Government 2.0 Pushback in the Loudoun Real Estate Assessment Office
While it is not entirely clear whether the statements or follow up exchange on the issue of whether Loudoun County's 2007 Real Estate Assessments far exceed market value are accurate, there are two interesting points that we hope will become clearer in 2008.
First - Government officials need to better understand the Internet and blogosphere. Whether they're right or not, asking someone to remove a blog entry after it's been linked to and indexed by all the major search engines is entirely fruitless. The cached content of the site not only will remain for a long time as Internet historical evidence, but the continued fallout and commentary among other bloggers and journalists will also guarantee that the posted material persists and gains even more visibility. Better to simply put out better, additional, more constructive information to counter what seems incorrect or misleading. This is a well-known mechanism of "reputation management" on the Internet - once the cat's out of the bag, the best thing to do is overwhelm the forum with better information. The Government official said "I nor any member of my staff will engage you via your blog regarding your perceptions of the operations of local government" - and now look what's happened; they are in fact engaging the owners via the blog, albeit by various proxies, and other blogs as well.
Second - the stance taken by a public official to formally denounce a blog entry as "offensive", "reckless", not to be "condoned", "inappropriate" are all terms of very subjective judgement that are better left to industry professionals or lawyers to materialize. In whose eyes is this material "offensive"? The single "member of the public" who brought the issue up? As in our first point, Government officials could use a bit more awareness training regarding Internet selling tactics - i.e., absolutely everything has some element of personal gain, and the vast majority of posted material on "Web 2.0" style forums (whether blogs, wikis, discussion boards, chatrooms, or social media venues like Myspace) should be understood to not only be inherently biased, but always pushing the envelope of language for headlines and recognition. As owners of an Internet Marketing company, headlines and postings like these stick out very plainly as marketing tactics, and are actually quite common - and simply best absorbed as one of a thousand data points about the issue.
While it's refreshing that the Loudoun County Government is now reading blogs, perhaps it's time to counter with a raft of more accessible, online information to counter this issue. Rather than simply direct inquiring minds to a single loudoun.gov website link, why not open a more direct and informative conversation with the online public through an online Government blog or forum? It can be mediated, and with relevant Social Media 2.0 skills, can be a very effective way to engage the public on public property, vs. private.
PS - our assessments in Loudoun have always been unreasonably high, and we've found little recourse in arguing our position, where much more valuable real estate with exactly the same design, within a block of our own, is assessed less. And we've got several long-time real-estate professionals and a real-estate assessor in the family. It's truly a big mystery.