11 December 2005

Enterprise Blogs and Wikis - Reaching Out to Your Public

Blogging, in an earlier post, has been described as a key Web 2.0 technology capable of changing the corporate "push/pull" email paradigm. Blogging can be invaluable when reaching out to clients and establishing a more intimate relationship with them. This finding applies to governments too - by establishing a more direct contact with the public they serve.

Adapting Larry Bouthillier's Enterprise Blogs as Content Management findings and findings of another article from the Harvard Business School by Katherine Heires, titled Does Your Company Belong in the Blogosphere? to a governmental context; we have the following principles:
  • Develop a distinct focus and goal. Governments and Departments are, typically, very large. Each blog should have a distinct focus and goal, aligned with the Departmental Public Relations strategy. Departments can host several public blogs. Instead of attempting to figure out which blogs to have and not to have, it might be advisable to let employees come forward with blog proposals.
  • Choose the right mix of technologies. Depending on the focus and goal of the blog, a blog might turn out not to be the appropriate solution. Perhaps a public Departmental or Agency wiki would be more appropriate, in effect, establishing a joint government / public content management system in a specific areas. Hopefully, an increasing number of conferences and learning opportunities, such as the Gilbane Conference on Content Management Technologies, will help public servants to develop a better picture of web 2.0 technologies.
  • Feature an authentic voice. If one public servant had the imagination and initiative to put forward a blog proposal and the proposal is accepted, hopefully, that employee will be able to manage that blog himself or herself instead of seeing his idea taken to the Public Relations Department. Canned blogs will not sustain interest from the public. The concept of candid publishing can be frightening to some public servants, however, if some private sector executives are seeing the benefit of blogging, why not blogging for the Public Service? Case in point (from Katherine Heires' article cited above):
"When Bob Lutz, the vice chairman of product development at General Motors, wants to get quick feedback from consumers on the company's latest product launch, new strategy, or something as specific as the quality of the sheet-metal fits on the latest Chevrolet, he knows where to go: his corporate blog, http://fastlane.gmblogs.com.

Lutz is among a small but growing number of corporate executives who have started to experiment with blogs—Web-based commentary sites usually written in a first-person, conversational manner—to connect with customers online and advance corporate communications and marketing goals."
  • Promote transparency. Under the Access to Information Act, Canadians have access to most governmental records. Short of a document, record or information being protected or classified within the meaning of the Canadian federal Government Security Policy, senior management and their political masters have the power, if they so choose, to encourage a culture of transparency with the Canadian Public extending to the creation of public blogs.
  • Accept candid comments and criticism. Readers can comment blog posts. The institution should embrace comments and criticism as an essential part of healthier democracies.
  • Influence the public conversation. Governments steer a number of programs and they are not always understood by the public. Blogs could well serve governments in disseminating information about their programs in a more dynamic, two-way conversation fashion. The media will also be able to find more easily accurate program information and latest developments.
  • Embrace risk. Instead of discarding public blogs and wikis on the basis of possible problems or embarrasment, there should be an appreciation that benefits of a more dynamic contact with the Canadian public is worth those risks. In the words of Pete Blackshaw, quoted in the Harvard Business School article referred to earlier, "[i]f your legal department requires three weeks' review time before you turn around a posting for your blog, you are not a good candidate for blogging".
Who knows, perhaps that direct contact between the Canadian Public and the Public Service, by leveraging Web 2.0 technologies, will find Canadians developing a healthier appetite for social issues?