form of selling, and a good organization learns to do this – on posters, in person, and even on our websites.

Answering “why” can be as simple as a brief explanation on why something is useful. For example – why should I apply for a library card? Because you get to read all your favorite books, and check out movies … for free! And you have already paid for it anyway (via taxes).

Look around your website, and see if you are answering the “why should I care” question. If not – rework your content so this question is answered up-front and often.

Three Questions Every Webpage Should Answer, #2: What do I do Next?

What do I do next?A couple days ago, we looked at the 1st question every webpage should answer: What can I do here? Today, let’s look at the 2nd question I think every webpage needs to answer: What do I do next?

This question is #2 for a reason. Question #1, What can I do here?, is pretty important – that’s the main focus of the page, after all. But once your webpage visitor has done that thing – read that article or filled in that form – they need to know what they can do next? Good webpages direct those next actions.

Here are some examples:

  • When you have finished reading this blog post, you’ll get a list of related blog posts at the end of the article. Those suggestions (created via a WordPress widget) are next actions.
  • In my library’s catalog (catalog.tscpl.org), if you do a search and don’t find anything, you get an Ask a Librarian chat button (assuming we’re open). “Need help? Click the Ask Us button to chat” is a next action.
  • Amazon is the King of Next Actions – each page is full of the “main event” – buying the book. But there are other, alternative next actions there, too – like adding more books to your order.
Take a look at your website, and see if individual pages answer the question “What do I do next?” If not, you are missing out on an easy way to point your customers to your great content, and to keep them on your site longer.

Three Questions every webpage should answer, #1: What can I do here?

Question #1Ever visited a webpage, then looked around, wondering “what can I do here?”

If you have … that web designer failed!

I think every webpage should answer the question “what can I do here?” either visually, or by spelling it out:

  • Visually: design in such a way that the stuff you can do on a page, like clicking a button, filling in a text box, or even just reading or watching content, is extremely noticeable. Amazon does this by using complimentary colors that “pop” out on the page. They often use blue as a header or sidebar color, but the buttons they really want you to see (ie, the “buy now” button) are orange – a complimentary color.
  • Spelling it out: Use words, colors, graphics, etc to “spell it out” for people – tell or show website visitors what to do on the page. For example, we try to do this at my library’s website. The main page directs people to “Get a Library Card,” “Donate Now,” “Find Stuff,” “Ask a Librarian,” or Subscribe to our blog posts. People know what to do on our site, because we direct them.

On your library’s website, do people know “What can I do here” when they visit the main page? How about the catalog page, the “you didn’t find anything” page, or on your blog? At the comment box? On your Facebook Page even?

Think about it … and make sure to answer the question “What can I do here?”