By Georgette Deemer - House Majority Communications Director
Earlier this month, I attended the National Conference of State Legislatures professional development seminar for communications and leadership staff in Anchorage, and blogging, podcasting and using new media at state legislatures were a large part of the agenda. Here are some highlights:
Jimmy Orr, online editor for the Christian Science Monitor, was the opening session key note speaker. In former lives, Orr was the White House e-communications guy, and he also developed Gov. Schwarzennegger's website. His main message was to emphasize the importance of new content on your site, for it is the power of unique content (even it's Barneycam) that will drive traffic to your site or blog.
Having worked for government, Orr lasered in on the precise problem that many legislative sites may encounter, this blog included. Problem #1 for government sites is that they look like...well...government sites. Problem #2 is that they often have a .gov extension, and that's an immediate turn-off. Problem #3 is that government sites should, but don't, follow the private sector regarding what makes a site successful. Anything that looks/sounds canned or staged is a sure recipe for no traffic, as are complimentary puff pieces and talking points. Realness, even if it's not pretty, is important.
The Blogging 101 workshop was particularly popular - I think we'll start to see more and more state legislative blogs after Ric Cantrell from the Utah Senate Site, and Rob Weber who does Kentucky Capitol Notes, shared their experiences and showed how easy it is to put up a blog. The harder part is convincing your leadership and caucuses that a blog can be an effective communications tool, especially when you are opening yourself up to comments - sometimes negative, sometimes anonymous. The other hard part is having the discipline and inventiveness to find something new and unique to post every day.
Ric, my blog mentor, has a particularly good perspective on the pros and cons, ups and downs of blog life. He says:
1. Be ready for the flash flood.
2. Traditional media is good. Web 2.0 is good, fun and new, but limited.
3. Effective new media is authentic, terse, humble, human, humorous, and conscious of the blog community.
4. The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.
5. The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Kim and I have enjoyed working on this blog; we would like to build up the readership, not just among bloggers but soccer moms too. Toward that end, we're eager for comments and suggestions, even criticism, on how to make this blog better. From my perspective, the legislature is a fascinating place, and we'd love to be able to convince a whole lot of young people that they can make a difference through politics and public service. We're not exactly sure what to expect when session starts in January, but we're fairly confident that having the blog will engage more people in political debate and the legislative process, and hopefully we won't have to resort to posting sports news and "fuud" pix to get more traffic.