As controversial as they may be in some State Department circles, Foreign Service blogs are here to stay. Donna Gorman has offered some excellent general advice for bloggers in her article. Building on that, here are a few tips for fine-tuning your blog.
Privacy can be, and should be, a concern for all FS bloggers, especially for those posted overseas. It should be noted that no information that you decide to post online can be considered to be 100 percent secure. If Chinese hackers can steal industrial secrets from corporate databases, for example, they can certainly find anything you’ve put behind a password on your personal blog—if they can actually be bothered to do so.
All that said, there are a few prudent measures that you can take to give yourself a measure of privacy online. How much privacy you want will depend on your job, your spouse’s job, your current (or future) post, and your own comfort level. Take all these factors into account before “putting it all out there.” As Donna points out, until the State Department issues some practical and realistic guidelines for blogs, we have to come up with our own!
Consider blogging anonymously. Or, using just your first name. Of course, anyone who really wants to can probably figure out who you are. But why make it easy? Ask yourself: do people have to know exactly who you are in order to enjoy your blog?
If you decide to blog anonymously, don’t link your personal email address to the blog. Especially if you email address includes your name! Establish a new email account solely to manage the blog (you can always forward the email to your main account if you like).
You may want to keep your personal photos off your blog. There are, after all, many other, more private, venues for sharing photos of your family: Facebook (with privacy controls in place), Picasa, etc. Your travel photos of people and places at your current post are probably more interesting to a wider audience anyway.
If your blog is mostly for sharing family photos—sometimes known as a “mommy blog”—you might want to just password-protect the whole thing. The major blogging sites, WordPress, Typepad and Blogger make this easy. Give the password to your family and friends and you are all set.
Another option might be to password-protect only a few posts. This is also simple in WordPress and Typepad. Blogger is a more basic platform and does not allow for protecting individual posts without special software (known as a “plug-in”) or coding skills.
If you have some thoughts to share, but you’d rather not make them available to the general public, you might want to “blog” by sharing private Notes on Facebook with your friends. One of my friends documented her transition into FS retirement and subsequent drive across the U.S. in this way. (Or just create an email list and send out a group email now and then. Not as much fun, but more private.)
Most blogging platforms offer an option for listing on search engines—or not. If you choose “not,” that means that only people who have the direct link for your blog should be able to read it. It’s not 100 percent guaranteed to keep the wide world from finding your blog, but it will cut down on traffic and comments that you are not interested in attracting anyway.
If you want to attract a targeted Foreign Service audience, you can request a link on www.aafsw.org by completing an online form with your blog’s details (URL and a brief description of your blog). There is also a Foreign Service blog bundle with over 400 links managed by a member of the FS community. Subscribers receive links to the latest posts on every included blog in chronological order, either in an RSS reader or as a headline on their browser home page (My Yahoo, iGoogle, etc.) To add your blog to this “bundle,” email the creator by clicking her name at the top right of the screen.
Finally, and for family members only: yes, we do represent the U.S. to a certain degree, if only in an unofficial capacity. While it seems prudent to avoid commenting directly on host country politics and policies, I believe that we do have much more leeway than an officer would have to comment on daily life at our post, on American politics, or on general conditions in the Foreign Service. However, if you have something to say, remember to say it as YOURSELF, with copious disclaimers to that effect. If your spouse has an opinion, they can start their own blog!
Kelly Bembry Midura is AAFSW ‘s Content Manager. She blogs at wellthatwasdifferent.com.