Version 0.15 October 2012 (working draft)
Intended audience: Scientists/researchers, research managers
From the Pathway on Using social media to communicate research we have seen that while conventional methods for sharing data, information and knowledge, such as conferences, seminars, journal articles and reports, and now institutional repositories, are an important part of the communication of research and development, the way people source information has been changing .Social media has been growing in importance and steadily breaking down barriers to communication, allowing people to connect, engage and share in different ways that are appropriate to their contexts, capacities and likes. Agricultural research and development organizations can now leverage the power and popularity of social media to give their research outputs more mileage.
This Pathway on “using blogs to communicate research” looks at one particular type of social media that can and is being used by research projects themselves as ways to better collaborate, share research knowledge and get feedback. We will explore in greater depth how blogs/blogging can be used by research structures to improve the communication of their research knowledge and outputs.
What do you need to know?
The following definition is given by Wikipedia:
“A blog (a blend of the term web log) is a type of website or part of a website. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. Blog can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. Most blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments and even message each other via widgets on the blogs and it is this interactivity that distinguishes them from other static websites. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability of readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on art (Art blog), photographs (photoblog), videos (video blogging), music (MP3 blog), and audio (podcasting).”
There are now a number of software options for blogging including WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, Tumblr ,and Posterous. Most even allow you to blog directly from emails and phones. It is necessary to think about whether you will keep your blog hosted by the blog provider itself or want to have it stored on your institutional server. Also note that some blog providers cannot be accessed in certain countries, so consider your intended audience when choosing your software.
Why research projects should consider using blogs
Many organisations or projects decide to develop a website to share information. However, websites are often too static in content and too difficult to update. Blogs make it easier even for a non-web-savvy person to write and publish content easily and regularly, while often having the look and feel of a website to the external audience.
Blogs can be set up for different levels or groups-such as for an Institution as a whole, or for a unit or a project, or even from an individual themselves. While institutional blogs can provide a regular source of information, this is usually focused on Institutional activities and events, major achievements and news-often very general. Research projects, therefore, have the opportunity to make use of blogs in a more defined and impactful way. If you consider outputs from research projects in the broadest form, then research has a lot to offer throughout the project cycle. A blog is a great mechanism for documenting and sharing this wide variety of knowledge assets from the formal to the non-formal. Since blogs can act as a form of website, it is possible to use a blog as a way to store, preserve, document and share knowledge from multiple sources in the project. Due to its social media nature, blogs can also act as a mechanism for collaboration in order to engage with others, gather additional knowledge on topics and capture feedback on research activities as well as products. Blogs are thereby able to facilitate the necessary conversations which are being increasingly required of research projects these days.
Blogs are very popular sources of information and forms of communication for a growing number of people, so using blogs can help your project to gain greater visibility and reach a wider set of people.
Blogs can be used by various people and groups within the research arena, in a number of ways.
- On an institutional level
- By research departments, units or teams
- By research projects and programs
- For particular research themes, interdisciplinary initiatives, disciplines (e.g social sciences)
- By individual researchers
They can be used to:
Engage and interact with people
- Interact and discuss with people about your research and outputs-use this tool to hold conversations
- Seek feedback on your research
- Use your blog to provide opinions, insights and analysis which may interest people
- Ask questions and seek ideas and knowledge from others through the blog
- Blogs can attract people with similar thoughts and questions, people who can validate your ideas and also challenge you by sharing varying opinions.
- Blogging is a good way for researchers to share their research ideas with others and gain feedback from a wider, online audience. Well-thought-out blogs attract people with similar thoughts and queries, people who can validate your ideas and also challenge you by sharing varying opinions.
- As informal ways to interact and share information on a project or piece of research
- Extend the reach of a research output such as an article
- Use your blog to inform people throughout the research cycle
- Use your blog to share links and files to your research outputs
- Use your blog to provide further insights and information from your research
- Use your blog to advertise and document any research project events
- Create awareness of your research via your blog. Let people know what your research is about, what you are doing and achieving, results and what outputs are/will be available.
- Use your blog to highlight your project’s contributions, achievements and impact. Announce awards, achievements and successes.
- Promote your organisation’s name or project “brand”. Use social media to establish your reputation in the research and development arena.
How to get started
- Think about the stage of the research cycle/project and what you want to achieve from better sharing and interaction—this will define your goal
- Identify who you want or plan to share or interact with. Consider their capacity, context and interest.
- Explore the various functionalities of a blog or of blogging
- Start small: use open source blog software which is hosted on the web (e.g. wordpress.com). Try writing blog posts for yourself to develop a style and practice before making it public.
- As your confidence in and style of blogging grows, become more active. Consider this as a key place to announce things, share information, report on events, etc
- If using a blog in a project, get others involved.
- Keep your blog active!
- As your blog becomes more populated, interactive and useful, consider having it hosted on your institute’s server and embedding it into your website
- Link your blog with other tools and methods. For example, embed photos, videos, slides into your blog posts. Also share your blog link and links to specific posts with other social media tools such as Twitter, FaceBook, etc for increased visibility and traffic.
- Look at your blog stats/analytics and comments to evaluate your blog traffic and participation
Additional tips to make a ‘good’ blog
- Think about what you blog: provide useful, informative information as well as evidence, data etc along with your insights and opinions. Try to link to additional content where possible.
- Embed photos, videos, and powerpoint presentations into your blog posts to share with people various outputs from your research from which they can learn and benefit
- Ask your webmaster/communication department to link feeds from your blog to your Institute’s website and other social media tools to create more visibility for your blog and make its content travel further.
- Give your blog some personality
While a single corporate voice is needed in many contexts, institutional-speak often fails to connect with targeted audiences on a personal level. So if you want to attract readers to your institutional blog and have them coming back for more, it makes sense to add a personal voice to your posts.
Allow different authors to put their name, face and voice on your organization’s blog
Show your personality but always be professional
Mind your language: choose your words carefully.as jargon and certain scientific terminology might be lost on someone outside your discipline. At all times keep your stakeholders in mind and write in a way that appeals to them.
Self-promotion is no promotion- Don’t use every blog post to tell the world how great you are.
Dare to make your opinions known but they need to be justified and accurate and they need to be relevant to your organization’s mission.
Above all else, remember the golden rule of blogging: the greatest personality in the world can’t make up for poor content
Write effective blog titles
You can spend a lot of time writing a blog post, making it both informative and engaging, but if you want as many people as possible to read it, you need to give it a title that is easy to understand while being search-engine friendly.
Write simple but descriptive titles. Be creative, but remember language and think global
Include search-engine friendly keywords in your titles
Keep titles short and sweet, since browsers tend to scan titles and are generally not attracted to long ones, Shorter titles can be easily shared via Twitter, and short titles are easier to understand at a glance and have a greater chance of being clicked on.
In a nutshell, a few keywords in your title that are relevant to your post’s theme will put you well up the search list. If you can’t keep your title short, the very least you can do is to include the keywords in the first part of the title to ensure that you catch the searcher’s eye
How to monitor, evaluate and improve a blog
It is important for organisations and individuals to monitor, evaluate and improve their blogs and blogging over time. The approach below provides clear, actionable steps which together act as a useful tool for blog masters and owners to carry out a self-assessment of their own blog(s) and will provide some insights on things to consider when designing a new blog.
- Ask questions: In evaluating a blog, try to understand “the environment” before even looking at the blog itself. Get to know the background: What is the purpose of the blog? Who is the intended audience? What is the real dynamic content on the blog? What is the lifespan of the blog?
- Check the numbers: Analyze the basic traffic patterns and numbers, using a tool such as Google Analytics to get a good view of the blog and visitors’ profiles, (who visits the blog, where they come from, what they are interested in, how long they stay, bounce rate, more returning or new visitors, how visitors find/get to the blog, popular posts, referrals, etc) and trends over time (how the blog progresses over time, trend in visitors, retention rate, traffic and referrals, what is popular, what brings up comments), which is best shown by looking at a graph over a week.
- First impressions: How does a first time visitor see the blog? How do they feel when they see it? Can they see the main parts? Can they find/figure out the navigation?
- The blog’s real estate: Are all the relevant parts visible? Is the user able to see the parts that s/he expects, wants, needs? Do the different blocks make sense? Are the different bits of information relevant? Is there a reason why each piece of information sits where it does?
- Usability: How accessible and “usable” is the blog? How easy is it to use the blog, to find information?
- Speed: Is the blog optimized for all bandwidths? No matter how good our content is, if a blog is slow, it won’t be successful.
- Search engine optimization (SEO): How does the blog cater for search engines crawlers? Some key things to check include: What is the blog’s pagerank? How many other sites link to the blog? Google the content and keywords which are pertinent to the blog. Can you find the blog on Google?
- Graphical presentation: The different parts that should make a blog “pleasing to the eye”. There a few things that can improve your blog such as: Does the site width fit on the most used screen width? Does the graphical presentation represent what the blog should “feel” like? Are the different graphical components (colours, fonts, boxes…) consistently used for the whole site? Consider important factors like: colour choices, number of colours, white/blank space, font type, spacing, text styling, and more
Examples and Case studies
The following are some examples of research blogs:
- Agricultural Biodiversity blog. Insightful blogs on biodiversity in agriculture by Luigi Guarino and Jeremy Cherfas.
- CIAT Dapa Blog
- ICT-KM Blog showcases blogs and blogging within the research arena
- ILRI Fodder Adoption project blog
- DFID Bloggers, staff blogs from the UK Department for International Development, is a great example of an organization that uses images and other personal touches in its blog posts.
- IFAD’s social reporting blog shows how staff from the International Fund for Agricultural Development have successfully infused their personal insights into organizational updates.
- Check out the World Bank blogs to see how readable a blog can be!
- ICRISAT HOPE project blog
- CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food security (CCAFS)
- The World Agroforestry Centre blog
- For more inspiration (over 800 nonprofit blogs)
Below are some resources which were used in the compilation of this pathway and some additional ones for you to read, learn from and make use of:
- Web2forDev. Articles and examples on blogging in the context of development work.
- Knowledge Sharing Toolkit. Learn how to blog and experiences in using blogs in the research and development context.
- ICT-KM Social Media Blog series. Blogs on using social media tools in research and development organizations
- Blog Tips. On blogging and social media for non-profits. Key resource for evaluating your blogs
- How to evaluate a blog Guide by Peter Casier, compiled by Davide Piga and layed out by the CGIAR ICT-KM team)
- The original series on Blogtips.org: - maybe put the previous slideshare under this one as “the guide”.. as it is the same
- How can I… series on ictkm.cgiar.org
- How can I add personality to my organization’s blog posts? (By Mary Schneider, ICT-KM team)