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Project of the Week – “Around the Corner”

Over the past year or so, blogs in the federal space have become more common and are increasingly being used to share information and ideas both internal and external to the agencies. Some great examples are Air Force Blogspot, Navy CIO, and NASA Blogs. OMB Director Peter Orszag just started a blog and the Obama Administration launched a White House Blog.

Govloop community member and the General Services Administration’s Chief Information Officer Casey Coleman who has been blogging internally for about a year and a half, launched a public facing blog in December 2008. “Around the Corner” focuses on “Innovation in the Business of Government”. Just a few weeks ago, Casey was interviewed on Federal News Radio by Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris as part of the Meet the Innovator series. During the interview, Casey talks about her personal interest in innovation and her interest in the role innovation plays in the federal government, technology in general and especially in the climate of public trust, and managing taxpayer dollars. She posits to answer how can feds be innovative and at the same time manage risk and make improvements in a service oriented environment. She cited Gary Hamel’s “Help Reinvent Management for the 21st Century” as recommended reading this area.

I interviewed Casey for the Govloop Project of the Week because I have a personal interest in what it takes to blog and also because I’m a huge fan of hers. And yes, ok, we are friends too. If you haven’t had an opportunity to meet her or hear her speak, be sure to try and do so. As an aside, I Googled “Casey Coleman” and 13,500 results were returned including Casey Coleman Fashions, and a Cleveland Browns football player named Casey Coleman. I think Casey Coleman Fashions must be her side job – if you meet her, you’ll see why.

I asked Casey what the goal of her external blog is and she answered that she’s “interested in connecting the federal government with other organizations such as non-profits and educational institutions to strengthen those linkages and improve government.” She’s interested in gaining knowledge and being able to share that knowledge with others. This is also a learning experience for her and is helping her to be better educated about using technology in more innovative ways which ultimately improves GSA’s and government’s use of technology.

Preparing to launch a blog. Three components needed to be addressed – policy, technical and content. The GSA Office of the CIO worked with GSA’s Office of General Counsel and GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications to develop a couple of policies. First, a GSA Blog policy was created and Casey credits the work of GSA’s GovGab and the work of the State Department on the DipNote blog as laying the foundation for the GSA policy. Then, the Terms of Service for the blog itself needed to be created. The Terms of Service addresses the comments posting policy, product references, linking policy, disclaimers, copyright information, and privacy.

For a technical hosting solution, several options such as www.blogger.com and www.wordpress.com were explored. Ultimately, a Lotus Notes platform was chosen (GSA uses IBM’s Lotus Notes for email and other applications).

And then there’s content. Casey’s internal blogging helped her to prepare for public blogging which can be a bit intimidating. She shared several initial concerns that appear to be common among new bloggers. You ask yourself “who cares what I have to say”. You wonder about the content being misinterpreted or the appearance of showing favoritism to a product or company and of course there’s apprehension related to potential criticism.

Casey reads lots of blogs – check out her Blogroll on her blog homepage – and these blogs were helpful to her getting started. Casey and a staff member (the indispensable Rick Murphy) prepared about a dozen posts prior to launching. Approximately half of them have been used so far. “Around the Corner” receives approximately 200-300 views a week. So far, she’s had a positive response to the blog posts which she really enjoys crafting.

So what effort is involved to blog? There’s the time commitment which Casey estimates to be four to eight hours a week for both Rick and her. Rick helps her with topic ideas, research, and writing the posts. There is a need to post on a regular basis and she targets posting at least weekly. Blog posts should obviously be timely and current, of interest to you and your intended audience. She also says it’s critical to use your voice, be yourself and make sure that your online “personalities” are all connected and in synch.

Where do ideas come from? Just about everywhere. Conferences, forums or events she’s attended (see her recent posts on Microsoft’s TechFest and the annual Consumer Electronics Show), articles she’s reading, conversations or items posted on Facebook or Twitter. Casey is an avid user of several social networking tools such as Twitter (you can follow her @caseycoleman), Facebook and LinkedIn.

I asked about measures of success – specifically how do you know if you are achieving your goal and communicating effectively with the audience? While benchmarks aren’t well established, a few of the obvious ones are page views and comments. In addition, she mentioned some current research pertaining to the development of business cases and ROI for social media implementation. This research focuses on some of the seemingly more intangible benefits such as increasing productivity, improving conflict resolution and facilitating the decision making process.

Finally, I asked her if she’s had to make any adjustments or tweak anything since she began. She replied that she continues to work on the content and she’s also learning to use some of her communities such as Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about the blog.

Casey says her blogging experience has been enjoyable, worth trying and encourages people to experiment with it. She said you might want to start internally at first and see if it’s meant for you. She feels it’s a great way to get your message out, have dialogue and connect with people.

In her free time, she enjoys racquetball, road and mountain biking with her husband Steve, and working on the never ending home improvement projects.

Want to hear more about Casey’s blogging in her own words? Check out Chris Dorobek’s interview with Casey or read her article about blogging on FedScoop.

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Greg Berry

Great job Mary! Thank you for “introducing” me to Casey. The timing couldn’t be better, we are launching our new blog soon (since Google deleted our old one for reasons unknown to us) and it gave me some ideas on how to structure it better.

Martha Przysucha

Thank you Mary, and Casey! This is an excellent intro to those considering launching a blog or just trying to understand social media. I’m interested in the measurements for ROI on social media implementations. Will watch for more from GSA!