Federal Government Blogs & the Myth of Control

Blog discussions with marketing friends of mine like Skip Lineberg often end up with us trading war stories about potential clients.  They’re intrigued with blogging, but don’t want to allow comments and “lose control.”  There are many reasons not to start a blog (having a time constraint comes immediately to mind), but that fear is not one of them.

Friends, you’ve already lost control.

Blogging and Control

I’m not going to delve into a larger discussion of online reputation management in this post since I’ve covered it a lot recently.  Instead I want to focus on one specific idea: commenting.

Note bene: I don’t think all blogs need to allow comments.  The Direct Online Marketing Blog didn’t at first.  But way more often than not, you get a better, richer experience for everyone when you allow your readers to contribute.

The thing to keep in mind is that the conversation will happen somewhere.  The only question is: Do you want your Web site / blog to be a part of that conversation – a place where you have great influence and some minor degree of control (e.g. using the bully pulpit in choosing what topics to write about, which comments to expound upon)?

Comments are such a blessing when they come.  Trust me – it can be difficult for those of us not posting sex tape videos of Mini-Me to get comments.  If they’re positive, you’ve just gained some powerful advocates.  If they’re negative, that can be great, too.

Negative Blog Comments

Let’s assume for a second that any negative comments are legitimate and not a competitor fake commenting.  We’ll come back to that in a second.

I often quote my old boss’ father who used to tell him, “You only get two chances to make a first impression: the first time you meet someone and the first time you screw up.”**

If someone brings up a legitimate complaint or other opportunity issue (some might use the word “negative” in place of “opportunity”), that means you’ve just won half the battle.   You now have the opportunity to respond to them in your house!  [cue any stupid Under Armor commercial circa 2006 – “We must protect this…blog”]

 

I guarantee if you’re able to take care of the issue – whether it was 100% your fault, 0%, or anything in between – you’ll come off smelling as sweet as Frosty-dipped honeysuckle rolled in cookie dough.  If someone keeps hammering you about something that’s been resolved, typically your community will come to your rescue.

Now, let’s go back to every business person’s favorite paranoia – competitors fake commenting.  Seriously, I know my share of snaky business people out there, but why is this what seems to keep 75% of people with whom I speak up counting sheep at night?

If folks are attacking you unfairly, you’ll have your chance to respond and likely will have the community backing you up to tell folks to shut their yappers and quit threadjacking (taking the comment trail to an unnatural place off topic).

Remember, you also have all the administrative controls.  You can decide that commenters must be approved for the first comment (strongly recommended), approved for all comments (like we’re doing for the WV Jobs Blog), or never (bad mistake unless you love comment spam).

You can even edit or delete comments, but you need to be very careful here.  If folks think they’re having their speech censured unfairly (and almost every time is seen as unfairly as the Constitution clearly mentioned blog comments in the Freedom of Speech section), they’re likely to rebel. If you’re a high traffic blog with lots of passionate commenters, it’s a good idea to have a comment policy spelled out clearly.

Federal Government Blogging

Think recognizing that you have no control and posting a blog with commenting functionality on your Web site is difficult for your organization? Consider federal agencies, who by their very nature are bureaucratic, hierarchical, and very large. The US government should be the last place to adopt blogging.

Yet many government blogs (with commenting) are running right now as a way to reach out to us taxpayers. Here are just a handful of ones that are active and writing in a conversational tone:

  • TSA’s Evolution of Security. Comments galore, which one might expect from angry air travelers, which is exactly why it’s important for TSA to have one. Good on ya, mates!
  • AIDS.gov Blog. This blog and the site as a whole are really addressing and utilizing new media.
  • Library of Congress Blog. They’ve even partnered with flickr. Check out the cool old photo of America’s pastime.
  • Gov Gab. This blog from the Office of Citizen Services and Communications utilizes multiple posters (one sure-fire way to alleviate the time needed to blog).

Note bene #2 – we do some federal contracting work, but not currently with the above agencies.

It’s not just limited to the US, either. You never know what world leaders are out there blogging.

** I keep meaning to do a full post about this, but want to touch on it before I forget.  I used that quote about screwing up in the Next Generation Marketing conference series this past May.  A couple days after we did the Huntington, WV seminar, one of the attendees sent me an email.  Adam Daniels of First State Bank said that he created a standard form letter for mistakes.  Now whenever someone at the bank does and oopsie, they have a process to follow and a form letter they can customize for a quick response.  How brilliant is that?!?  I already told Adam I’m stealing that idea.

Justin Seibert

About The Author

Justin Seibert is the President of Direct Online Marketing. Justin holds a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University. He contributes a wide range of online business-oriented topics, including the subject of exporting. His contributions can be found on publications such as the Pittsburgh Business Times, AdAge, SES Magazine, and La Voz del interior. Justin and his family enjoy learning about new cultures during their travels.

View Justin's full bio.
Get a free, no-obligation consultation with a digital marketing expert