The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK (the FCO) has launched a revamped website this week (see here). I know that it has been a major undertaking (see the blog from Emma who worked on the new site here) and is part of a wider policy across UK government of rationalising and improving websites. But the FCO site goes above and beyond what I might have expected and uses techniques and elements that are not seen on many corporate sites. In particular I am impressed how they have turned what was very much a site that pushed messages out to its readers (be it travel advice or policies) to one which engages them. Perhaps the best example of this is the site’s use of blogs.
The FCO currently has seven bloggers (see here) from a new entrant straight from university (here) up to the Foreign Secretary David Miliband himself (here). The entries read naturally – they are clearly written by the people who they claim to be by and have an engaging style that lets you seen ‘behind the scenes’ of what’s going on at a major UK government department. This style is critical and the blogs on the FCO website perform a crucial task – they engage visitors in a conversation. You can comment on the Foreign Secretary’s blog and so engage in a conversation directly with him. Something that just wouldn’t be possible offline but critically the kind of conversations most businesses would not facilitate with their CEO. David Miliband has blogged in the last few days alone about everything from a colleague caught up in the Heathrow fiasco (see here) to his political views on Russia and Kosovo (see here).
This kind of openness and insight just didn’t exist before and serves to engage stakeholders in a genuine conversation. Building an argument online where anybody can see the polemic evolve and understand Miliband’s (and the Government’s) views on issues big and small. This is a big step from just issuing policy statements and not letting the public see and understand how we go there.
Perhaps my favourite part of the blog today is the collective blog from the team at the British Embassy in Harare (see here). Having been in Zimbabwe this time last year and taking an avid interest in the current elections, it is great to be able to read commentary and insight directly from people in the country – both British expats working at the Embassy there and locally engaged staff. I feel I can understand them and their lives better; and am more willing to engage with their opinions and views.
What do these blogs get right? Well they engage the reader. Where the FCO site used to be like traditional marketing – pushing a message out to people – these blogs represent an organisation that has embraced new ways to interact with the public. The FCO is engaging us in a conversation and it is our duty to take part. From a most recent recruit to the Foreign Secretary himself they want to talk to us about what they are doing and what they think. They value our comments and are encouraging them. This kind of openness is seen rarely on corporate websites, if at all, and is a sign of an organisation that truly cares about engaging people.