A little while back I came across this nugget from Seth Godin:
If the marketplace isn’t talking about you, there’s a reason.
If people aren’t discussing your products, your services, your cause, your movement or your career, there’s a reason.
The reason is that you’re boring. (I guess that’s what boring means, right?) And you’re probably boring on purpose. You have boring pricing because that’s safer. You have a boring location because to do otherwise would be nuts. You have boring products because that’s what the market wants. That boring staff? They’re perfectly well qualified…
You don’t get unboring for free. Remarkable costs time and money and effort, but most of all, remarkable costs a willingness to be wrong.
OK, so Seth was mostly talking about private sector marketing, for start-ups and small businesses and such. I can see how for these kinds of enterprises, becoming remarkable would be a very good thing. But what about the social web and government?
It’s true that “boring” is not something I’d like to be personally. But when it comes to marketing federal programs and services, is “remarkable” desirable? A lot of the same barriers to becoming unboring are in play as in Seth’s scenario — time, money and resources, plus there’s the intense pressure to manage avoid risk.
I’m not talking about the government that you read about in the news. That’s the government of the politicians and interest groups fighting over the Parliamentary issue of the day. I’m talking about the government that persists after the politics has moved on to the next issue, the government that takes care of basic services, or of programs created long ago in response to circumstances that are no longer controversial, that are now run on autopilot. It’s administrative in the extreme — the epitome of boring.
Government still has plenty to do; it’s just that it’s all very boring. In this utopia of tedium, public affairs are properly left to policy wonks who never rabble-rouse. They concern themselves with banking laws, commercial laws, contract laws, business codes of conduct, property rights, accounting standards, officeholder ethics, tax laws, and insider trading. Assisted and pestered by lobbyists and pressure groups, they act as level-playing field referees for the panoply of for-profit enterprises.
And we all know the role of the referees. Most of the time — when they are going about their job properly — everybody ignores them completely. They’re just there, in the background, quietly keeping an eye on things. It’s only when they screw up that anyone notices that they’re there. (And boy do they get noticed!)
So let’s say you’re a government program that’s launched its teensy tiny social media initiative. You know it’s important to measure the impact of what you are doing, so you undertake some social media monitoring (more, and more). And you find nobody is talking about you online. You’re unremarkable. You’re boring. But in Sterling’s terms, that’s not such a bad thing.