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Mark Drapeau’s New Job: Corporate Public Diplomacy via Innovative Social Engagement

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Guest post by Mark Drapeau

For a good part of my career, I was a scientist researching how animal behavior is controlled by genes and neurons. Desiring something more, I got a terrific fellowship from the scientific society AAAS in 2006 and was able to conduct science and technology policy research at the Department of Defense for a few years. That experience opened my eyes to everything from the inner workings of the military, to how the government purchases goods and services, to how social technology is changing how the government conducts its operations.

Since I left the Defense Department a few months ago, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, reading, and writing, teaching a class at The George Washington University about what could be called “entrepreneurial journalism,” and consulting some private sector clients about how emerging technologies are changing and democratizing media, marketing, and other specialties. I’ve gone fairly far afield from watching fruit flies have sex, but what the hell – It’s as good a background as any, and it shows I have education, patience, and a certain sense of self-loathing (wink).

But many people have asked me what my next “big move” was going to be. Today, I am happy to announce that I will be joining Microsoft as Director of Innovative Social Engagement for the company’s U.S. Public Sector division, based in Washington, DC. I’ll be part of its new Applied Innovations Team that has a recently appointed Director of Innovation, who in reports to the division’s Vice President. The organization is responsible for Microsoft business across federal and state & local government; higher education and K-12 markets, as well as a significant portion of the U.S. healthcare market.

So what does that long job title of mine ultimately mean? What’s the overall goal of this newly-created position? I think of it as “public diplomacy” for a corporate unit. This role differs in many ways from traditional public relations or public affairs, which despite a recent influx of new technologies still mainly involves “providing information for the public” at its core. Corporate public diplomacy, on the other hand, involves actively shaping the communications environment within which corporate activities are performed, and reducing the degree to which misperceptions complicate relations between the company and its customers. In my view, this complex mission is conducted using what I call innovative social engagement.

What’s Innovative Social Engagement?

Let me tell you what it is not, first. After observing many people whose jobs variously involve public relations, marketing, communications, advertising, technology, sales, and being digital natives, let me reveal the “anti-vision” for my new position:

* It’s not merely leveraging my personal brand to promote a corporate brand, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely using social media platforms to connect with audiences in the public sector, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely making social connections with influential people in real life, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely engaging people complaining about the company online and conducting after-the-fact customer service, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely creating public relations events to get people’s attention, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely developing word-of-mouth marketing campaigns or helping the company go against type and poke fun at itself, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely chasing the coolest, latest trends and incorporating them into strategies, nor reviewing cutting-edge tech gadgetry, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely reporting live from events nor interviewing people inside the company on video (something like what Robert Scoble famously did for Microsoft), though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely being a product evangelist, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely measuring the effect of online communications on customers, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely creating a blog and writing about the best ideas or latest news or providing the most value to the most people, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely creating new online opportunities for product sales, though that’s part of it.

My vision of corporate public diplomacy via innovative social engagement includes many if not all of these things, but it is not simply one or a few of these things. My charges include creating lasting and meaningful experiences for audiences, engaging willing participants in my work-related social activities, creating emotional responses with Microsoft brands of relevance to the public sector, transcending brand expectations to add value to people’s lives, and generally being remarkable (in the vein of Seth Godin) to specific people I desire to engage with and even influence.

Returning to the notion of conducting corporate public diplomacy via innovative social engagement, I think that the U.S. State Department’s new Democracy Video Challenge is an excellent example of the multi-faceted, engaging, and remarkable storytelling and influencing that can be accomplished with clear goals, true strategic thinking, and a holistic view of the suite of available tactics and opportunities. As the movement of Government 2.0 progresses, I think that I’ll be able to learn a lot from the best practices in it. In return they will learn from me and likeminded people working at commercial organizations, NGOs, and any other entities engaged in public sector and public service activities.

So What Will I Actually Be Doing?

Someone who is charged with directing innovative social engagement for an entity needs to be visible, agile, adaptable, innovative, social, engaging, passionate, empathetic, fun, and disruptive. They should be pervasive or restricted, overt or subtle, traveling or stationary, and leading or listening as a given situation calls for. They must be a master storyteller, understanding what performance they need to give, what actual or digital stage they’re performing on, and what audience is in the house to watch them.

In my new position with Microsoft U.S. Public Sector (MSPS), I’ll play the role of storyteller. I won’t just be using, and I won’t just be using either. I won’t just be blogging on my own or other platforms, I won’t just be tweeting and using social networks, and I won’t just be planning events in DC and across the country. I won’t just discuss Microsoft technology, and I won’t even just discuss technology. Rather, in something akin to a “think-and-do tank” role, I’ll be creating and promoting a fresh, innovative way of thinking about engaging different audiences with corporate and personal storytelling – and then I’ll be acting on many of my own ideas, too. I’ll also largely be maintaining my autonomy to write a personal blog and conduct other activities that benefit larger communities, and I’ll have explicit permission to talk not just about Microsoft but also about other companies and products, and use them too. I may even try to “monetize the hate” à la blogger Heather “dooce” Armstrong.

More specifically, I’ll be doing at least seven things immediately: (1) Interacting with and socially empowering the other members of the seven-person Applied Innovations Team; (2) Discussing my opinions about science and technology in the public sector and continuing to be a thought leader there; (3) Experimenting with new pre-sale information and social technology, often beta or free products that potentially have a public sector role; (4) Showing the human side of MSPS and engaging audiences through multimedia channel content production and other online activities; (5) Participating actively in the public sector communities of government, education, and healthcare; (6) Measuring and understanding public sentiment about MSPS using innovative techniques; (7) Acting as a competent resource for senior Microsoft decision makers, corporate partners, and customers, and public sector decision makers.

The Bottom Line

I’m not a fanatic. I don’t think that Microsoft makes all the right products, develops all the best solutions, or generates all the most awesome innovations. And I refuse to pretend that I do. But while I think they do in fact do a lot of that, I don’t think they always relate those facts well to their active or potential customers. What currently has me excited is the opportunity to act as “The Official Taste Tester of the Microsoft Kool-Aid” (as one employee put it), and tell the MSPS story to people using innovative methods. Simultaneously, I also hope to create a new model for how brands engage their various constituent communities. Finally, I plan to continue being both cheeky and geeky in 2010, which many people seemed to like in 2009.

That’s a lot to be responsible for, and I’m admittedly taking on a big personal and professional challenge. But that’s why I’m doing it. If it were straightforward and easy, I’d already be bored.

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