blogging

Why have an institutional blog?

 

If you work for a non-profit institution, the chances are you could benefit from having a blog. Libraries, charities, academic departments, pressure groups, research projects - in all of these cases if you have a static website, it's worth adding a blog too (and if you're about to create a static website, stop! Create a blog instead, and just include all the other pages you'd planned).

Forgot what you might have heard about blogs dying or being 'over', blogs are great for non-profit organisations. Ultimately they're just a way of getting information online, either to show people or for them to find on their own. It doesn't matter if people don't subscribe to your blog, or even if they understand whether or not it IS a blog at all. It's just a way to connect people with that they need.

Why are blogs so great? What matters is what they do for your audience. They make your information easier to find, and easier to use. There are a number of key reasons it's worth setting one up for the types of institutions listed above.

1. Blogging platforms come mobile-ready

This is essential now - already the world accesses the internet more on mobile devices than on desktops. People check for information on the go, wherever they are. You need to greet people with a mobile option. Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr - all of these automatically create attractive, functional mobile versions of your blog (and its associated site). This particularly vital if your main institutional website ISN'T mobile ready - for example if you're an academic department trying to attract new students, and your wider University site only has a desktop version for now. 

2. Google loves blogs

By which I mean, blogs tend to be ranked highly by Search Engines.

Google - and every other Search Engine - likes regularly updated content, and so ranks blogs better accordingly. Google doesn't ACTUALLY love blogs (first it got rid of its RSS Reader, and now the very useful Google Blog Search has been given the push too) but due to the fact that new, well tagged and and well described content is consistently being added to the site via blog posts, there's more for Google to find. Another major thing search engines like is incoming links - people linking to your site from theirs. This is more likely to happen if you publish engaging content regularly than if you have a static site with basic 'About' information on it.

You don't need to become obsessed with SEO or to frantically chase hits to your site - you just want the maximum number of relevant people to find the content you create, with the minimum of fuss. Blogs help with this.

3. You can have URLs for everything

People share things with their network and with their peers all the time. And the way they do this is to point people to a link - a URL - and say 'have a look at this useful content'. A blog allows you to do this well: each post has its own URL, so each set of information can be discretely linked to.

This is much more desirable than the alternatives.

  • If you have ALL your information on one webpage this becomes harder to do ('have a look at this useful content, 3/5ths of the way down the page, buried under that less relevant stuff')
  • Or even worse, if you just put the info in emails so people have to copy and paste the text and can only really send it on via another email
  • Or, worse still, have the info in a PDF so no one ever looks at in the first place let alone shares it
  • OR, perhaps worst of all, simply delete the info on a static page and replace it with new info as you go along, meaning there's no legacy for anything you've done online

An institutional blog helps you to curate your own information and ideas more effectively, and makes it easy for others to find and then share with their peers. 

4. Blogs are easy to use

As anyone who was wrestled with an institutional Content Management System will attest, the value of just being able to Put Something Online quickly and easily is not to be underestimated... Blogs are simple to use - if you can use Microsoft Word then you're 99% of the way there in terms of writing posts - and it's a great way of linking to and embedding multimedia.

There are no barriers between needing to put something online and being able to do so, which is hugely useful for organisations.

5. Blogs are actually a very easy way of building a regular website

Although the specific blog-posting features are useful for all the reasons listed above, in terms of creating a regular website the blogging platforms are probably the easiest way to go about it. Increasingly there are good website-making tools available, some of which I've lined up for review on this very blog a bit later on, but you either have to pay, or compromise on things like bandwidth limits in a way the blogging platforms don't require you to do.

I built my band's website in Wordpress because that was the quickest, easiest way to make an attractive and fully-featured site - the actual blogging is a very minor part of what that site is for.

6. Blogs are free

Last but not least, your org doesn't need to put any financial investment into creating a blog. Blogger and Wordpress (and Tumblr) are free to use.

You CAN spend money if you want to. I recently created this site, using Wordpress, for the Learning & Teaching Forum at the University of York.

Click to go to yorkforum.org - created in Wordpress.com

Click to go to yorkforum.org - created in Wordpress.com

It took less than 3 hours to complete (thanks to the power of Wordpress's brilliant platform) and although we could have done it for free, we went for the 'Premium' option - for $99 per year we get our own domain name, more storage space, a wider selection of visual themes, and the promise that no advertising will appear on our pages. However, you may not require those features - I've also run lots of completely free Wordpress sites (and Blogger sites) which have worked absolutely fine.


What are the downsides of having a blog? It takes time to upkeep - and a sad, neglected blog can sometimes do more harm than not having a blog at all. The key is to link the blog in with your daily activities, rather than constantly casting about for things to blog about or people to write posts - so in the Learning & Teaching Forum example above, the blog is about events, workshops, and the regular magazine - and most of the rest of the site is populated by appropriately tagged blogposts too, meaning the upkeep is low.

Make sure several people have owner permissions of your institutional blog - you don't want to lose access if one member of staff leaves... And it's good to share the burden.

So if you don't currently have an institutional blog and I've convinced you to set one up, where do you start? Here's a guide to the four main blogging platforms. I'd recommend Wordpress, and eConsultancy have an absolutely comprehensive guide to setting up a good Wordpress site, so have a read of that.

Good luck!

Aim your professional development output at '1 Year Ago You'

 

What do you know now, that is useful and pertinent to your professional life (or even your personal life) that you didn't know 1 year ago?

Whatever it is, the chances are there are plenty of people still at the '1 Year Ago You' stage who could do with hearing about it. So why not blog about it, write an article about it, or submit a proposal to speak about it at a conference or event?

I know lots of people who don't do any of those things because they consider that they simply don't have anything to say. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have nothing to contribute - there's so much dialogue already, after all. And Imposter Syndrome runs through our profession like a vein. 

Imposter Syndrome: For a Man, or a Woman

Imposter Syndrome: For a Man, or a Woman

But we want new perspectives. We love to hear others' experiences. We need to know what has worked and what hasn't in professional situations other than our own. In short, we do want to hear from you, and we'd welcome your professional development output. (That's the rather awkward phrase I've come up with to describe the kinds of things we do as part of our online presence, or at professional events.)

Framing what you might choose to say as 'advice for 1 Year Ago You' is often enough to make people realise, actually, yes, they could present a paper or write a blog. The blog you are reading now is almost entirely aimed at Past Me - we're all learning useful stuff all the time and where appropriate I try and repackage that into something others might find useful. Most of the posts on here are about things I wished I'd discovered sooner.

Of course, it doesn't have to be '1 Year Ago You' specifically. It could be '6 Months Ago You'. Or '1 Day Ago You'. But someone, somewhere, will be at the exact stage you were before you learned about that useful tool / technique / concept / article / platform / literature or whatever it might be, that made it all click for you. So 'cascade the knowledge', as they say - you DO have something to say, and there will be an audience for it.

Digital Scholarship Training at @UniofYork: Facts and Figures

 

Andy Priestner has written about the importance of writing reports, even if no one asks you to, to showcase the value of what the Library is doing.

...it is not enough just to collate this data and wait to be asked for it. It is far better to ensure that the people who need to know this stuff are informed, at least once a year, of these top level statistics, before they ask for them: a pre-emptive strike if you like…
— Andy Priestner in Business School Libraries in the 21st Century, edited by Tim Wales

(You can read a larger excerpt from his chapter here.)

With that in mind, a while ago I produced an internal report on the Digital Scholarship Training I've run at York (and various exciting things happened as a result of doing this) - which I've now expanded into an external version, which includes the Google Apps for Education training run by my colleagues.

My message to you is that if you have any expertise in the area of digital scholarship, scholarly comms, Web 2.0 in HE etc, find a way to offer it to your academic community! As I've mentioned before, we've found they're ready for it, and excited about the opportunities.

Below is a tweaked version of the report to include the message in the paragraph above - the original version (which can be found on our Library slideshare page) is aimed at York staff and asks them to get in touch for information about upcoming events. Putting it on our Slideshare page will hopefully increase the profile of something very positive for the Library and IT - we've both found that there's been some reputational gain from helping people out with things they really value right now, rather than solely focusing on what we've always done. We've also both found that word is starting to spread and we're becoming go-to people within the University when help or advice is required in these areas, which is excellent.

There's more about the nature of the training itself in this blog post on the Networked Researcher suite of workshops, and this later post about how the training is shifting slightly.

Running sessions on Web 2.0 tools for researchers

Edit: This post has been sitting, completed and tagged, in my drafts folder for over a month - it was meant as a direct follow up to a previous post (linked below) but then the gender and digital idenity thing came up (which is now EVERYWHERE in the media - glad the issue is getting proper coverage) and after that my second daughter was born, so it all got pushed back... Anyhow, here it is. I recently ran a suite of 3 workshops, collectively entitled Becoming a Networked Researcher. I've put all the presentation materials elsewhere on the blog, so check them out if you're interested. This post covers the approach, what worked, what didn't, and general stuff about librarians getting involved with running researcher events that cover new online tools.

a tangled web

It's definitely time to do this

I've been wanting to do workshops like these for years... I run workshops for information professionals so I know how valuable it can be to learn about these tools - and blogs like the LSE Impact Blog show that in Higher Education generally, more and more people are finding Web 2.0 essential. As info pros a lot of us have this knowledge, so why not share it with an academic community who will be grateful for it and will benefit from it?

Previously some people may have thought I was something of a stuck record on this topic - just banging on about Twitter because it was what I knew about, when actually the Library should be focusing more on the traditional things we do with Researchers. (No one directly said this to me so I may well just be projecting!) But the thing about stuff like this is it opens doors - it positions the library or librarian as expert, and gains us respect. It means researchers become more open to the other things we have to offer.

Anyhow, demand for these sessions was huge. We're going to be running them twice a year from now on as once isn't enough. So if you have expertise in this area, try and make something happen!

What to cover?

I'd previously run an 'Enhancing your online reputation' workshop for academics which mainly covered blogs and twitter only, due to time constraints - I still see these as the big two. They're arguably the two most important platforms or tools, and they're definitely the right foundations on which to build a useful presence.

I also ran a taster session on online tools for academics which covered no less than 9 different things - interestingly, lots of them put in their feedback forms that of all the tools we covered, they'd want more training on Prezi. So I put Prezi into the collaboration and dissemination session, but actually it needs its own bespoke training really - it's too big to cover as part of something else.

I put in Academia.edu because I think it's actually quite useful, I put in LinkedIn because everyone else TELLS me it's useful, I put in Slideshare because I think it's the great underrated secret weapon of communicating ideas. I left out ResearchGate because I'd heard they're pretty aggressive in emailing people once they sign up, in a way which is annoying.

Anyhow, the Blogging session and Twitter session were much more successful than the other session, so I'd advise starting with these, and adding more if there's demand.

What worked

  • Collaborating with RDT. The Researcher Development Team are nothing to do with the library, but thankfully they're open to collaboration. I managed to meet up with Russell Grant, who runs a couple of social media courses anyway, and suggest the suite described above to build on what he'd already done - in theory, an academic could have attended his two workshops and then my three workshops and they'd have all worked together, building knowledge and understanding. I really like working with departments outside the library generally - not least because then the events aren't 'Library events' that no one shows up for, they're University events which happen to be delivered by a librarian
  • They What, Why, Examples, How method. I try do this in most of my training. You have to introduce a tool and tell an audience what it is - but it's vital to then go on to why they might want to use it before you go into the detail of how it works... With relevant examples if at all possible. Lots of the feedback suggests people really value this approach.
  • Enthusiasm. I'm really enthusiastic about these topics, and that always helps...

What didn't

  • Doing the workshops with only one-day gaps between them - I felt like it completely defined my week and didn't leave much room for anything else
  • Not enough example - I tried to put loads in (academic examples specifically) but I could always use more
  • The Collaboration and Dissemination session tried to fit too much into the time. We're splitting it up in future (see below)
  • I can't make LinkedIn sound exciting... I know it's important. Everyone says it's important, researchers particularly. But I can't seem to convey its value well
  • Some logisitical stuff to do with rooms and timing, with which I won't bore you now...

Future plans

We're running a tweaked programme in the next academic year, and it's going to be different in a few ways.

  • It'll be run twice, once in the Spring and once in the Summer - the Autumn term is just too crazy for everyone concerned
  • It'll have one session per week. Last time round I did all three sessions in a week and I'm not sure that really benefited the participants much - it just made me feel like I was having a crazy week
  • There'll be a blogging session as before, a Twitter session as before, but the Collaboration and Dissemination session we're splitting up into two. We're doing a Prezi session, and then a 'social networks for researchers' session - I've asked a colleague from the Researcher Development Team if he can do the latter, because I think he'd be better at it than me
  • I'm splitting the blogging and Twitter sessions into a 'PhD and Masters researchers' session and an 'academics' session - there's 90% crossover between those two groups, but the other 10% I found it frustrating only giving examples that worked fully for one or other group. Seeing as the sessions were over-subscribed anyhow, we may as well provide targeted workshops for each group
  • So what this means is, in consecutive weeks we're offering an Introduction to Social Media (talk, given by my colleague Russell Grant), Enhacing your Online Reputation (workshop by Russell), Blogs (workshops, by me - one for postgrads and one for academics), Twitter (workshop, by me - workshops, by me - one for postgrads and one for academics), Social Networks For Researchers (workshop, by Rusell) and Prezi (workshop, by me). All one and a half hours except the Prezi one which needs to be 3hrs - I've tried teaching Prezi in less but it doesn't really work... .

Exciting stuff!

Becoming a Networked Researcher: a suite useful of presentations

Web 2.0 tools have finally moved firmly beyond the 'potential fad' stage, to gaining widespread acceptance as valuable weapons in the Researcher's arsenal. Statistics about social media are almost meaningless because a: there's so many of them and b: the information becomes outdated quickly, but at the time of writing it's thought that around 70% of academics use social media for personal use, and in my view we've most definitely reached the tipping point where social media's utility for professional use is properly understood. This is directly linked to the 'impact agenda' - the research shows that blogging about and tweeting about research results in more citations for that research, and pretty much everyone wants more citations. But becoming a networked researcher is about more than the REF-related bottom line, it's about being part of a mutually beneficial, supportive, and intellectually engaging community.

With all that in mind, I ran a suite of hands-on workshops at my institution, the University of York, on behalf of the Researcher Development Team. The suite was entitled 'Becoming a Networked Researcher' and it covered firstly blogs and blogging, then collaboration and dissemination, and finally Twitter. Rather than divide these up into three blog posts I thought the most useful thing to do would be to have them all here - so below you'll find various links to, or embedded versions of, presentations and handouts for the course. I've tried to make it so they work without me there to talk over the top of them...

The workshops themselves were really enjoyable and the researchers themselves very enthusiastic and engaged - a whole bunch of blogs and twitter accounts have already sprang up since they ran!  But I'd like to improve them for next time around (we'll be running them twice a year from now on); whether you're a Masters / PhD researcher, an academic, or an information professional reading this, I'd be interested in your views on how useful these materials are, and any advice or tips or, particularly, examples, I should be referring to in future sessions.

The workshop materials

The three parts of the suite were designed to work together and separately - if you're only interested in one aspect of becoming a networked researcher, you don't need to look at the materials from the other sessions.

Part 1: Blogs and Blogging

Blogs and Blogging was the most successful session. The advice here is slightly York-centric in that we all have Google accounts, so we all automatically have Blogger blogs; if you're reading this at another insitution it's definitely worth considering Wordpress.com as your blogging platform. Better still, Wordpress.org, although that requires some technical knowledge.

Here's the Prezi presentation:

And here's the handout which goes with it:

Blogs for researchers: workshop handout by University of York Information

 

Part 2: Dissemination and Collaboration

I've decided against embedding the materials for this one - there was a lot more group and collaborative work and the session was slightly shorter, so my presentation doesn't cover as much ground. But you can view the Dissemination and Collaboration Prezi here (the handout doesn't really add anything); it covers LinkedIn, Academia.edu, Prezi itself, and Slideshare.

Interestingly, I really struggled to convince people as to the value of LinkedIn. I'm suspect of the value of LinkedIn myself, but I've heard countless researchers talk about how important it is, so I flagged it up as a key resource anyway...

 

Part 3: Twitter for Researchers

I really enjoyed this as I think Twitter is such a vital tool for modern scholarship and communication - you can see the Slides from the session here:

 

And the handout is here:

Twitter for academics: workshop handout by University of York Information

Any questions, comments or queries, leave them below.