It was seven years ago today (on April 24, 2003) when I started my first blog. Little did I know at the time what an amazing effect it would have on my life and career.
If I hadn’t started that blog I might never have started Wolfstar. It would be great to be able to say that I started the blog because of my amazing intuition and foresight. But unfortunately it wouldn’t be true.
In truth it was probably laziness that made me start the blog. From 1998 to 2005 I was a elected local councillor on Leeds City Council. When I was first elected as a councillor I did something that was extremely unusual at the time and started a councillor website. As I’m not a professional designer or coder this was actually quite hard work and if I’m honest wasn’t particularly brilliant.
That’s why when I first came across ‘blogging’ I was intrigued as I thought, that sounds a lot easier than running my website. And so my first blog was born. It was the first councillor blog in the UK and the third political blog â€“ former Lib Dem MP Richard Allan (now European Head of Public Policy for Facebook) and Labour MP Tom Watson were first and second respectively.
It didn’t take long for The Guardian to find my blog and in July 2003 it ran a profile about the UK’s first blogging councillor. As The Guardian article indicates my councillor blog deliberately wasn’t like many of today’s political blogs. It was determinedly focused on local issues that mattered to people in Leeds and more specifically my ward of Middleton (later Middleton Park) in south Leeds.
But my blog wasn’t just about the minutia of being a local councillor. That sort of the thing is for officers. You can’t run a good councillor blog without being political. It was when I was being highly political about local issues that my blog always received the most attention and engagement. Despite popular belief local politics is party political. That’s one of the problems with many of the official efforts to get councillors blogging. Because they are official they have to be a politics free zone (otherwise the local authority would be accused of funding party political campaigning). But you can’t take the politics out of it. Even seemingly mundane decisions such as when the road sweepers visit can actually be highly political (the Tories want the leafy suburbs to be pristine and don’t care about the council estates).
The other important thing I learnt from my councillor blog was the massive impact what you do online can have on what happens offline. The intention of my councillor blog was never to get all 16,000 of the local electors to read it. What I did want (and succeeded in) was to get local ‘influencers’ to read it. If they knew properly about what I was doing then they could talk face to face to other people in the community. That’s why I was pleased that people like the chairs and secretaries of residents associations read it, the local vicar read it, the local neighbourhood policing team read it (and even asked me to write about them!) All these people then went out and spread the word for me.
The success of my councillor blog meant that it didn’t take long before it dawned on me that blogs weren’t just about making my life easier, but also had enormous potential for my day job as a public relations consultantâ€¦ but that’s a story for another blog post.
Cross-posted to Stuart Bruce on the World, my political blog.