Thursday, September 19, 2013

Blogging about Blogging

I've encouraged folk seeking to start or advance their museum careers to jump in and do interesting work, with or without institutional support. Even as the internet has undermined the economic models for traditional avenues of communication, like newspapers or academic journals, it has provided a way for anyone, regardless of age or status, to share their thoughts with the world. If those are intelligent and creative thoughts, you can develop a professional status and reputation that would have taken years, if not decades, to build under traditional methods of advancement. For example, I bet that Nina Simon’s blog Museum 2.0 was a significant factor in jump starting her career.

Technically, starting a blog is easier than ever. Platforms such as Blogger and WordPress offer free, turnkey operations. But there's no point speaking to an empty auditorium, so how do you build readership? I've gotten that question a lot in the past year, so this post is a brain dump on my experience from 6 years of blogging.

I launched the CFM blog in February, 2009, and the first post I lobbed into the ether was Stone Soup, addressing the role museums can and should play in helping their communities and society at large.  Since CFM barely existed at that time, it’s not surprising that post had a grand total of 96 page views. Now the blog gets about 23,000 – 25,000 hits per month, with a cumulative total of over 550 thousand page views.

Your readership for any given post is going to be partly driven by what you write about, especially if you cover a variety of subjects rather than carving out a specialized niche  like  pop-up museums, or micropaleontology. When I look at the most widely read CFM posts by topic, for example, I notice:
As I look for patterns, I have to remember that the CFM stats are warped by the fact that our base readership has grown dramatically in the last six years. It’s too bad the early posts had limited distribution, due to our newbie status, as they included pieces I think were good introductions to themes CFM has continued to explore—from the effect of the increasing wealth gap on museums and their behavior, to the core purpose of museums, educational or otherwise.

Le't assume that your written on a topic that some number of people are going to want to read. How do you help them find it? Here is some advice on getting the word out and cultivating readership for your blog:
  • Build your social media network. Establish a presence on other communication platforms, such as Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. Use those accounts to share content from other folks, as well as links to your own blog.
  • Be a reciprocator.  Lend your social media support to projects related to your work (e.g., #askacurator, #futrchat, #musesocial). Demonstrating you are a good digital colleague builds relationships and widens your network.
  • Enlist social media mavens. When you feature, interview or host a guest post by a person who already has a broad social media presence (personally or through their institution), they can help you reach new audiences, some just for that post, some who will become regular readers. Or, drop a note to a widely-followed tweeter about post on a topic they are interested in, and ask them to spread the word.
  • Tap into existing networks. reach out to communities of interest that might be particularly interested in a given topic. When I write a post of interest to natural history museums, I might put a link on the NHColl Listserve. For a post about philanthropy, I might email the leadership of DAM (the Alliance’s Development & Membership Professional Network), and suggest they invite their membership to read and comment.
  • Make strategic use of hashtags, and use them when you tweet about a post. People who have never read your blog before but are passionate about (fill in the blank: #3dprinting, or #accessibility for example) may find you in this way.

If you are a blogger, please contribute your advice in the comments section, below. If you are thinking about starting your own blog, or trying to build your readership, don’t be shy about asking questions there as well—if I can’t answer them, perhaps another reader will weigh in.


Linda Norris said...

Great suggestions Beth--but I've got two others--both pretty basic, but both of which helped me along the way. First, be consistent. I can't tell you how many abandoned blogs I see, still up there, that seem sad and lonely. And if I were looking at you as a potential job candidate, I would wonder why you couldn't keep at it. I aim for, but don't always reach, once a week. And second, find your own distinct voice as a writer. I don't have good advice on doing that other than keeping writing (that's where that once a week comes in). Distinctive voices are far, far more interesting than regurgitated matter. And, have fun.

cdilly said...

Great post. I also absolutely agree with Linda's suggestions.

Blogging has helped me to truly understand the importance of "first follower(s)" and the role they play in building a community. (Cue Derek Sivers and his "How to Start a Movement" TED Talk ( Cultivate relationships - your first follower(s) sometimes play a big role in building your tribe!

Certainly, when I began blogging, my professional connections grew in regard to breadth - but I realized the importance of the work I was doing offline to underscore depth - and my online/offline worlds began to work together to feed off of one another to build credibility in a beneficial way that I still think is truly *awesome.*... So don't forget what you're doing offline!

Also, if you're writing professionally and for sometimes less-than-tech-savvy audiences: don't underestimate the value of being able to have email subscriptions. That's the distribution channel with highest reach and pass along rate for my content - so perhaps it may be a useful for the distribution of yours as well - or worth considering!

I look forward to hopefully seeing a new community of museum bloggers on the rise!

Barry Joseph said...

That's a great list. Let me see what I can add to that as well:

I try to combine talking about my specific museum work with the work of others - I think my special vantage point into the work at my museum has value yet I wouldn't want my blog to be "all about me." Including work of others is not only interesting but it helps to contextualize my own work while broadening its potential reach.

I agree about interviewing others to broaden your audience. In addition, you can use interviews to form contact with people you'd like to meet, teach yourself something new (it can beat reading a book), and can allow you to make a case INTERNALLY at your own institution ("See! They are doing it too!").

Blogs are not just soapboxes but dialogues.

Blogs are never a destination in and of themselves (not for those who return more than once) but part of a network of information - include links to anything and everything in your post, and be viewed as a crucial information hub for your readers.

Not all agree, but I learn towards the write-a-lot-and-often school, rather than one deep post a month.

Creating a public identity. Your voice as a blogger and a Tweeter and whatnot are constructed. Design them. Build them. It was just a year ago that I entered the Museum world and I used that opportunity to create a new public persona as a museum professional. I started a new blog connected to a new twitter account. So far I have over 300 followers on Twitter and 2,000 blog visits this month - it grows over time, but I've built both up from 0 twelve months ago.

albina N muro said...

I've encouraged folk seeking to start or advance their museum careers to jump in and do interesting work, with or without institutional support. Even as the internet has undermined the economic models for traditional avenues of communication. blog