As more than one of today’s speakers said, a good talk starts with bragging, moves on through philosophical meandering and ends with something interesting. All elements of today’s GovBlogCamp – with an emphasis on the interesting.

Organised by GDS (credit to the team, it all went really smoothly – great venue in Bermondsey) this was the first time members of the government blogging community had been brought together to share ideas and ask questions. And that community is bigger than people think “92 blogs with over 7 million visitors”.

First sessions contained a healthy dose of nostalgia, led by Giles Turnbull  of GDS, who illustrated his blogging credentials with screenshots from blog platforms of long ago. Anyone remember blogger? I  love his sentiments “blog, as though there are no rules…… because there ARE no rules” and “the web belongs to everyone, so make your bit of it reflect you”. Also the thought provoking “contradiction is OK, it shows an organisation can adapt and change. He ended with some reasons to blog, which included: thinking out loud, documentin the dull stuff, and talking to your future self. He also name checked Janet Hughes’ excellent post on boldness.

Next up was Neil Williams, head of the GOV.UK team at GDS, who is no.1 ambassador for civil servants and blogging. He described how his team are all encouraged to contribute, post about what they are working on, share learning and challenges – its a way they talk to each other, and how stakeholders talk to them. He too injected a dose of nostalgia – first by reminding us of his own credentials to speak about blogging – as the civil servant who set up the first ministerial blog.

Neil with the first ministerial blog: David Miliband at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Neil with the first ministerial blog: David Miliband at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

He moved on to show a slide which gathered some of the early pioneers of blogging in government – I’m honoured to share a screen with people who I have enjoyed reading and learned lots from.

Neil with some of the early government bloggers

Neil with some of the early government bloggers

His “reasons to blog” include that it saves you time, helps you think (‘rubber ducking‘ is a new term to me, but I recognise exactly what it means), helps build confidence and make you bolder (2nd ref to Janet’s post), and helps you do what matters. Top tips: keep it varied, talk – don’t (just) announce, embrace individuality, and lower the barrier to entry.

Next session was led by Louise Duffy of GDS, who described how she handles planning and shared some of the things that can derail even the best laid plans. These include long sign-off chains (familiar to many in the room!).

Pete Wilson of InnovateUK shared lessons from their first year of running a blog. Lots of familiar experiences:

  • Blogs are ravenous – consistency is more important than frequency, and the importance of engaging with authors
  • Process is not a dirty word – running a blog with lots of authors needs co-ordination, someone has to own it
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of images
  • Not everyone is a Hemmingway – convincing people who are used to writing academic papers or business cases about the different style needed for writing a blog post takes effort, he talked about the value of good headlines, and constructing a good story
  • Comments – see photo below
Pete Wilson with his comment categories

Pete Wilson with his comment categories

A series of sessions advertised as clinics – which turned into roundtable Q&A, was followed by Sam Spindlow from Public Health England, who asked some questions which challenged current assumptions. Lots to think about including:

  • the growth in some of the major platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google offering quick access to content
  • established wisdom around non-duplication of content (although I’ve always thought that if the mantra of placing your content where your audience already is, is true, then you will always need to place it in more than one channel – unless your audience is very small!)
  • thoughts about the statement “don’t build on a rented lot” – eg don’t put a lot of effort into something that may not exist the next day, or change the rules so your material is no longer findable.

I think a lot of people will be looking into Facebook instants! And I’d be interested to talk to anyone with experience of Medium as a blog platform – especially to share content among a specific community.

Penultimate session was led by the double act of Kirsty Edwards and Andrew Rees from the Intellectual Property Office. Introduced as “a department who doesn’t write like government” they shared some of their skill in breathing life into seemingly dry content. Part of their skill is I think in building a community of people who actually want to share stories about things they are passionate about. I’ll be reading Girl with a Curl, Discover the Force and many more on their site. They shared lots of tips on how best to exploit opportunities, including scheduling posts to match popular topics (although advised steering clear of dead celebrities!).

And final speaker was Stuart Heritage – aka Man with a Pram. Neil managed to capture his list of reasons not to blog, which followed closely on his assertion that most of the good things in his life had come to pass because of blogging…… There were lots of wry references to live blogging the Eurovision song contest (get the strong impression its not top of his list of fun things). To follow the model of a good talk described at the start of this post, he ended with some useful stuff around finding time, finding inspiration and finding your voice (in order – routine, audience, and practise).

And as with all good workshops, besides what was actually said, I’ve got tons of scribbled notes on tangents and thoughts that speakers sparked off – lots of good ideas and lots to follow up.

 

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