It seems like every agency – whether Federal, state, provincial, or local is putting up some sort of blog. Blogs are a great way to communicate and keep the public informed, right? Well, when it comes to government blogs not exactly.
Most government blogs don’t live up to anything close to their potential. Why? Because government is still looking at blogging and other new media channels like they look at traditional press releases and advisories. The result? Most government blogs are hamstrung by numerous problems, including:
- Lack of citizen trust. People don’t trust government, or their blogs. What’s new, right? The sad fact is that it seems to be getting even worse. The 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 39% of people trust government to do what is right. When it comes to knowing and understanding government spending – a key component of transparency – the level of trust is even lower according to an Advancing Government Accountability survey. It is hard to have a conversation when one side doesn’t trust the other.
- Regurgitating press releases. Good blogging is like a conversation with a friend. Instead, most government blogs read like a white paper or a PR newsfeed – they are often dull, focused on technical topics, lacking any sort of personal reference, and are not conversational.
- Difficulty in maintaining the conversation. Most new bloggers start out with an abundance of enthusiasm for the conversation and the medium. Three to six months into the blog, writing an entry or responding to comments becomes just another task on the task list. Team writing does help, but a lack of consistency in the narrative and a more impersonal style reduces any desire for users to participate.
- An awful user experience. Most government Web sites offer a poor user experience and the corresponding blogs are an equally unattractive addition. Most government blogs are difficult to find, difficult to read, difficult to search through, and hard to subscribe to.
Government blogs have the potential to be an amazing two-way communication and engagement channel but few are living up to that potential. To move beyond these all-to-common problems to a blog that facilitates communication and engagement agencies should shift their thinking to:
- Focusing on the users problem. Too often government blogs focus on the wrong thing – what the agency wants to say instead of what the citizen wants to hear. Don’t blog about the latest agency press release, or about the speech the Secretary gave last week, or what “important” meeting your agency participated in last week. Instead, focus on what your constituents care about. For a state-level department of revenue this might be on how to save time and money by renewing your driver’s license on line or for a county health department it might be simple things you can do to avoid the swine flu.
- Getting employees into the act. Reading blog entries from the Secretary or the Director (which we all know weren’t really written by them) isn’t what most constituents want because these top leaders don’t generally talk about what normal people are interested in. Consider getting some of your employees involved who can answer the real questions your users have. Some agencies, such as TSA already do this but more could. For example I would love to see the National Park Service put up a blog that is written by day-to-day Rangers, Interpreters, or Naturalists.
- Supporting a community. If there is a small definable community within your constituency that have a lot in common, they would likely benefit from you enabling them to connect with each other through a community, of which the blog could be a part of.
The Bottom Line: Government blogs aren’t living up to their potential. A shift in thinking about the blog as a two-way channel may be all that is needed to make them great.