Good Blogging Guide – Part Four – Code of Practice

We’re moving along now on the ‘Good Blogging Guide’, having looked at audience, objectives, and search engine optimisation for blogs. But these three areas are about things that you do. There’s another aspect that is important too – about the environment that you blog in. For example, do you blog as an individual or as part of your organisation or school? And if you’re blogging as an individual, are you separated from your professional identity?

So this chapter, the Blogging Code of Practice, is designed to help you to discuss, positively, blogging with other people in your organisation, so that you can create the support network you need, and agree the guidelines that are appropriate. (And if you’re a school leader, and one of your staff is starting to blog, some guidance on how you can work together to protect each other!)


A code of practice for teachers blogging?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to provide one! I believe very strongly that online participation – whether it’s blogs, forums or Twitter is a personal thing. You’ll know that if you’re a regular reader of the blog or my Twitter feed. Although I’m blogging in my professional capacity, it is still me that’s blogging, not an automaton. However, I’m also aware that people will look at what I say and sometimes interpret what they are reading as “Microsoft’s opinion”. So I have to be careful how I express opinions sometimes, and need to know what is and isn’t acceptable.

I think that if you’re blogging in the public sector, the same situation exists. Having a code of practice is about having an agreed set of guidelines to protect you, and your school/local authority/organisation.

The good news is that it doesn’t need to be onerous, and there are existing examples that apply

Here are for examples to help you (a) consider your own and (b) to use to guide others (eg your head teacher or local authority) to get an effective code.

imageThe Civil Service Blogging Code

Most people are surprised to learn that there’s a code for Civil Servants to follow on blogging (and general social media participation). And the fact that it’s brief is a second surprise.

There are 9,421 words in the Code for MP’s Allowances (the Parliamentary Green Book), and well over 400 in our employee code for the protection of laptops. So would it surprise you to learn that there are only 78 words in the Civil Service code for online participation?

The code was announced last year in Parliament by the MP Tom Watson from the Cabinet Office, and the code was published. Unfortunately the link it was published on is now a dead link (doh!), but after quite a bit of searching, I’ve found the place they’ve now published it (and it has a new preamble to it ).

The Civil Service code for blogging

And here’s what it says:

Principles for participation online

1. Be credible

Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.

2. Be consistent

Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.

3. Be responsive

When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.

4. Be integrated

Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.

5. Be a civil servant

Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency.

Considering how tortuous some public sector documents can be (If I never have to read another procurement document in my life, I will die happy!) this is a model of clarity, simplicity and brevity. I think it makes it very clear what you have to do to meet the needs of the organisation you work for when blogging.

Microsoft Blogging Code

There are only two words in our blogging code:

Blog Smart

Basically, it means that the company expects me to exercise good judgement, and ‘be smart’ when I’m blogging. I also interpret it to mean that all the same principles and policies that apply to our normal public interactions generally also apply to blogging. For example, if I know something that is confidential internal information, I wouldn’t blog about it, and equally I wouldn’t tell somebody I met at a conference or my neighbour.

So if 78 words for the Civil Service blogging code were a surprise, then I guess 2 words in our code are even more surprising.

Don’t take either of these as being simplistic – they are not. They are simple. Simple to understand, simple to follow and simple to monitor.

In both cases, a lot of people will have had a lot of input and taken a lot of time to get there. As Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”, neatly capturing the experience that it’s easier to write more than less.

As an aside, here's Intel's Social Media Guidance. Anybody know of others?

The UK Education team’s blogging guidelines

When I originally started blogging it was just me, doing my stuff. But over time we’ve expanded out the number of blogs written, and also have some written by teams. So although this one is written by me alone, (along with the Further Education blog), then Higher Education blog is one I write jointly with Dominic Watts (our Higher Ed business manager); Kristen & Stuart write a Teachers blog and Mark A’Bear and I write an Education Partners blog.

Partly because people wanted some guidance, and partly to ensure consistency for the readers when a team blog is written by more than one author, we created our own blogging code. To be fair, they are more like writing-style guidelines, because they are aimed at making sure that the experience for the reader is consistent.

    • Always write as an individual, to an individual

    • Wherever possible, express an opinion

    • Tell them how they could use what we’re providing

    • Don’t just link to another resource without something specific for our audience

    • Always put everything into the audience context

The aim of the guidelines are to make sure that we don’t drift into writing corporate-speak, which people can sometimes do accidentally (or sometimes because they think it is expected). Or simply turn into a parrot of other information, or weblinks, from other Microsoft sources. My personal bar is “Am I adding anything specifically useful for schools in the UK?” If not, I won’t blog it.

A Code of Practice for blogging in education

I was interested to see the East Lothian Council Social Media code, which is provided for staff in their schools to encourage and support them to engage online. Again, the focus is on simple, clear and straightforward advice, and it covers style issues as well as the good practice issues

Best Practice Guidelines for Staff

• Keep secrets and be mindful of what you say

• Be respectful to your colleagues

• Get your facts straight

• Be Interesting – writing or talking is hard work - let's not add to this by making the reading difficult too

• Write what you know – add value

• Quality matters – respect the ELC EDUCATION identity and values

• Provide context to your argument

• Engage in Private Feedback

I haven’t seen any individual school blogging guidelines or codes, but I’m sure there are some out there too.

A call to action

It’s taken me almost 3 hours to write this blog post, and I still feel I’m only scratching the surface. Do you know of other sources for good practice blogging codes for schools? Are there any aspects that should be in the perfect blogging code within education (to encourge as well as protect)?

Either add comments and links to this post, or ping me on Twitter to help move the discussion forward. It may even be possible to create the definitive ‘Starter for 10’ code for education.

I know this is a topic that plenty of people are interested in, because I have been asked about it so many times – which is why I’ve written this “Good Blogging Guide”. So help colleagues move the conversation forward

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