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HHS Blog Guidance

Effective blogs cultivate their own identity through the conversational tone of the posts, engage their audience through comments, and are responsive to their readers and the overall dialogue in the blogosphere.

Why Blogs Are Important

  • Blogs are a more intimate way to convey your message and a unique way to get people involved through interaction. It’s one part of the communications mix, like e–mail alerts and press releases.
  • Blogs put a human face on government and often have their own “voice” and personality.
  • Blogs can make government more open by allowing interaction between government and its citizens.
  • Blogs can foster a community of individuals in which they can access, discuss, and share information around a common interest.

When should my office/agency NOT use a Blog?

Before you commit, it is important to note that there are considerable resources involved in managing a Federal blog.  A successful blog needs dedicated resources, time, and staff to moderate comments and make it an effective communication tool.  It also requires a commitment.  The first few entries are fun, even exciting.  Without purpose and commitment, they quickly become a chore.  Irregular and infrequent blogging eventually fails.

Do NOT use a blog if:

  • You cannot commit or do not have the time to consistently write and publish content often enough to keep an audience informed and interested. Do not use press releases as a substitute for actually writing a post that will engage your audience.  Blog readers do not appreciate shameless self-promotion, and on a Federal blog, that type of content reinforces a perception of government as a faceless bureaucracy.
  • You do not have the resources or staff for the following responsibilities:
    • Reviewing blog posts for typos, grammatical errors, content clearance by someone other than the author.
    • Moderating and reviewing comments for
      • Preventing spammers from posting harmful links to sites that might contain malware
      • Protecting commenters new to blogging from inadvertently posting their personal contact info (people will occasionally leave a phone number or address in a comment)
      • Filtering for personal attacks and offensive content
      • Ensuring reporters do not inappropriately leave comments and attempt to circumvent their established media contacts.
    • Managing the technical side of the blog including designing the look and feel of the blog and posting individual entries as well as associated images or files.
    • Monitoring and Reporting regularly on activity within the blog as well as in the rest of the blogosphere related to your blog.  Readers will quickly realize if the blog is a one-way channel, disregarding comments and the voice of the blogosphere.

Promoting the blog.  Just because you build it, does not necessarily mean they will come.

When should my office/agency use a Blog vs. another tool?

First of all, you (and/or someone from your team) should experience blogs first-hand. Go find a blog and read and follow it.  Take note of what you like about the better blogs and what makes them effective.  Open up a personal account and try keeping a journal about a personal interest.  If you still don’t get it, at least you will know how it functions.

Second, define your objectives and target audience to determine if using a blog as a social media tool is appropriate for that audience.  Consider the following questions with your target audience in mind:

  • Are the stakeholders you are trying to reach currently engaged in the blogosphere?
  • If they are not currently engaged, are they likely to engage in the blogosphere?
    • Will you be able to engage them?
  • Are you filling a need and adding value for your target audience by creating a blog, or are you duplicating current efforts?
  • Is blogging the most efficient, effective way to meet your communication goals?

Consider the following examples of types of blogs/ posts and how your office/agency might effectively engage your target audience:

  • Explanatory – Provide an analogy or tell a story as an engaging way of explaining a complex process or concept to your readers.
  • Interviews– Interview an expert on a relevant subject.  Interview posts are a way to share the expertise or opinion from a credible source that may not have time to write for your blog, or may not feel comfortable writing in the conversational style characteristic of blogs.
  • Profile– Focus on a particular case study, organization or interesting personality and the characteristics that have lead to success.  Sometimes these are more like reviews with instructional content to them and suggestions for improvement.
  • Informational–Share articles, Websites, postings, etc. that relate to your topic by summarizing, interpreting, or linking to other content on the Web.
  • Contrasting Perspectives – Outline both sides of a perspective, project, service or approach.
  • Success Stories –Tell a story of success or paint a picture of what could be. These posts can be inspirational and motivational. Your audience can share ideas, resources, or stories on similar experiences.
  • Critique Posts – Review a project undertaken by your office or another organization and discuss lessons learned by identifying elements that contributed to success, unanticipated challenges, and constructive alternatives.
  • Event Blog- Give up-to-date information about a progressing current event over the course of several weeks or even several hours. These blogs state up-front that they are active for a finite amount of time and often have more frequent posts than other types of blogs.
  • Solicit Ideas- Ask your audience for input on a future project or feedback on a project as it progresses.

Setting up your blog

Blogging Software Platform- Consult other offices regarding their experiences and satisfaction with various blogging platforms.  If your office will be using a software provider that offers free services to users, be sure to check that HHS has signed a Terms of Service agreement with that provider.The blogging platform, and all posts and comments must meet Section 508 requirements for accessibility.  Read more about requirements for Section 508.

About Page- Be clear about what the blog represents (e.g., what initiative of which Office/Agency) and what the scope of the blog is.

Comment Policy- State the expectations for conduct of your readers and tell them what they can expect in return.  Be prepared to anticipate comments that may express views ranging from full support to total opposition; full discourse should be allowed within the limits of the comment policy. This page should also include information on privacy and disclaimer. See the comment policy for the Center for New Media for an example or as a model to create your own.

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Tips for Effective Blogs

  • Write simply, concisely, and conversationally, using plain language guidelines.
  • Avoid acronyms, slang and jargon, unless it is appropriate for your audience or you provide definitions.
  • No ghostwriting. Be honest about who is writing your posts.
  • Limit the length of your post.
  • Create a title for each post.
  • Use categories, tags, and archives to organize your content.
  • Include images in your post when appropriate.
  • Links within the blog are encouraged, but links to non-federally managed sites or content should use the standard exit icon (Exit Icon).
  • Avoid overwhelming the reader with facts and figures. Keep it simple and link to more details.
  • Engage your readers and be responsive to their comments.  They will quickly learn if it is a one-way channel and lose interest.
  • Be committed to reading every comment received, even if you do not post a response.