Post by: Kim Stephens
With Hurricane Sandy quickly approaching, I thought it might be interesting to discuss why a blog is an important platform for communicating information to your community. Even though I use this blogging site, I have never written explicitly about how public safety organizations are using or could use this powerful tool.
Blogging has been around for a long time, relatively speaking in the social media world. With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, YouTube etc. some people thought blogging would fade away, however, other social networks have actually increased the amount of traffic to blogs, not vice-versa. Why? Blogs are part of the social ecosystem. If your organization has an “integrated social ecosystem” it means that all of the content posted on each platform points to and supports the other. For example, if you write a blog post, some people may find the article by clicking a link you provided in a Tweet–in turn, other people may realize you have a Twitter account by seeing the Twitter feed on your blog; folks found your blog by clicking on a link from your website; they found the website by watching a video you produced on YouTube.
Does all of this seem a bit redundant? Couldn’t you simply post everything to one platform? I am not suggesting that your organization should participate on each of these social sites, however, each one does bring unique ways to provide information to your community and increases the chance that people who need the content will see it. Nonetheless, deciding to blog should start, at a minimum, by answering these three questions:
- What are the benefits to our organization for using this form of outreach?
- Do we have clear goals and objectives for this tool?
- Do we have the resources to support the use of this platform–e.g. who will write the content?
Top Five Reasons to use a Blog
Standing up a blog site to disseminate public health and safety information can provide several distinct benefits:
- A blog provides a place to discuss a topic that may be too complex for other channels and to give your topic or program a more personal and engaging presence than a website allows. (Source CDC)
- Since comments can be reviewed before being posted it can be considered a less risky platform;
- You can choose a free blog site with easy-to-use/easy-to-learn user interfaces (free attractive themes as well).
- It is easier to update a blog versus a website–which is an important consideration for crisis communications. Furthermore, some blogging platforms (such as WordPress.com) are mobile ready, meaning you can post from your iPad or iPhone, Android or Blackberry. The blog also looks quite nice to viewers via these same devices.
- Analytics are included–allowing you to understand if you are reaching your audience.
Public Safety Example
This wordpress.com blog “Wild Land Fires” was stood up by the USDA Forest Service and cooperating agencies during the summer of 2012 to provide information from the incident managers in charge of each fire in the region, which includes South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas. The site also included statewide and region-wide content. The purpose of the blog was to offer citizens a comprehensive, interagency look at wildland fires.
The content included maps (an example from the site has been embedded on the right), updates, and links for detailed information about individual fires. Each listed state had at least one active fire, most had more than three. For example, by clicking on South Dakota, the user could choose between the White Draw Fire, the Highlands Fire or the Crow Peak Fire.
This was a bit of an experiment by all involved since no interagency “social networking/collaborative” project of this nature had been tried before. I interviewed the project lead, Kris Ericksen, PIO for the Portland National Incident Management Team (a full time Incident Management Team), and she provided some great insights to how and why they decided to use these tools. She indicated that the blog, as well as all of the associated social media sites (Google+, a Twitter account, as well as a Facebook page) were stood up for the response because it is now an expectation of the citizen. She said “We are living in a refresh button world. People expect you to be listening and to answer their questions.” She acknowledged that this is difficult for some public safety professionals who are used to message control and sometimes fear what the public might say.
Why did they use a blog and other social sites when they already had inciweb? Answer, because these sites allow you to post and host things that inciweb cannot, for example, high resolution maps and podcasts, to name two. Furthermore, inciweb does not have a feedback mechanism–by using social media, you are building interactions, and hopefully, trust and credibility, with the community.
There were a few limitations, however, with the free blog site. For one, although the maps could be loaded and viewed, the ability to provide interactive maps was restricted with the .com versus the non-free .org version. They also learned from this effort about best practices regarding how to organize the blog and what templates to choose (there were some complaints, for example, about the black background).
Of note, they did place the blog in a social ecosystem–as mentioned, all of the other social sites they were using were linked to the blog (which they highlight on the “Welcome” landing page) and when a new blog post went up it was Tweeted out, linked to on Google+ and mentioned on Facebook.
What platform is best?
There are several blogging platforms:
The two I would recommend are: Blogger.com ( a Google product) or WordPress.com (the site you are currently viewing is on wordpress.com). Each one has pros and cons, but the technology is quite similar. Ultimately it is your organization’s decision, but HowTo.gov (a federal site) recommends following these guidelines when choosing a tool:
- What are your overall goals, budget, and technical capabilities?
- Decide whether a particular tool is affordable, fits into your current infrastructure, and gives you what you need to meet the goals of your blog.
- Do you need a hosted or stand-alone blog?
- Hosted blog: a company provides the space to store (host) your blog. Blog hosting may be free or fee-based, and each company may offer a different array of services.
- Stand-alone blog: you host your blog on your own network. It allows great freedom to customize your blog, and gives you full control of the design; however, it is more complicated and costly than a hosted blog.
- Will your blog be written by one person, or multiple authors?
- Multiple-author blogging might have different requirements, such as separate accounts for each blogger.
- Where will you post?( e.g. Do you need a tool that allows remote posting, from mobile devices, etc.?)
- Does the tool comply with government policy–such as Section 508 accessibility guidelines, to ensure it’s accessible for people with disabilities or security policy–to ensure it’s in a securely hosted environment?
- Follow this link to see features of WordPress: “Getting Started Support.”
- The video below, How to start a Blogger.com site, gives you a quick overview their platform:
(This content was originally posted on WMASMEM.wordpress.com as part of a project I was involved with sponsored by the Western Region Homeland Security Council.)
As a blogger myself, I see blog as part of the “social conversation continuum” … a place where ideas and positions can be expanded upon, explained and debated … sometimes, you do need more than 140 characters!