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DorobekInsider: TSA blog as a government 2.0 example

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TSA's Evolution of Security blog

TSA's Evolution of Security blog

Last week, I mentioned that I attended a forum on government 2.0 sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council titled “Evolution of the Web: How Social Networking is Changing the Way Government Does Business.” And I reported that one of the superstars of that panel was TSA and Lynn Dean, who is the manager of strategic and Web communications in the Transportation Security Agency’s Office of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs.

Last week, I posted about TSA’s Idea Factory, which is a wonderful example. But TSA has another really excellent example: it’s public blog.

I have to be very honest: I said privately — if not publicly — that I thought that concept of a TSA blog was… well, if I didn’t say foolish, it wasn’t far from it. My thinking then was that blogs build are a way to build community and why, after all, would somebody return regularly to the TSA blog?

But I have been proven abundantly wrong. The TSA blog is one of the most read government blogs and, perhaps more importantly, gets scores of comments.

Strangely, I underestimated the power of a blog. (Shame on me.) What the TSA blog has given the organization is something that is so important for government organizations — for most organizations: transparency. It gives the TSA an opportunity to talk about the issues that TSA officers deal with — and why they deal with the issues the way they do.

So yes, there are the obvious public outreach benefits, but there are also benefits for TSA, Dean said. “It is a great reality check to hear what people think,” she said. Many of those are misconceptions, but… that is important to know as well.

That transparency also has garnered some respect even among us cynical media type. A case in point: Remember the story earlier this year that said that authorities at the airport could confiscate your laptop without any reason. Needless to say, it freaked people out. AndTSA started getting pings. But it was TSA — it was Customs. And TSA got some praise in places such as Wired magazine’s blog for clearing up the misunderstanding. Wired.com’s Threat Level blog even gave TSA some positive press.

Dean acknowledged that it was no small fete to get the TSA blog up and going. And the IT organization was no help — shame on them. (After I heard Dean, I poked around with some TSA folks I know and they told me that the IT organization originally told them it would cost $600,000 to get a blog up and running. One wise IT person finally just suggested, ‘Um, can’t we just use Blogger [Google’s blogging software], which is free?’

So one lesson for IT organization’s is you better figure out how to implement these different Web 2.0 tools are people are going to find ways to bypass you. And, on the flip side of that, for program people, if you’re told something akin to a $600,000 figure to start a blog, go to somebody else in the IT organization until you find the creative innovator.

Back to Dean’s presentation: One of the challenges that TSA faced soon after launching the blog was… catching up with the success.

Once TSA launched the blog in January 2008, within three days, they had received some 2,000 comments. “Early it was ‘This is great,'” Dean said, until they realized that they had to review all of those comments. (Most agencies have a policy that comments need to be reviewed before they are posted to the agency’s Web site. That being said — and it is an important point — TSA has been careful not to censor. They will not post comments that are dangerous or insightful, but they do not censor comments critical of the organization.)

It is important to speak candidly about risk, consequences and strategy, Dean said.

Dean also had to find people who could feed the blog beast. To do that, she did a Google blog search for ‘work at TSA.’ The blogs she found were specifically not about TSA, but they were people who know about blogs — and blogging. They had a predilection to understand what TSA was trying to accomplish.

So, Dean’s tips:

* You have to convince the skeptics — and cover your basis (legal, IT, security)
* Recruit the appropriate staff who get it
* Develop a strategy of what you are trying to accomplish
* Be responsive to readers, to internal concerns.
* Run your blog by being honest and transparent. That’s the point, after all

One demonstration of success came with this comment:

wow, reading this blog actually makes me think that TSA might know what they’re doing.
feb. 11, 2008, 9:43p

Later, I’ll re-offer my tips to bloggers.

Written by cdorobek

October 6, 2008 at 11:23 PM

One Response

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  1. […] are blogs. Yes, there are a growing number of government blogs, and there have been some, such as TSA’s blog, that have been very successful in spurring change in ways that I — and I think TSA — […]


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