The BIS blog. Why were we waiting?

Somewhere in my attic, buried under all the baby toys and junk, there’s a signed letter from David Miliband thanking me for building his blog. It was the first one by a Cabinet Minister, started on his own initiative at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, managed by me under the wing of Edward Venning. It felt like the start of something big and, to my delight, it followed Miliband’s career to Defra then FCO, leaving a trail of blog love (of varying duration) in his wake.

That was five and a half years ago, when the medium was already six years old. Corporate blogging has long since gone mainstream, including a growing list of official blogs on government domains.

So why has it taken me* until now to launch a blog for BIS?

Well, various reasons.

  1. You can lead a horse to water

    But you can’t make it blog. Finding a minister who wants a blog is easy. Securing time in his or her diary to write, dictate or even approve posts less so. Getting them to commit to regular posts and engage in the comments is practically impossible. And if you do find one, you’ve then got to convince his or her private office to help too. After Miliband left ODPM/CLG, we flogged at least one such thirsty horse pointlessly to death and I’ve no intention of doing that again.

  2. Corporate blogs can be deadly

    It’s hard to be interesting and manage reputation at the same time. Clearance can squeeze all that is good about a blog post dry. Arguably Ministers are the people least able to say something fresh, because anything in their name can and will be construed as policy no matter what disclaimers you wrap around it. That’s not to say it can’t work – just that the constraints make something already difficult, harder. Small wonder our focus has been on enabling specialist, topical conversations instead.

  3. These things take time

    Truly, it is a massive timesink. Once that machine starts churning you’ve got to keep feeding it and feeding it with choice cuts of prime blog meat. People have quite reasonable doubts whether doing so will get the best return for their scarce time. If the audience is small, was all that effort worth it? If the audience is big, who is going to read and respond to all those comments? Not me, says everyone in unison.

  4. It still feels – actually is – a bit risky

    You’d be amazed at just how much buy-in there isn’t to opening up discussions on all but the nichest of niche topics on a government department’s own website. The spectre of the diary story or front page PR own-goal is ever present, and very real; the frustration for authors of unanswered comments even presenter and realer.

  5. It, and I, feel a bit older (possibly wiser)

    I don’t subscribe to any of that blogging is dead nonsense but it’s certainly true that the game has changed. Comments on posts (that once great measure of success and motivational aid to the blogger) are on the wane thanks to Twitter and Facebook, and the idea of trying to attract an audience to your site to engage with you feels archaic rather than talking to people on the blogs and sites where they already hang out.

With all that in mind, though, the benefits (I won’t regale you with those) of corporate blogging far outstrip the drawbacks and we found ourselves in something of a perfect storm of late.

Convergence towards a single BIS domain meant we needed to move some existing blogs around. Some thorny communications challenges galvanised interest in unmediated, owned channels. An appetite for raising the profile of Ministers with stakeholders gave us the opening to pitch the blog. And a supportive senior manager and some hard-to-keep-up-with Joneses helped seal the deal.

Plus we’re doing things differently. This isn’t a Vince Cable blog. This is a shared, BIS blog, where we aim to bring together many voices – ministers, guests, policymakers – to get feedback, explain how their work fits together and helps BIS deliver economic growth. That should go a long way to minimising dependency on busy Ministers, keeping it interesting, and spreading the support effort (and benefits and learning!) around different teams.

For now it’s a quiet launch. There are creases to iron out. We’ll give it our best shot and see how it goes.

And in case you are wondering, we might well follow Stephen and Jimmy’s lead in using this for official digital team blogging, which would pose interesting questions for me about what I write about here instead of there.

*It was barely me at all. I just said yes, sent some emails and made nit-picking comments. Credit belongs to Paul Melhuish and Rhys Stacker before him for warming up Ministers, press and private offices, and fighting for it to happen; Jenny Poole, Steph The Excellent and Paul Hosking for the tech, creative and ideas; plus a bunch of forward-thinking press officers, SpAds and senior communications colleagues for seeing the light.

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Comments

Thanks for an interesting and thoughtful piece about government blogging which I read with interest. In my personal view I would concur with varying strength with the points you raise. Your reference to David Miliband was welcome and he deserves some credit for inspiring a culture of blogging at the FCO. Having someone at the very top of an organisation blogging regularly and more importantly valuing and taking an interest in blogging really does inspire others in the organisation to take up blogging. The FCO has a healthy roster of bloggers and should anyone question whether blogging is worthwhile the recent #IDAHO day saw the FCO bloggers are there best, one example from many here: http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/guy/entry/international_day_against_homophobia_idaho

I realise your post is specifically about ministers blogging but it not all about them so I am glad the BIS Digital Team may take up the blog banner and share some of the secrets behind BIS’s digital success.

However in my personal view blogging does not always fill me with the joys of Spring. Words like ‘blogging’ and phrases such as ‘I am a blogger’ need to interrogated further, you will be pleased to know I will not subject you to it here but make a few random points:

* Blogging is not dead but it has changed not just under pressure from Twitter but in ways that we need to rethink what we consider is a blog post and who we can consider to be blogger.

* ‘Bloggers’ are under pressure from perhaps outdated ideas about how often you should blog ‘one post a week please’ however in an ideal world every blogger would be matched up with a Twitter profile to survive. Indeed macro and micro blogging are complimentary.

* Posting short messages to Twitter is that blogging? perhaps it is, so for example you post some tweets about an issue over the week then say in two weeks you bring together on your macro blog then you could use Storify and bring the micro and the macro blog together in a blog post. Jimmy Leach did something akin to this here: http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/leach/entry/alphagov_a_vision_for_government

* ‘Look Aliens are visiting the UK next week can you set up a blog for me, I think they would like that’ and how long do you think you will be blogging for “well a week at best” at least until the Aliens go home. This aspect frustrates me as I saw blogging on a government platform as a privelege not some digital takeaway to be scoffed over a week and then neglected.

* Like the weekend rock stars they may have a point, blogging needs to be more agile, responsive and yes short term. So lets accommodate the group blogs and the short term blogs and as you mention in your piece lets call them ‘voices’. The term blogger brings baggage, expectation and the prospect of a time resource commitment. Bring these voices together in a Blogazine as you are doing. The blog tent just go bigger and should make room for all sorts of style and time commitments.

Good work by the team and I like the collegiate approach. Are we deliberately hiding it from the casual website visitor? Unless my iPhone is messing around I can’t see any links from the homepage.

We’ll link it up soon. It’s partly strategy (let it grow by word of mouth, integrate it when there’s more to see) and partly that the guys in the team didn’t have time to even speak to each other about it last week, apart from in passing. This week, will sort it, you’re right.

innovia-4 thanks
innovia Good work by the team and I like the collegiate approach. Are we deliberately hiding it from the casual website visitor?ortasinifevsahibioluyor
thank you …

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