Digital Dreams and Networked Nightmares, and “To blog or not to blog?”

That is the question.

I’ve recently been working with a couple of organisations who want (and need) to start blogging. To be honest, the technicalities of this are pretty straightforward these days. There’s quite a small choice of good, adaptable and easy to use blogging platforms. A blog is far easier to set up than, say, and email address, and when you demonstrate how easy a blog is to create and maintain, there is a definite “wow factor” for those who have not been there before.

In one case, I was also able to show how one blogging platform could serve as a substitute for an RSS feed, a photo gallery, an adjunct (rather than a threat) to a well-established newsletter, as well as a basic blogging platform for managers, staff, volunteers, stakeholders, and so on and so on…. For both, the discovery that you could compose your content almost anywhere and cut and paste the content into the blogging platform was an additional eye-opener.

So, I hear you ask, what’s the issue then? Just get on with it.

Well, to a greater or lesser extent in both cases, neither body has really twigged what a huge difference a regular blog will make to their organisation. More than a newsletter, more than their slowly emerging Twitter feed, far more than an RSS newsfeed, and probably far more even than the web site on which it sits.

I get the impression that in some cases (and have one case in point in mind) the birth pangs of a web site are so horrendously challenging for an organisation that, once published, there is a real tendency to sit back, relax, and feel that the work is, basically, now over. If you ask how their web site will be discovered, the answer is usually “by browsing”, “Google” and so on. Great care always goes into web site home pages, and the cacophony of links that run from this, but few web site owners seem to realise that it’s normally a minority of users these days who navigate into content via a home page.

We’re in the day of posted hyperlinks, links in tweets, links in blogs and the like. These don’t say “go to such and such home page, click topic A, then sub-topic B, and you’ll find what you want”. They post links direct to content, bypassing home pages altogether. And that’s possible because we are into a growing culture of information sharing. I spend (aka “waste”) far less of my time nowadays browsing for and through web sites. I read blogs. Usually blogs containing links. I use aggregators like Instapaper to create a reading list that takes me straight to what I want, rather than casting me in its general direction and leaving me to search.

Like any social media, actually “doing stuff” is often well rewarded by a prior spell of “reading stuff”. It’s amazing who is blogging and what you can find regular blogs about. But unless you have an inkling of this, it can be hard to appreciate two key issues about blogs:

  1. they are THE way at present to get your views out to readers; and
  2. they will reward you with more feedback, comment and recirculation than you’ll believe before you begin.

And still they ask “But who will read it?”. This becomes an opportunity to stress the value of blogging and tweeting as partner activities. One of my organisations has 160 followers on Twitter and an e-mail list for its newsletter of about 200 others. That’s more than 350 potential readers for a start, before adding in the retweets etc that will share the content with ever outwardly rippling lists of others.

I’ve also been asked “should we tweet or should we blog?” My answer is that it isn’t either/or. Yes, Twitter began as a “micro-blogging platform”, and there are many users who are still satisfied to use it that way, condensing all they have to say into 140 characters. But how many of these are in your everyday timeline now, really? Anyone with anything to say is blogging elsewhere, and using Twitter as one of the most effective instant messaging services around, to post links. I’m increasingly aware that this is happening with newspaper articles (where the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” is setting a standard) just as much as it is happening with individuals and small organisations.

So, back to the original question. To blog or not to blog? How can you afford not to?

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