Monday, February 4, 2008

Questions and answers about blogging

Originally uploaded by aafromaa

A week ago, an Extension colleague was interested in how blogging fits into Cooperative Extension and asked a few questions about our blogging. Jim Langcuster and I answered her questions from our individual perspectives.

Jim started blogging Extension Daily several years ago and he was the first one to write a Wikipedia page for a state Extension service.
I started blogging a year ago and am using various social media tools, including Flickr, YouTube, Slideshare, (social bookmarking), and Twitter.

This post includes the questions, answers, and some examples so others can see how Cooperative Extension professionals are using blogging. In my opinion, Extension has not even created the "drop" in the bucket. Typical Extension subject matter professionals have tremendous of knowledge to share, and I hope this post helps them understand blogging can work for them.

1. How do you have time to write an entry a day?

Jim L. Well, in all honesty, it's hard sometimes. Finding subject matter often is very difficult. I pour over the online dailies regularly --- in particular, the New York Times --- and, fortunately, have a very good working relationship with agents and specialists. Otherwise, I simply would not be able to do it regularly.

Incidentally, congratulations to you for seeing the value of blogs.

Anne A. I don't post every day. I do generally write something daily, but it takes me awhile to post some of my blog articles. While Extension Daily covers a lot of diversity and Jim blogs everyday and sometimes more than once a day, I have averaged posting 1 time every two weeks. So far this year, I am posting 2 to 3 times a week.

I write notes throughout the general workday and my in-depth writing occurs mostly at night and a few free moments on weekends. Although I do sometimes blog during the workday, most of my writing is done at night. Sometimes I get ideas about presentation and approaches when I jog (that is part of being alone and having a chance to "think").

When I talk to agents about blogging, I encourage them to submit blog articles with material they have already created for their newsletters, newspapers, and answers to emails. As Jim says, writing and synthesizing the content is the hardest part. If agents are already writing articles for their newsletters, then they could easily adapt these articles into blog posts. I think a better option is to learn to blog and develop the newsletters from the blog posts.

I see Extension educators blogging in niches. Niche blogs will get "reads" from people who are truly interested in those areas, not necessarily thousands and thousands.

2. What is your position?

Jim L. Yes, a news and public affairs specialist -- technically a communications and marketing specialists based on a new university reclassification, though I prefer the first.

Anne A. My title is Associate Director, IT. I started blogging in January 2007 as a way to understand how blogging fits into the Extension educational efforts.

3. Where do you get your information? Do you find the stories yourself?

Jim L. Yes, as I said, I find the stories myself, though, of course, I work with the agents, though mostly specialists, for quotes. It's time consuming, and I do this on top of several other job tasks.

Incidentally, I take much of what I write --- two thirds or so -- and provide it to the agents in column form, which, of course, involves significant rewriting. We've had a tremendous increase in our newspaper coverage as a result, so I'm convinced the effort has been worth it.

Also, I sometimes take the very best material and pitch it to media outlets directly -- and, in the case of truly singular stories, I write them into op-eds bearing the by-line of the person I've interviewed.

These have been featured in Sunday op-eds in some of the state's major dailies, most notably the Birmingham News.

Anne A. I write my thoughts as they happen (in meetings, right after discussions, emails, phone calls, and instant messages). I don't post articles right away, rather; I develop the notes and find supporting material before posting blog articles.

Agents are usually in middle of most of these discussions or their work is the object of the discussions, so yes, I get ideas for my blog posts from agents. I often think how Extension professionals can apply the information as I write my articles. Most of my articles are usually written for specific Extension educators (although I don't always say so).

Also, I keep up with lots opinions and knowledge on social media from a variety of sources:

  • blogs of Extension IT professionals.
  • blogs about social media in business, non profits, and marketing.
  • blogs and news stories about technology and leadership.
  • blogs on elearning, learning and education, I am particularly drawn to university educators who blog about elearning and learning.
  • blogs from Extension agents.
  • Twitter messages from marketing bloggers, technology bloggers, education bloggers, nonrpofit bloggers, Extension agents, and even, a retired musician.
  • network of Extension IT and communications specialists.
  • general news stories.
  • people in general.
  • books I am reading.
  • links sent to me via emails.

I read a lot, try to listen, and absorb lots of opinions and information from a variety of sources. By the way, the only way I can read from this many different sources is to use a news reader (i.e., Google Reader).

4. Do you have any advice for agents who are considering doing a blog? Time seems to be the biggest obstacle.

Jim L. Yes, believe me, time is the biggest obstacle -- not just to write the stuff but to conceptualize it in a form that fits the whole Extension matrix. Frankly, I see a huge potential here for agents. In fact, I've begun speaking about old and new media -- old being conventional media, new being blogs, vlogs and podcasting.

I suppose the frustration is that that while we have a big administrative buy-in to the value of blogs, our specialists and agents are still rather wary of them, partly because of the time, partly because blogging strikes them as, well, terra incognita -- something a bit too new and too daunting to grasp at this point.

The lack of understanding of the power of this medium and of a similar but emerging new medium -- social networking -- is what I find most frustrating. If you like, I'll write you an epistle about why I think new media quickly is superseding old media as the most critical outlet for Extension educators.

Anne A. Like Jim said, Extension agents' opportunities and reach are vast. It is a great medium that should not be overlooked. Blogging is a perfect fit for Extension educators. My advice to agents:

  • Tim Mathews and Diane Turner, write Master Your Garden.
  • My Minnesota Woods is updated by faculty members, Eli Sagor and Philip Potyondy.
  • The Beef Blog is a team blog serves as an educational forum for beef producers and Extension educators.
    • multi-purpose material. Use material that is being used in newsletters as blog articles. Use photos and slide presentations as basis for blog articles.
    • blog what you are already doing. Examples:
  • Teens use of social networking sites.
  • Internet security presentations.
    • blog everyday questions. Tony Glover does this in the Heart of Dixie Gardener blog.

    • blog your passion and knowledge for the purpose of sharing. Examples:
  • At Home with Extension
  • Civility in the Workplace
  • Shepherd's Notebook
  • Lead2020
  • High Touch
  • Keeper
  • Scouting Around
  • Virtual Blue Ribbon Party
  • Extending Extension
  • Brian Webster-Blog
    • refer to content produced by Extension professionals. (We need to do this more and more!)
  • Becky Nibe refers to writing for the web post in Writing for the Web refers to writing tips.
  • Mitch Owen and I had a conversation via blogging in these 3 articles: Web 2.0 = Social Networks, NOT , Trust in Web 2.0 and Social Networks , and Trust,Web 2.0 and Influence, Social Networks Part II
  • John Dorner and I had a conversation via blogging in these 3 articles: What is a blog? , Do You Blog? or Why Blog? , and What is a blog? Continuation
  • Everyone has something to say. Blogging:

    1. is a great way for Extension professionals to expand and develop their programs.
    2. creates relationships with other Extension professionals.
    3. creates relationships with clientele.

    Random observations:

    Anne A. As Jim says, writing and synthesizing the content is the hardest part. If agents are already writing articles for their newsletters, then they could easily adapt these articles into blog posts. I think a better option is to flip that process around: Blog articles and then develop newsletters from blog posts.

    I see Extension educators blogging in niches. Niche blogs will get "reads" from people who are truly interested in those areas, not necessarily from thousands and thousands.

    Blogging may not be for every Extension professional. However, most anyone can find a social media tool that fits for their style and talents.

    Jim L. First, as I’ve said before, old media is not on a Hospice trajectory, though it’s nonetheless competing with entirely new and, in most respects, far more convenient media that many younger users, the so-called Millennials, find considerably more appealing.

    Our role, as Extension educators, I believe, is to begin tapping into these sources. Indeed, if we don’t, we soon will begin losing any sort of competitive edge we still enjoy vis-à-vis better funded public and private entities.

    Some would contend that Millennials still are roughly 10 years away from being fully integrated into the economy and exercising opinion-leading roles that ultimately could affect our bottom line. So what? My argument is that 10 years is an exceedingly short time, and besides that, there are other older clientele that could begin benefiting from blogging and other social networking techniques, if only they were given adequate training. At the top of the list are the Master Gardeners, who often tend to be retired, well-educated and highly adaptive Extension users - lifelong learners who hunger for knowledge.

    I would add to that list a large number of well-educated agribusiness professionals who already have bought into the highly technical precision farming methods and who may be interested in one or more social networking techniques to keep abreast of emerging technologies and innovations among Extension experts and other producers.

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