Last September, my department launched an internal news blog, aimed at keeping staff informed about the latest developments and initiatives, as well as celebrating achievements and sharing best practice. It featured an update from the Director on the visits, meetings and events that she attends every week, as well as a regular report from Council meetings on key reports and decisions.
This proved popular with staff as a way to keep informed. It also provided a way for them to have their say, by leaving comments on the posts. Crucially, we invited posts from any member of staff, to get a broad view of the work across the department. In all, we had nearly 200 posts, from over 50 contributors.
We’ve been so pleased with this new way of sharing our information that we’ve decided to make the blog public. My argument for this was simple – we have nothing to hide and our service users will have a genuine interest in knowing what we’re up to.
In that spirit, we’ve just gone live with www.edinburgh.gov.uk/brightfutures.
Before going live, we trained key staff throughout the department on publishing to the new blog. This will enable us to keep up the high volume of posts from across our services, without necessarily relying on centralised publishing (although we are retaining an editorial overview, with posts requiring central approval before going live).
We transferred all relevant posts from the old blog in order to preserve the archive that we’ve built up over the past year – this means that we’ve already got a healthy looking “tag cloud” of popular topics which people can browse.
The blog has a broad remit – covering all of the services we deliver to Edinburgh’s children, young people and their families. We’re a huge department with lots of stories to tell, so I’m hopeful that we won’t be short on material. We’re also going to encourage contributions from key partners, parents and carers, and young people – in fact, we’ve already featured a couple of posts written by young people themselves. This is another feature of the blog which I’m particularly excited about.
One challenge will naturally be to filter what comes in and make sure it’s of sufficient interest to the wider audience – the concept of what makes a story “blog-worthy” will take some time to take shape, and I’m hoping that honest feedback, backed up by some decent analytics, will help us identify what really ignites people’s interest.
Without doubt the trickiest subject, when discussing our ambition to make the blog public, has been around comments – the ability for anyone to have their say. Of course, we’ll be pre-moderating any comments before they go live. This isn’t to censor anyone, just to make sure nothing nasty gets through. Our organisation has published an acceptable use policy for anyone wanting to contact us through social media, and we’ll be keeping the same rules for the blog. Where it will get interesting, though, is if we get legitimate negative comments. This is the tricky bit of genuine public engagement, and will certainly be a cultural shift for some, although most folk I’ve spoken to are excited by its potential.
The bigger picture
One thing we were always keen to stress to staff is that the blog is part of a much bigger picture – one of various ways in which they could get news. We have various internal and external channels of communication, and we’ll continue to strengthen the editorial processes for getting stories to the right people, via the most appropriate means.
Top blogging tips
To help people wanting to contribute, we came up with 8 top tips for writing a good blog post:
Be personal – blog posts should be written in the first person (e.g. “I think…” or “I’m pleased to announce…”) and can be informal. If you are writing on behalf of someone, say so – people can quickly pick up on writing skills and will recognise if different people are pretending to be the same person.
Be clear – use plain English, avoid jargon, and explain any terms that people may not have heard before.
Be honest – don’t avoid difficult subjects. People respect honesty and openness.
Be relevant – never leave the reader asking “so what?” – explain what your news will actually mean to them.
Be connected – link to further reading e.g. related articles or other websites. Try to put links at the end of your post to avoid people leaving your post halfway through.
Be visual – photos and videos are a great way to grab people’s attention – whether it’s a high quality film or just a snap from a mobile phone.
Be creative – think about ways to engage your audience. Put the most important facts first and create something that people will want to read.
Be responsive – people can leave public comments on posts. If someone comments on your post, respond where appropriate. Invite comments by ending your post with something like “what do you think?” or “We’d be interested to hear your views on…”.
In the spirit of that last tip, I’m keen to hear what people think of the new blog and the thinking behind it. Are you planning something similar for your organisation? Or have you seen other examples of blogging in local government?