Our next installment of the Influencer Q&A series features an interview with Jeffrey Levy, Acting Director of Web Communications at the EPA and editor of the EPA's blog. Jeffrey shared some interesting insights on government blogging, strategies to engage constituents and governments use of Web 2.0 tools. I think youll enjoy it.
Katie Hanusik1. The EPA launched its Agency-wide blog just a few months ago in April. Why did you decide to start this blog (and end its predecessor Flow of the River)? Have you been successful in achieving these goals?
Our Deputy Administrator started his blog last summer, and we worked out the basics of how to blog. When we saw the State Department
had a group blog (DipNote
), we thought that model could work for us because we have a large staff spread across the country who work on many different issues. Our main goals were:
1) allow employees to share their perspectives on their work and how that work interacts with their personal lives and;
2) engage the public in a conversation about protecting the environment (hence the name "Greenversations"
Also, I doubt most people really understand that the EPA affects most of their lives, from the pesticides used to grow the cotton in their clothes to how much pollution comes out of their cars to what goes in their water. Or that we work with the Coast Guard to respond to various major spills or cleanups. So another goal is just to explain that breadth. I think we've accomplished those goals, but we're always looking for ways to do it better.2. How has the blog affected your overall site traffic?
Not too much so far; we get more than 40 million page requests per month overall, with the blog netting about 80,000. But simply driving raw numbers is a minor point; if someone subscribes to the blog news feed and ignores most of the blog, but sees one thing of notice and then follows a link into our site, that's success.3. What can you tell us about the popular Question of the Week?
First, I have to credit the idea to State. This feature has succeeded beyond all expectations. Several of them have gotten hundreds of responses, and one about biking to work has more than 750. We plan to write followup summaries for anything with more than 100. We're learning that asking questions about people's personal choices gets more response than general policy issues.4. What has been your biggest challenge editing this blog? How about your biggest surprise?
Figuring out how to use the blog beyond simply putting up posts has required thinking outside the box. Identifying bloggers, reviewing posts, and approving comments are pretty much as expected. My biggest surprise has been the response to the Question of the Week. My second-biggest has been the very high quality of the comments. People have been amazingly thoughtful, articulate, and thorough. We're not getting two-word throwaways for the most part.5. Whats next for the EPAs blogging program? Has the EPA embraced social media in other ways beyond blogging?
A regular science feature, analyses of the weekly questions, and guest bloggers.
We're also exploring all types of social media, like much of the gov't. For Earth Month in April, we produced a series of podcasts
(also on iTunes) that reflected our daily environmental tips and ran a photo contest using Flickr
. And we've created several widgets to share environmental tips, count down to Earth day, and display the Question of the Week
. We also put all of our news releases out in news feeds
and send our blog's news feed to Twitter
. Our Energy Star program with DOE also has podcasts
. Oh, and I think you can expect to see an EPA mobile site within a year. Internally, we've started several wikis, and we're looking for ways to do them publicly.
Our general approach is to use these tools and others as much as possible, but to use them well. There's no reason to have a blog, for example, if all you want to do is put up press releases.6. What can you tell us about the overall trend toward blogging by government agencies? Are there other agencies that you would single out for doing an extraordinary job communicating and interacting with constituents?
As for other agencies, TSA's blog
has already changed how security checks happen at airports. They've closed the loop in a way I hope we can. NOAA's Ocean Explorer program has done great stuff on YouTube
and parts of NOAA and NASA are in Second Life.
Finally, there's usa.gov
, which has their own blog, GovGab
, has a mobile site
, and provides links to gov't blogs
and other social media.