It’s better by blog: why councils should embrace blogging

The January edition of Total Politics had the third in a series from me on councils and communicating. The first part, Yes, council websites can, looked at lessons from the Obama campaign for local council use of the internet. The second part, Adding some colour to council emails, looked at ways to make better use of email. Now it’s the turn of blogging.

“Councils should get blogging” – that was one of the headlines generated by a report from the local e-Democracy National e-Government project – back in February 2005.

Yet since then, although internet usage and tools have grown massively in all sorts of way, there has been very little growth of blogging by councils other than councillors writing their own personal blogs. Individual blogging councillors frequently bring many benefits, including spreading news about the council, getting into dialogue with the public – and winning votes for themselves and their party.

But for a council to leave the benefits of blogging solely to the individual efforts of councillors would be rather like the communications department shutting down all its news releases and leaflets because councillors put out leaflets and issue press releases.

In fact, the argument for blogging is even stronger than this as, whilst there are many areas where councillors and their parties have comprehensive press release and leafleting activities, there are very few areas where local councillors provide comprehensive coverage of council issues to a large audience via blogging.

Blogging is not an end in itself, but should fit in to a wider plan, as I touched on in October’s Total Politics, where I wrote about the internet lessons councils can learn from Barack Obama. This piece therefore looks at blogging in more detail – including the answers to the basic question, “why blog?”

Reasons for blogging

First, internet users often prefer reading blogs to websites as they expect the former to be more interesting, interactive and timely than the latter. When presented with a choice of clicking on “blog” or on “news”, the figures I have compiled show people preferring the blog by around two to one.

Second, search engines like blogs. It is frequently much easier to get a blog appearing high up in search results than it is to get a website to do so, meaning blogs are a very effective means of reaching out to audiences who have not already made up their mind specifically to come to a council website.

Third, the difference between blogs and websites is in some ways like the difference between newspapers and books. People know a new edition of a daily newspaper is going to be out each day; the newspaper does not have to advertise to tell people. By contrast, you do not know when the next book by an author will come out, and so publishers have to put extra effort into telling you.

Blogs are to websites what newspapers are to books in this respect. People expect blogs to be updated and so it is easier to get them to come back and build up a regular audience. The same does not apply to website (and especially local council websites) which are frequently seen as more static and less likely to reward a return visit.

Fourth, if you want to put a human face on an organisation and to engage more in conversation with people, blogs are a better suited communications medium than websites.

Blogs are not a magic panacea and they need handling with care, but it is no coincidence that in so many other walks of live people and organisations have moved so heavily towards using blogs in four and a half years since the local e-Democracy National e-Government project report. Media, politics, sport, corporate communications – they and many more have all seen a flourishing of blogs.

Not so local government, though there are some honourable exceptions. The Weymouth Relief Road is a great one of those: http://weymouthreliefroad.wordpress.com. It is not an obvious topic for a blog but it is typical of the communication challenges that councils face. The building of the road, one way or another affects many people – but is not often newsworthy. Moreover, there are often issues of detail to communicate which local newspapers are often a poor medium for getting over. (This blog has also been used to respond to a story the local newspaper got wrong about increasing noise.) A YouTube clip about the detailed geology of the area have even received over 350 views – very good going for a niche angle on the story of building a road.

By taking information out of the traditional press release format and instead presenting it in a more engaging way via a blog, councils can reach wider audiences, especially in areas with low or declining local newspaper readership.

With so many others finding the benefits of blogs, the question really should not be, “why blog?” but rather “why not?”

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This entry was posted in Local government and Online politics.
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6 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Feb '10 - 2:57pm

    So who on earth is going to blog “on behalf of the Council”?

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Theaker 3rd Feb '10 - 9:26am

    An idea I fully support, sadly looking at the poor standard of some Council websites, a pet bug bear, I doubt that the quality of blogging would be much higher for these Councils who tokenise. I have though, seen some good examples of websites and also some Councils using Twitter. I think that with the demographic of who are councillor’s will make this innovative approach a generation in the making. Public money should be spent on services and I think that keeping residents informed about their council and what the council is doing, is a service of the council.

  • Odd if the end National Project report did end up saying that councils should get blogging, as the focus of the project was much more about councillors blogging than councils doing it corporately. Some officers did try it, but there was a real reticence about that.

    Indeed, as an officer working on the project for one of the participating authorities at the time, I was actively prohibited from blogging when I tried to sign up to do so. I suspect it’s this culture that the project missed, in its odd focus on technology over content, and it’s a culture that, with notable exceptions, pervades to this day.

2 Trackbacks

  • By Weymouth Relief Road | Quite sociable on Wed 3rd February 2010 at 8:38 pm.

    […] I found out about this blog from Mark Pack at LibDemVoice in a post where he explains why councils should embrace blogging. […]

  • By Links and CoPs | W3wb.com Blogs on Fri 5th February 2010 at 2:36 pm.

    […] And why Mark Pack of LibDem voice thinks that councils (i.e. officers) should embrace blogging. It’s better by blog: why councils should embrace blogging Rethinking Open Data – O’Reilly Radar Thinking about open data – focus on the useful. […]

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