How to write a great government blog

How to write a great blog about the government -- a guide for federal bloggers and others.

A blog is a website for which one or more authors blend information and personal perspectives into a series of interesting journal entries — at least, that's the goal. The key is to make it personal.

“The difference between a blog and [an informational] website is a blog is personal,” said Gadi Ben-Yehuda, social media director at the IBM Center for the Business of Government. “It has a strong voice. It offers a way to connect on a personal level with a real person.”

People outside government who want to blog about the government are wise to know their limitations, said John Klossner, Federal Computer Week’s cartoonist. He began writing his blog for FCW.com in 2008.

“I view my blog as a conversation,” he said. “Not being anywhere near an expert on most of these issues, I think my blog best serves [readers] by asking for clarification on the confusing aspects — and many of them confuse me — of the topic. Also, this readership is very savvy, and they can contribute as much to the blog as I can, if I ask the right questions.”

Steve Kelman, a Harvard University professor of public management who writes "The Lectern" blog at FCW.com, advises bloggers to pay attention to the topics readers respond to most. But don’t let a lack of response keep you from covering important topics, he added.

“I do track which posts get more or fewer (or no) comments, and have learned from that,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think a lot of times, the nuts-and-bolts ‘here are some suggestions for how to improve contracting or government management’ [posts] get few or no comments. Comments that relate to life on the job — how are employees treated, what are supervisors like, etc. — attract a lot more comments, especially if they give readers a chance to complain about their bosses, about political appointees, etc.”

Agencies that are considering launching a blog should first weigh what a blog would contribute to the agency’s mission and whether that contribution would justify the resources needed to maintain it, Ben-Yehuda said.

“Blogs can be enormous drains on resources if they’re not done with a strategic goal in mind,” he said. “So if an agency feels that the work that they’re doing is not well understood by the public or misunderstood by the public or not well known, a topical blog focused on what [the agency does] could be a great way of letting people know and engaging in a conversation.”

Here are some tips from Ben-Yehuda and Klossner on how to write a great blog.

  • Publish on a schedule. Set a schedule that you can commit to, from once a week to three times a week. Ben-Yehuda said more than three times a week, unless the posts are very short, is difficult for authors to maintain and readers to keep up with. Posting less than once a week makes it hard to attract a readership.
  • Keep in mind that it's all about relationships. “I find that many of the issues inevitably resolve to a basic relationship: management/employees, feds/private sector, fed employees/contractors, etc.," Klossner said. "I can get the most response by touching on the relationships involved in any particular issue.”
  • Develop a strong voice. Make the blog personal and help readers understand that you are passionate about what you do.
  • Use other social media tools, especially Twitter, to alert your readers when you post something and also to share thoughts and links even when you’re not writing a new entry.
  • Allow comments. This is what makes a blog different from a website. “If you don't want to hear my responses, then issue a press release,” Ben-Yehuda said.
  • Moderate comments. This is what makes a blog different from a late-night radio call-in program. Don’t exclude responses that disagree with your thoughts, but do eliminate those that lapse into profanity, personal attacks or off-topic issues.

Finally, Klossner added these two thoughts about reader response:

  • If you want a lot of comments, just say federal employees are underpaid.
  • Don't mess with the birthers.

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