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Adventures in Blogging: Out of the Woods or Just Getting Started?

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Image provided by Small Business Trends

Image provided by Small Business Trends

It’s a little weird to look back now and think that I have been blogging for almost a month. I guess time flies when you are learning about everything from dashboards to widgets to RSS feeds… And I had never heard of any of those things before I began my Social Media Tools class! I honestly didn’t even have a complete understanding of what blogging is and why it is so important. It’s safe to say that during my journey to becoming a blogger, I never *even for a second* stopped learning new, exciting, and useful things. This experience was definitely not what I expected it would be at the onset of my adventure. It was both a lot more challenging and fulfilling than I could have imagined. I have never considered myself to be a whiz at anything involving a computer, but I came into this with an email and Facebook account, so I was in good shape, right? Not really. Blogging introduced a totally different side of social media and communication that was obviously lying dormant in my brain until now. I know my limitations and can own up when I’m not an expert at something, and I am not an imaginative writer. I found myself being constantly surprised by the amount of attention and intention that writing a blog requires. Blogging requires serious creativity, and there were days I was surprised by how hard that is to come by. There is so much more thought and skill that goes into the blogging process. It’s more than writing; it’s creating. I feel as though a new world has been opened up and I’ve only just begun to get my feet wet.

I have learned a TON about blogging and myself as a writer and communicator through this experience. While I could totally ramble on about everything I know now that I didn’t know four weeks ago, I think the key learnings I will walk away with can be summed up pretty easily in only a few discussion points. Ok, you guys probably saw this coming. Especially when I have a lot to summarize, my love of list-making never fails. Here are my top three things I learned through this blogging experience:

1. You have to be more than a good writer to be a good blogger. Before trying out blogging, I honestly didn’t know the difference. I consider myself a pretty good writer, but being in grad school and up to my ears in research papers, I never have to think about whether my writing is particularly appealing to readers, if it encourages dialogue, or if I leave the person wanting more. I usually just buckle down and hope to make it out alive. Blogging is a totally different ball game. It requires a unique skill set and open frame of mind, things that you must constantly grow and refine. While I can put together a thoughtful, elegantly crafted sentence any day of the week, blogging demands more of me… More of my time, more creativity, and more intention.

NetvibesOne of the ways I was able to organize my thoughts and found resources to use in my blogs was through the use of Netvibes. This site helped me immensely to learn the value in “listening” to inform what I write about. I’ve learned that listening before you type can not only give more details on which you base assertions, but it can often change the context of your work completely. By creating a new dashboard and entering a topic into the search bar, I am presented with news, videos, and conversations related to what I searched. One example of when I used this tool was for my post on my new gaming hobby. I knew I wanted to write about playing Temple Run, but I was unsure of what to include. What’s already out there? Who is talking about it? What can I curate, and how do I add my own flair to it? All of these questions were answered by simply listening. I learned so much more about my topic than if I were to have only typed it into a Google search bar; I read recent statistics on sales and downloads from news sources, gaming reviews from other bloggers, and even background information about the creators from various websites. This example can be generalized to a number of topics. Using Netvibes to write blog posts helped me move from being a writer to being a blogger. Overall, I have learned that listening beforehand will change both what I communicate and how I go about doing it.

2. Engagement is a top priority every step of the way. No, no, not the “if you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it” type of engagement – AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT! As a blogger, you have to write for the readers. It isn’t good enough to write something they will read; you have to write something that will capture them, speak to them personally, and feed their minds. You have to be a storyteller. I have never had to write like that before. Blogging challenged me in a way that I could have never predicted to connect with people on a new level. Before all of this, I had little self-awareness of how I communicate with others through written channels. Building a blog, engaging readers, and sending thoughtful messages without being able to see with whom I am communicating pushed me to a new mindfulness that I think will not only be helpful for this type of work in the future, but also overall as a professional in the social work field.

3. People should walk away from your blog with more than what you wrote. Does that sound confusing, or what? Here’s what I mean: Aside from your content, readers should have a lot to gain out of reading your blog; they should be constantly engaged in a learning process. As a blogger, your goal should be to send people away better and with more knowledge than before visiting your blog, as well as a sense of curiosity and yearning to come back. Readers should not only have a comprehensive understanding of what you were trying to teach them, but they should also be aware of several sources of future reference because of links and media you provided. In other words, they should now be a part of a growing network of knowledge that you help to supply. By reading your blog, the audience should develop a greater understanding of your topic or cause and should be introduced to it in a manner that pulls them in and leaves them thinking about it long after they’ve left the screen. I didn’t totally understand this at the beginning of my journey… Can’t I just write about whatever I want and leave it up to the audience to decide whether they come back? Well, in some respects, yes. But if you write without an engaged audience that is thirsty for more, what’s the point?

SM BubbleOne of the coolest things about learning to blog so far is being able to envision its immediate applicability in the nonprofit organizational context. A lot of times it’s really easy to learn a skill but still not know how to apply it in the real world… This is definitely not the case here. Over the course of becoming a blogger, it has become increasingly evident to me how useful blogging can be for nonprofits. According to social media guru Heather Mansfield in her book Social Media for Social Good, a blog is an area for nonprofits to put out fresh content, while also allowing space for interaction and sharing among supporters. This type of connection brings nonprofits to the next level of communicating with key stakeholders, community members, and potential new constituents. That’s useful because it allows a change to take place where the organization is more mindful of their strategic development process through tracking the number of followers they have, dialoguing to obtain feedback, and making connections to new resources (similar organizations, new funders, etc.). Blogs can be considered the hub of social media efforts for nonprofits. They are not only great places to share your story and publish content about your cause, but there are also tons of tools available to really improve a campaign’s effectiveness, like options for newsletter sign-up, connecting on social networking sites, and sharing links to resources that are important to you. Once a nonprofit is introduced to the world of blogging, and makes an effort to keep at it with the right tools and resources, their online presence will never be the same.

My experience of blogging has definitely changed the way I think about social media and its uses, and honestly, I think this journey is far from over for me. It has been fun, challenging, a little intimidating, and really, really rewarding. Overall, I feel that I am able to take away a lot that I’ll be able to use in the future. Enough about me… What about you? What have you learned about blogging that you think will be helpful in the future? How have your perceptions changed as a result of the experience?

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Personal vs. Professional Use of Social Media: Do You REALLY Want to Post That?!

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Image provided by Intersection Consulting

Image provided by Intersection Consulting

I don’t know about you, but when I usually think of social media, I immediately imagine jumping on Facebook to connect with a friend from high school or college, reading through the Twitter feed on my iPhone app for the latest news, and searching for recipes on Pinterest to find the perfect thing to cook for dinner. Rarely, until entering grad school, had I thought about the numerous uses for social media that don’t involve my personal connections or interests. But alas, there is a use for Facebook beyond posting an obnoxious amount of pictures of my dog… Organizations can use social media as a vehicle for online communication and fundraising! Plenty of organizations have active Facebook pages, Twitters, blogs, etc. to share with their followers the latest happenings (for example, the very active Facebook page of the Southern Center for Human Rights where I intern). In just a few clicks, they spread news to thousands of followers… Seems pretty powerful for a small non-profit, right?! If you are a professional who fits into this picture somehow, let’s talk a little about how the culture of social media may influence your next post.

Let’s start by thinking about who you are connected to when you get online. Most of us probably have a mix of connections on various sites. For instance, you may have some Facebook friends that include your buddies from college, various family members, some colleagues, oh, and those girls you met at the club last Friday night. Do you think about who might see what you post when you are typing it? What about your privacy settings? Even if you aren’t friends with someone, could you guarantee that they couldn’t take a gander at your latest status update? I mean, you probably don’t want those risqué bachelor party pictures being seen by the people who share your office space… or your mom. The moral of the story is that you have a lot to consider before you go wild on a social networking site. For a little more food for thought on this subject, check out “Who really owns your social media persona?” by Drew McLellan.

Now, imagine that you are employed by a non-profit and are responsible for keeping up with their social media sites. This requires deeper consideration on a whole new level. Your constituents probably don’t want to read about the Braves’ decision to trade Prado or Kim and Kanye’s baby plans… Remember your goals and objectives at the screen should be very different when you are professionally engaging in social media from when you do so personally. For more information on this, DR4WARD has a great illustration on how your frame of mind should shift based on these two totally different situations. So what SHOULD you post?! How do you respond to an irate client on your Facebook page or an inappropriate comment on your blog? Are there specific people you should aim to connect with? Are there rules you should be aware of? While I can’t tell you how to behave in every situation, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to help you set the right boundaries of personal vs. professional uses of social media:

1. What is your organization’s goal for bringing people to your site? It’s not to connect with only your closest friends… You want as much traffic as possible to be able to raise awareness about your cause. Thus, you want anyone and everyone reading your latest blog and liking your last post.

2. Now that you’ve made the connections, you can think about what to post. Using social media as a professional means you need to filter what you say – and how you say it – according to your audience. Is it honest? Is it necessary? Does it help your organization? If not, you probably shouldn’t showcase it on the internet for the world to read.

3. The last, and perhaps the most important, thing you should consider is whether your organization has written guidelines or policies about how you conduct yourself on their social media site. If they do, defer to them if you find yourself needing guidance.

That brings us to our final discussion. If you have an organization where your employees are active in social media realms using your brand, you should develop a social media policy to provide employees with guidelines about appropriate internet behavior. According to Heather Mansfield, author of Social Media for Social Good, these guidelines should be simple and short, focusing on the bigger picture using language that can apply in numerous social media contexts. A great resource for how you can begin to think in terms of potentially developing a social media policy is through Beth Kanter’s blog post titled “Social Media in the Nonprofit Workplace: Does Your Organization Need A Social Media Policy?” She presents thoughtful, interesting components you should take into consideration for how to guide your employees, such as confidentiality, appropriate behavior, and how to act as a representative on the organization’s behalf, to name a few.

In sum, there are a ton of things you should consider before putting pen to paper… fingers to keys (?)… It may seem confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. I honestly believe it comes down to one thing: mindfulness. Take a few seconds and think about your intentions. Are you representing yourself personally or professionally? Who is going to read what you write, and does this require some sort of filtering? If applicable, are you complying with the guidelines that have been set in place for your behavior? By following this simple roadmap to social media behavior, you’re good to go.

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