Learning Whilst Blogging

I was interested to read a post by Marcus Urban on the lessons that he learnt in setting up a website/blog (with some ambitious-sounding aims). As I was planning on doing a review, I thought I’d do a comparison with my own experiences with running two rather different blogs for over a year (with far more modest aims). The two blogs are Fleet Pond Blog and this one and both have different origins and aims.

The list below gives his main points and ‘takeaways’ together with my own experiences:

1. It doesn’t matter where you start, just start
Takeaway: All there ever is – is to start. Start somewhere. Start with something that inspires you.

I strongly agree – I’d prevaricated about starting a blog for over 5 years! I eventually got involved through a local charity for helping maintain and conserve Fleet Pond, Hampshire’s largest freshwater lake.

Just stating that I’d do it to a group of people gave me the impetus to start and to consistently deliver. It was also something that was genuinely worthwhile to the charity, not just a whim.

I was a beginner in the field of conservation and charity work and I thought that finding out what went on and why would be fairly straightforward. This wasn’t the case as a lot of the local information was in people’s heads (charity resources are typically scarce) as well as scattered around the web.

So my motivation for setting up the blog was to proactively capture and explain the many activities and events that take place to as wide an audience as possible. In this sense the aim of the blog was to be a (unique) unifying resource, informally bringing different communities together. Fortunately this has panned out well and Fleet Pond Blog has been very successful with a good and consistent hit rate with readers all over the world (people emigrate!).

Based on the success of this blog over an initial six-month period, I then started up the current Steps & Leaps blog on my professional interests.

Doing things this way round has been indispensable.

2. Timing is crucial
Takeaway: Be aware of what’s happening within the time frame that you set out for yourself. Avoid predictable distractions and conflicts.

Timing wasn’t a key concern for my current two blogs. However I’m currently advising a writer in setting-up and running a blog to market the production of a new business book due out next year. In this case timing will be crucial. There will be the inescapable conflicts of finding the time to write the book, bring in paid work, satisfy customers and write relevant and interesting posts!

3. You know a lot more than you think you do
Takeaway: Become aware of what you know – and realize that you have a lot to share with the world.

Be also aware of what you don’t know – in fact this was the motivation for the Pond Blog!

4. Get people involved
Takeaway: Ask people for feedback along the way, attribute their contributions, and they will be more likely to help you spread your message.

For Fleet Pond, it was clear that knowledge and expertise was distributed amongst various groups and individuals (photographers, conservation volunteers, fishermen, bird watchers, dog walkers, runners etc). So getting them actively involved with the blog was fairly essential. This aspect has been a great success – currently we’ve had 20 contributors with 7 from outside the charity.

One of the key strengths of the blog is it’s collective and open approach.

5. Put yourself out there
Takeaway: Just put yourself out there. You are great just the way you are. And you’ll be surprised at all the positive feedback people will give you.

Steps & Leaps: In some ways this was trickier as it’s a solo viewpoint rather than an accumulation of viewpoints and also has a somewhat narrower (individualistic) remit. However talking about blogging has now lead to new work opportunities in this area so that’s an exciting and unexpected development.

6. Keep it Simple
Takeaway: Define your purpose or goal in super clear terms, and keep it simple, right from the start.

The straplines for the two blogs are:

Pond: Conservation In The Community: News And Information on Fleet Pond Nature Reserve, Hampshire, UK
As I didn’t have much conservation knowledge and experience, developing the ‘feel’ of the blog was a learning experience. Categories were initially considered but were abandoned as I wanted the themes of the blog to emerge naturally from the different contributors (even though I had no idea who they might be or what they might like to write on). This approach worked very well as emphasis was placed on getting wide-ranging content rather than posts for pre-assigned topics.

Steps & Leaps: Thoughts and Comments on (Mainly) Research, Innovation and Business Management
In this case I thought I’d write about topics that interested me from the three main areas that I’ve worked in professionally over the last 20 years. As I already had the knowledge and experience, it was a question of finding news items and writing posts so setting up pre-assigned categories was quite helpful. I decided not to use tags to keep things simple.

7. When you fail, own up
Takeaway: Own everything you do, whether it’s positive or negative.

On the whole things have turned out pretty well. The only (fairly minor) technical mistake was renaming a published post which then screwed up all the newsfeeds and related links. I duly apologised and it’s something I won’t do again!

8. Failure is never failure
Takeaway: Always keep moving, embrace failure, and see where you end up.

Luckily nothing significant to report although I expect something unfortunate will happen sometime or other! A different slant on this theme is the need to keep things fresh and interesting. For the specialist topic of the Pond, I use Google Alerts to keep a lookout for new and unusual news articles – there are more than you might imagine!

9. You Never Know Where It Will End Up
Takeaway: Keep your mind open and embrace the opportunities that present themselves along the way. Embrace new directions.

Fleet Pond: the success of the blog motivated us to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts although these are currently not as popular. We are currently investigating collaborative online project management services such as Huddle and Manymoon for a major (£multi-million) campaign to restore the pond to it’s original condition. I doubt if we would have gone this route if I hadn’t started the blog.

Overall the blog and related Web 2.0 approaches are really useful to us as a charity and hopefully can help us deliver results that previously would have been impossible.

10. Don’t Take it All So Seriously
Takeaway: Win or lose, have fun and remember why you’re doing this in the first place. Don’t take it all so seriously.

I’ve certainly found writing the two blogs fun and it’s also lead to some good new friendships as well as new work opportunities. Just one key lesson – I really should have started earlier 🙂


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