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What is a "Blog"?

A weblog, which is usually shortened to blog, is a website where regular entries are made (such as in a journal or diary) and presented in reverse chronological order. Blogs often offer commentary or news on a particular subject, such as technology, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. Most blogs are primarily textual although many focus on photographs, videos, or audio.

Some blogs are very focused on the personal writing of the author. Others take an editorial approach, as editors search the Web looking for interesting content. On their blogs, they may then write up a short comment and link to this content. Others use blogs as a collaborative tool among a defined group of people who work together on a specific product or issue. Read more about blogs on Wikipedia.org.

Another form of blogging is the microblog. As its name suggests, microblogging is simply writing extremely short blog posts in the vein of text messaging. The messages can either be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group that is chosen by the user.

Why Blogs Are Important

  • Blogging was the number one technology trend of 2005, according to Fortune Magazine.
  • In April 2007, blog search and measurement firm Technorati was tracking over 70 million blogs and reported seeing about 120,000 new blogs created each day. That's 1.4 blogs every second.
  • According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 12 million Americans were blogging in 2006, with about 57 million reading blogs. Fifty–four percent of bloggers are under the age of 30.

Benefits of Blogging

  • Blogs are another way to spread your message and get people to see your content. It’s one part of the communications mix, like e–mail alerts and RSS feeds.
  • Blogs put a human face on government. They can make government more "open" by allowing more interaction between government and its citizens.
  • Here's what others are saying about the benefits of blogs:
    • Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft: "It's all about openness. People see blogs as a reflection of an open, communicative culture that isn't afraid to be self–critical."
    • Gerry McGovern, Web Content Consultant: "Modern organizations are creating greater distance between themselves and their consumers. Self–service, automation, and outsourcing all reduce the number of opportunities the organization has to interact with the consumer. When the consumer can’t put a "face" on the organization it’s easy to see the organization as a faceless entity. Blogging has the potential to give a human face to the organization. The nature of blogging is personal and individualistic."
  • Having a blog can improve your placement in search results. Each time a blog is updated, an RSS feed goes out and "pings" search engines, so it's an excellent way to stay at the top of search results. Blogging and blog searching is becoming more and more popular, so getting your content into blogs helps bring more people to your site through search. Google created a special search engine just for blogs.
  • You can also encourage syndication of your blog through an RSS feed, so other folks might grab your feed and republish on their own websites. With this approach, you're really propagating information.
  • Creating a blog is fast and cheap. It's very easy to do and usually doesn't require technical skills.
  • If you allow the public to post comments to your blog, you have a finger on the pulse of your audience—the American public. A key component of blogging is that people can easily post replies to any comment the blogger makes and others can then comment on comments.
  • If your agency is prepared to listen, they can spot trends—negative and positive—early, and respond appropriately to them.
  • If done well, blogs can be a great source of market research, of new ideas, and feedback. They can be an excellent way to share and explore innovations, product concepts, etc.
  • They can be a way of knitting virtual teams together, especially when individual members live in multiple locations.
  • Blogs are also a record of knowledge work, and some organizations—such as Google, for example—use them to document product developments for patent application purposes.

Issues to Consider Before Starting a Blog

  • Think about the content you will publish. Is there enough to publish often enough and articulately enough to keep an audience informed and interested?
  • Who's allowed to post? What level of person will write the blog? Blogs require talented writers, as blogs are just another form of writing. You can't have a good blog without a good writer, with knowledgeable opinions or information.
  • How often will it be updated? The latest best practice shows that when a blog is first posted, it should be updated every day for the first 30 days (to establish a consistent relationship with the search engines). After the initial 30 days, it should be updated at least 2–3 times a week to stay high in the rankings.
  • What level of review do postings need? Blogs by definition are informal, individual communications, not organizational communications. Your agency should be prepared that the type of content that is expected for a blog is not the type of content that goes through a formal clearance process. Because blogs are frequently updated, they should not be forced to go through several layers of approval. That defeats the purpose and nature of blogging.
  • What can be posted? The strength of blogging is that it is individual rather than organization-focused. That means that the organization that wants to allow public blogging needs to address the issues or keeping on message while allowing freedom of expression and interaction. It's important to be open and transparent, but you'll need to set rules about what an employee is allowed to publish. These are not simple questions. You need to decide what policies, if any, are needed to ensure that postings are appropriate from individuals who represent the government organization.
  • How will you adapt to a new style of writing? More and more web users want to get information from a first person perspective and tone, even if they know that they are reading it in mass. They prefer the intimacy of the "me–talking–to–you" in a loosely formatted structure over the stylized and formatted products that we traditionally use in government. We need to communicate messages in a new style of writing. When you read a blog, it's clear that a human wrote it. How do we convey official information in the tone of a blog, as individual humans communicating to fellow humans, as opposed to communicating as nameless, faceless "government officials?"
  • What is the linking policy from your blog? Is it the same as from your website?
  • Will you allow public comments to be posted in response to your blog? (That is, two–way conversation rather than one–way). If so, will you moderate or edit the comments? Moderation is a good approach for government to be sure that inappropriate comments aren't posted to the blog; however, you need to be prepared that there may be accusations of censorship. Alternatively, you can set your blog to turn off comments. The downside is that you'll lose the interactive and open nature of the communication, which is one of the primary benefits of blogs. Be sure to post your comment policy on your blog.
  • When blogging, remember that the Web has a long memory. Do not publish any material on impulse. Ask these questions:
    • Who else might read it?
    • Supposing a prospective partner, stakeholder, or customer read it, what would they think?
    • Would you be willing to have it on the front page of the newspaper?
    • In what other ways might it be interpreted?
    • How will it stand up in a year? In 5 years?

Common Sense Guidelines for Bloggers

  • Write simply, concisely, and conversationally, using plain language guidelines.
  • Limit the length of your post.
  • Include an image in your post.
  • Avoid purposely writing incomplete sentences or omitting words.
  • Avoid slang and arcane terms, unless you define them.
  • Choose words that have as few syllables as possible.
  • Include serial commas for reading ease.
  • Be sure link phrases make sense when taken out of context.
  • Use keywords in links.
  • Use link descriptions, to fully explain a link, when possible.
  • Read your link aloud—is it easy to enunciate?
  • Never use "click here" or similar terms.

Challenges of Blogging

  • Writing blogs can be time consuming and can take time to succeed. Building credibility and trust takes time. So don't expect that, if and when you launch a blog, that it will be an overnight success. Blogging is a form of publishing and most publications that do succeed generally take a long time to build up a sustainable readership. You must be willing to put in quality blogging time week in, week out. A good idea might take up one paragraph, but could have taken a day or more to research and think through.
  • You need to consider issues of proprietary or confidential information, and how to handle potential defamatory language. These should be policies that your agency already has in place for other forms of communication.
  • In government, we must adhere to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Some government blogs such as USA.gov's Gov Gab state that it is unable to post comments from children under the age of 13, and invites children to email them rather than post public comments.
  • The emergence of blogging has brought a range of legal liabilities. Employers have fired their employees who maintain personal blogs that discuss their employers.
  • As informal as blogs are meant to be, if they're appearing on a government domain, they're official government communications. They're on the record and fair game for being picked up in the mainstream media. That doesn't mean you shouldn’t have a blog—you just need to think carefully about how to use it as an effective communications tool that can benefit both your agency and the public.

Examples of Government Agencies Using Blogs

  • The U.S. Government has entered the blogosphere. New government blogs are appearing regularly. USA.gov provides a Library of Federal Agency Blogs.
  • Most government blogs post comments. A few do not.
  • Federal agency external blogs tend to fall into several categories: 
  • Examples of external blogs from other levels of government:
  • Additional great possibilities exist for individual government web blogs. Imagine an astronaut blogging about space exploration, a marine biologist blogging about swimming with sharks, or a geologist blogging about the latest volcanic activity at Mount St. Helens.
  • In addition to external blogs for the public, the government uses blogs for internal communication within agencies, either as a collaborative tool or to inform an internal audience.
  • Examples of agencies with internal blogs:
    • CIA, for example, has more than 1,000 internal blogs. See the Federal Computer Week article on the CIA's blogs.
    • GAO: "We're using blog software to do one–way publishing of content in some instances. It's a convenient model for allowing multiple people to input content."

Examples of Blogging Policies



Web Manager University offers classes in social media, including the class, "Writing a Blog and Managing Comments," on February 5, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Additional Reading


Content Lead: Joanne McGovern

Page Updated or Reviewed: January 29, 2009

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