Writing for the web is one of those sorts of concepts that gets bandied around at seminars in Shoreditch and claustrophobic training courses. As a concept, it’s had a rough few years: it has been tarred with the SEO brush and for the longest time assumed that the most important reader was the search engine spider rather than the actual audience.
Now, this isn’t to say that the received wisdom around F-shape reading patterns, front loading content and so on isn’t useful (even if sometimes it feels a bit artificial); but there is nothing that can take the place of well-thought-through content. All the paragraphing and content pyramids on earth can’t replace enthusiasm for a subject.
Writing good content is tough work; it can be a strain to go from your normal day to day work to getting into a creative space. You have to really care about what you’re writing about, and come at the subject with enthusiasm.
Institutional blogs can do fantastic work with the right authors. Just look at the Wellcome Trust, Nottingham’s politics department and some of the BBC blogs (it might be cheating if you are already a journalist though). These work because their authors are well informed and enthusiastic, they’re subject experts and it comes across in the way that they engage with their audience.
This brings us on to one of our projects that launched a month or so ago: blog.gov.uk. It is currently playing host to the History of Government blog which takes posts from Whitehall insiders and guest historians to paint an engaging portrait of British government over the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s early days for the blog, but the posts up there so far are superb and well worth a read.
The strength of the blog is in getting away from a standard “what have we been up to” corporate blog. The institutional knowledge held by the team at No. 10 means that they can write about topics that might otherwise only get glancing mentions from journalists and historians.
What helps here is having rules. GDS have written about some of the requirements for having a blog on this platform and they are all really sensible. Writing takes time, editing takes skill and unless you have an audience to read it then it is a waste. The three points that they emphasise are to “commit to posting regularly, ensure content is distinct & unique and follow our points of style”. We couldn’t agree more.
The right tool for the job
Ultimately, we’re really proud of our work on the blogging platform. It is exactly how government blogging should work: it doesn’t suffer from “not invented here syndrome”. Using WordPress is a pretty obvious fit for what is needed – easy to learn and a great way for publishing content. But from the other side, it means that there will be a bit of uniformity across the blogs: it won’t go from a blogger to a wordpress to tumblr, so it avoids all sorts of headaches in trying to maintain consistency for the user.
We’re really looking forward to seeing which other departments share their stories.