Dr. Mark Drapeau is a relative new guy on the social media block, but he seems to have established a large residence in a short period of time. He only posted his first blog in August 2008, and that was a Mashable guest. In fact his personal blog is just starting this week. He has been on Twitter for less than a year and has fewer than 5000 followers.
So why have I chosen him as one of five people to be profiled in my chapter on personal brands? Because his name has been positioned at the crossroads between government and social media. Right now, there is a great deal of activity in government and social media. We have entered into an era when government has discovered that social media, particularly Twitter, is a cheap, effective way to talk with constituents and with the recent change in administrations, government seems to be recalling that they are in the business of serving constituents--at least on a good day, this appears to be the case.
Mark has a personal brand that makes him one of the very few "GoTo guys" on the subject and my guess is he will be very much in demand over the next several years. He is an unlikely candidate. He is a trained biologist. Prior to advising the US Department of Defense of social media, his work has included the study of jet lag and the World Honey Bee Genome Project. He has extensively studied animal behavior and believes that helps him understand the dynamics of social media.
Here are my questions and his answers to them.
Q1. Okay, there has to be a story. What's the origin of the "@Cheeky_Geeky" handle? Should it not have been "Cheeky_Geek?
I like devising neologisms and catchy phrases. At the time (April 2008) I thought it was important to not use my name but rather a handle, and to make it memorable. Rhyming's always good. And I wanted a handle that captured who I am - a diverse intellectual, fun writer with a bunch of opinions. Like many good ideas, I came to this one in the bathroom getting ready in the morning.
Q2, You have studied social media on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense. What is their interest in social media? How do they use it?
I first became interested in technologies like Twitter for personal use, but quickly realized that some of them could be useful in the government, and that they were most likely far underutilized and not well understood. From my perch at an internal defense think tank, I took Social Software & Security (S3) on as a research project.
There are three main pillars of social software in national security (broadly, D3 = defense, diplomacy, and development):
- Internal communications and decision-making.
- Working with groups outside your office, whether that's a state government, local law enforcement or nonprofits.
- Emergency or disaster relief, post-war stability, reconstruction and so forth. Most people are not thinking about government applications of social software so broadly.
Q3. Your academic field of expertise is Animal Behavior. What, if anything, does that have to do with social media and government?
Unless you're a computer programmer or venture capitalist, social software has very little to do with technology. It's about people communicating with each other, whether in words (blogs), soundbites (microsharing) or photos (Flickr). When we talk about "ecosystems" of people "communicating" and "messaging" in order to enter "competition" for the spread of their "memes" etc. - that's the language of evolutionary biology, ecology, and animal behavior. Social media is just a big animal behavior problem.
Q4, How,when and why did you get involved in Twitter?
I started using Twitter in early April 2008 after I heard about it at a bloggers' happy hour in Washington DC. At the time I was clueless. When I mentioned it to a senior IT defense official, he knew what it was, and pointed me to InSTEDD, which had mashed it up with maps and was using it for foreign assistance. That's when it really started to click as something I could use for both fun and work.
Q5. You are one of very few prominent Tweeters who does not have your own blog. Why not? Are Mashable and other guest appearances enough?
Initially, I just wanted to attend events, meet people, and understand the space. I thought about social software and government from about April until August, when I wrote my first blog - which was for Mashable.com. I believe in Geoff Livingston's credo: Blog Last. I thought, met people, read, talked to people inside the government. I traveled, and experimented with technology for five months before writing a single post. Often I think people are in such a rush to publish things on their personal blogs that they don't think hard enough about them, have incorrect facts, or nothing novel to add - I call this the "Rush to Gush" or "Gush Rush"
Full disclosure: I'm launching Cheeky Fresh, my own personal blog very soon, where I'll expand on various issues from a personal point of view less constrained by editors of sites like Mashable (who have their own formats and so on). I'll also contributor to the exciting online publication True/Slant , which will launch wide at the end of March and will be like a cross between Huffington Post and Slate.
Q6. How has Twitter changed your profession and your life?
My DC acquaintance Peter Corbett from iStrategyLabs , who developed markdrapeau.com, says that Twitter is "the pipes that connect everything else in the ecosystem." Merely by talking about what I do every day, Twitter has made me more popular. People find my combination of science research, government consulting and happy hours with a dose of humor really interesting, and I'm happy about that. I also use that network to connect them with news I find interesting, things I write, events I attend, photos I'm in, and so forth. Twitter is the ultimate deconstructed PR platform.
Q7 Tell me about social media & our Federal Government. Has the change in administrations changed the level of understanding and activity?
That's a complicated question. There are certainly new initiatives moving forward for a variety of reasons (new boss, new memos and documents, new excitement, new "goverati" networks). A lot is changing very quickly. At the same time, the average person working in the government is almost completely oblivious to Web 2.0 in general, nevermind how it might change their job or inspire their work. It's not their fault - there are only so many hours in the day. But I think that the confluence of a number of factors are going to help disseminate information about Internet technology through the government.
I'm excited about something I founded with Peter Corbett and Maxine Teller, along with the advice of Jeffrey Levy = Government 2.0 Club. It's modeled after the well-known Social Media Club, and we hope that people will start local G2C events all over - we can only do so much from Washington and there are many other issues all over the country. For our part, we're having a Government 2.0 Camp in late March that will be open to everyone from Gov 2.0 novices to very advanced technologists and communications people.
Q8 What is your vision for social media in Federal government?
Government with the people. There is so much collective knowledge among citizens and indeed people around the world. Governments need to tap into that global brain to solve problems more efficiently, cheaply, and probably...better.
Q9 Have you got a great story to share about you and Twitter?
It is strange how "cheeky geeky" has become a brand. I couldn't change it now if I wanted to. It's catchy and it suits me. When people meet me in person (especially after reading my tweets) they often "get it." My new blog is called Cheeky Fresh, and my column at True/Slant will be "Cheeky Geeky".
I've also met such amazing people, and really learned so much that my job description and brand is complicated now. It's evolved. Do I do PR? Sort of. Marketing? Kinda. Government 2.0? I guess. Science? - well, yeah. Twitter enables you to express three or more dimensions of who you are very efficiently