The TSA is blogging

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For someone who travels as much as I do, I constantly find myself scratching my head about things like having to remove my shoes, the extra attention paid to 80 year old white women, or the staff of 12 standing around while 3 actually work.

When Matt told me that the TSA had launched a blog, I was excited and intrigued. Would my questions be answered? Would my faith in the TSA be restored? Would I get to see behind the curtains of a fairly private government agency?

Sorta.

I have to first congratulate the TSA for taking this plunge. Getting past the fear of such an endeavor is often a huge step that many organizations can’t actually go through with. The problem, however, is that it’s clearer than clear that the TSA launched the blog without even the slightest hint of strategy and only a minor understanding of what constitutes successful blogging. Here’s a few pointers for the TSA bloggers to improve the experience.

Take a look at your objective
The first round of posts and the hundreds (1308 comments submitted on six entries as I write this) are largely focused on questions from confused travelers. The first entry jumps straight into answering the inevitable travel policy questions. Is the blog the right tool here? I’d argue that a social tool that allows questions to be submitted and voted up by site visitors is a far more interesting idea over a blog.

If the bulk if the content is going to be focused around questions, you can still use the blog format, but the TSA should tweak the design to fit better with that purpose. Serious Eats is a great example of this.

Introduce the team and the objective
A blog is a conversation and the first step in a conversation is an introduction. Before you jump into the content, introduce the concept of the blog, introduce the team members we’ll be hearing from. What do they do? Where do they work? What’s their background? Why is the blog titled “Evolution of Security”?

(I know there’s a Meet the Bloggers link on the sidebar, but a) it doesn’t work, and b) that’s not enough.)

Create an editorial schedule
If the blog is going to focus on obvious content, then create an editorial calendar and publish it or share the general concept with the readers. Should we check back once a week? Every day? I can’t support you if I don’t know what you’re up to.

Know the existing content
The blog can be a great tool for connecting readers to content they wouldn’t normally have found. For instance, in the latest entry on the TSA blog, there’s a discussion of why children and the elderly get the same treatment as more potentially risky travelers. Good stuff, but they didn’t link to the article on the TSA site that already addressed this question.

Find the right personality not the “correct” position
The TSA bloggers posted a video of the TSA Assistant Administrator (what the hell does he do??) answering the question about children and the elderly. I started watching it and fell instantly asleep with a thin line of drool glistening on my chin and my head flopped backwards. Seriously, watch this for yourself and tell me how far you make it.

On paper, this guy probably makes a lot of sense. He’s probably a security guru with years of TSA experience or something. But in practice, this guy hurts the message. He’s completely counter to the voice of the blog. He screams to those of us outside of the TSA “We’re just trying to cover our collective asses!” Find the right person, not the right position for your community. Hell, hire a community manager!

Those suggestions aside, I’d like to give huge kudos to the TSA for their efforts. Sure, I think it would have been fairly obvious to expect a huge reaction, but it’s better to start and have some bumps than not to start at all. They’ve also used Blogger (which is good that they didn’t try to craft their own custom software, but seriously, Blogger? For the TSA?), have RSS feeds, and are modifying the site as they get feedback. And perhaps most importantly, whoever is writing their content is doing a great job. The blog posts are enjoyable if not quite “fun”. I just wish I knew who the writer actually was…

Now let’s see what happens as the TSA team finds their footing. They should be commended for jumping in feet first.

UPDATE: The TSA team responds. Check out the response… it’s a great read.