This resource guide to Blogging for Social Change is designed to provide an introduction to what is a blog, to outline why PCDN individual and organizational members might want to actively undertake blogging, highlight some key success, as well highlight ethical issues and challenges that can arise that any blogger should consider. As with all of PCDN’s resource guides this one is designed to inspire PCDN members, provide some key resources and also we welcome suggestions, critiques and input from our members as this document will be continually updated.
We also have over 11,000 blogs on PCDN and would strongly encourage members to consider posting blogs on the network as we are an ideal platform to reach a global audience. We welcome both original content as well as blogs crossposted with the author’s permission.
WHAT IS A BLOG?
According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, a blog is a “Web site on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences” (see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blog). I would add that this definition is incomplete as many individuals and organizations around the world have come to see blogging as a critical tool in writing about policy, politics, conflict and many critical issues in the world.
There is some debate about who developed the first blog and the origin of the term sources indicate that even before the term blogging was invented there were people who were updating websites with new information and links and this was a precursor to the modern blog. While others, put the first blog as created in 1994 when a student at Swarthmore university created a website that he continually updated for 11 years (cnet, http://news.cnet.com/2100-1025_3-6168681.html has a good overview of the history of blogging).
Since the creation of the first blog, the blogosphere (a term to describe the blogging universes) has grown dramatically. According to Blogger (a blogger is a person who write blogs) Brandon Gaile, “a new blog is created every half a second” somewhere in the world. This means on a given day over 172,800 blogs are created (see http://www.wpvirtuoso.com/how-many-blogs-are-on-the-internet/).
There is no standard length for a blog, but in general a good blog will be longer than a Tweet (140 characters) and many experts suggest shorter than 500 words (but of course this varies widely according to the audience and content).
There are countless reasons why an individual or organization might want to blog. As highlighted above a blog traditionally was a space where an individual could write online about his/her own experiences, thoughts, ideas, etc. However over the past decade blogging has also grown into one of the most critical tools in the new media toolkit that can be used to share insights, lessons, questions, and reflections about a wide range of personal, political and policy issues.
These days blogs have proven to be a very effective means of putting ideas out into the world, of engaging others in a debate around and encouraging people to take concrete action or learn more.
The following are some key reasons to blog
1) The need to be visible. As Drs. Patrick Meir and Albon write, “The blog is the new CV. If you don’t exist dynamically online, then you’re not indexable on the web. And if you’re not indexable, then you’re not searchable or discoverable.” (see their wonderful entry the blog is the new cv, Thus for anyone who has ideas or wants to share work or lessons with a larger global community, having a blog is a key means of engaging your peers. Having a website is not enough these days, blogging is the new way to share and connect.
2) Writing can help shape and refine ideas – Writing and exploring ideas (whether on paper or a computer) can be a wonderful way to question one’s own assumptions, to learn and grow. Moreover, getting feedback and input from around the world can help to refine your own ideas.
3) It can help attract attention – Having a high quality on-going blog can be a wonderful means to attract attention to oneself, to a cause or an idea. If you regularly post high quality, intelligent and reflective blogs, it is possible to attract a following of like-minded peers (as well as people who may disagree). This attention can be quite useful in increasing awareness of a critical issue related to development or conflict, to get an underreported issue into the open, or to even help advance one’s career. For example, many employers in reviewing potential candidates for job openings will review one’s social media presence. I am familiar with numerous cases where my graduate students took the time to develop a well-crafted blog while studying. When the students went on the job market, having this written record of insightful, critical and well-structured writing demonstrating an understanding of a particular subject (whether peace education or transitional justice) can help make your application stand out. In the age where many employers are receiving several hundred applications for a job opening, a blog may make the difference.
4) It is fun – If you are passionate about the topics you’re blogging about, thinking and drafting blogs can be a fun and inspiring. Think of blogging as an inherently creative process (and many of best blogs do integrate images, infographics, videos and other means beyond just text).
5) To make money (or not) – Over the past decade, blogging has moved from something that amateur bloggers do to a small but growing class of professional bloggers. According to Technocrati Media’s 2013 Digital Influence Report, a leading resource on new media, see nearly two thirds of people (in the US) identified as influences make some money from blogging. Among influences, the overwhelming majority make less then $10,000 a year. But there are a few bloggers who have been able to turn their writing into a career and attract a great following. A number of bloggers have also been able to turn their blogs into book deals and vice-versa
HOW TO GET STARTED
There is no recipe for how to craft the perfect blog and guarantee a large following. Below are a few recommendations from PCDN, based on years of blogging and reviewing blogs (see also the infographic with 11 key suggestions for compelling blogging)
1) Pick a top you’re passionate about – This is one of the most important issues. Try to spend some time thinking about what are some of the most critical issues to you or your organization? What is the driving motivation that helps you do your work? What are the burning questions that are unresolved? This could be anything from why if the world produces enough food to feed everyone, are there so many hungry people today? Or how can the peacebuilding field, better engage with the groups who are seen as spoilers? Or something focused on the international development industry, such as how do we increase accountability of development organizations to the beneficiaries they serve? 1a) Pick a Timely Topic – To help attract maximum audience and impact for your blog, it can be very useful to focus on topics that have strong relevance to key policy or academic debates taking place. A blog doesn’t necessarily need to be completely new, but can explore an idea from a different perspective, shed new light on research or be a think piece. Of course picking an underexplored topic that you believe deserves more attention can also be a good approach.
2) Decide on your audience and goals – One of the things to consider is the intended audience for your blog. Is it something only for friends and family (such as a travel blog that might contain somewhat personal information) or for a global community. Is the blog mostly for you to express yourself, or do you also seek to reach out to a wider community? Also reflect on if you will have a personal (mostly a journal style) or professional blog (or some combination of the two)
3) Read other blogs – Take some time to review other blogs that fall within your area of interest (as well in other realms). Seeing what others write about, how they design their blog sites ascetically, and what you like and don’t like, as well as what attracts attention can be the best way to learn.
4) Don’t overthink – Many people spend hours trying to plan the perfect blog post. For some this may be the right process, but often it is best to start writing (as long as you have proofread and reviewed your entry) and once you feel comfortable put the blog out there.
5) Ensure that you blog on a regular basis – To attract a following and interest, blogging once in a while is not sufficient. Blogging on a regular basis, such as every week, or twice a month (or whatever schedule works for you), is key. This helps both in ensuring you have regular content, but also helps to get your ideas into the blogosphere on a regular basis.
6) Pick a Platform There are many platforms on which to create a blog. First of all if your blog is focused on the themes of PCDN such as development, peacebuilding, social entrepeneurship and related areas, you’re encouraged to blog on PCDN. You can create a blog on your PCDN page
However for many bloggers, it also is good practice to setup your own blogging page (and if appropriate cross-post on PCDN). This can help in attracting followers and brand identity.
Most blogging services have a free basic version and then might charge for certain features such as customized domain names, for increased web page design options, etc.
7) If a blog is unread does it exist – Most bloggers want their content to be read and viewed by others. In order to attract interest and a following, you will need to use social media tools (such as Twitter, Facebook, Linked, etc.) to promote your blog and encourage people to visit and read your content. A posted but unread blog will not unfortunately have any external impact. Also ensure that you have a way to track the metrics on your blog, such as number of page views using tools in the blogging platform or a Google Analytics.
While blogging can be a great way to engage and share one’s ideas. It is essential to consider key ethical issues and potential risks as outlined below.
- Internet Content Is Usually Permanent – Before writing a blog, it is essential to think about what is posted as Internet content stays online for a very long time (and can be very difficult or impossible to erase). Thus if you might want to work for a particular donor and in a blog you publicly critique the institution it is possible five years down the road the posting can come back to haunt you.
- Safety – Putting one’s ideas in the public can be inspiring, but also in many societies, particularly one’s that have limited media freedoms, can be dangerous. There are many examples of individuals around the world who have posted a tweet or blog and been thrown into jail for their comments. Thus please always, always consider any potential risks for yourself (or if you’re blogging on behalf of others or a cause) that may need to be considered.
- Representation – If you’re blogging on behalf of a group or a cause, there are many issues of power and representation. Who has the right to speak and represent a group?
- Online Attacks – Many bloggers who post controversial ideas have been subject to online attacks in comment forums or other online platforms. One way to help prevent this is have a site where comments are moderated.
- Ensure you have permission to use content and share yours – Before taking material from another source ensure that you have permission to use the content. In addition make clear your guidelines if others want to repost your material. In particular we recommend looking at Creative Commons
- Think about if Blogging is the Right Platform – There are many advantages to blogging but it may not be the right platform for everyone. Also ensure if you work for an organization and you want to blog that you check your institutions policies for individuals having a personal blog account (or any new media platform). For example, the International Studies Association recently created a draft policy indicating editors of their journals shouldn’t be blogging. The main reason outlined was that this could lead to confusion between an editor’s personal policies and the larger views of a particular journal or the ISA. However the idea generated such controversy that is has been postponed and further discussion is underway. For a good article on this topic see What Hip-Hop and Kendrick Lamar can teach Academia in Foreign Policy.
POPULAR BLOGGING PLATFORMS:
- WordPress.org or wordpress.com – is one of the premier blogging sites in the world.
- PCDNetwork– PCDN is a wonderful platform to do original blogging or cross-post relevant material from one’s own site. We have over 11,000 blogs to date and many bloggers have had tremendous results from PCDN.
For a useful overview of blogging platforms see http://thenextweb.com/apps/2013/08/16/best-blogging-services/
Also see the wonderful blog from Oxfam about Blogging about development: some tips for NGOs and would-be bloggers
Now that you’re ready to start blogging here are some existing blogs that can provide inspiration.
1) PCDNetwork– PCDN is a wonderful platform to do original blogging or cross-post relevant material from one’s own site. We have over 11,000 blogs to date and many bloggers have had tremendous results from PCDN.
2) Global Voices – is an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media from around the world
3) How Matters– a wonderful blog from Jennifer Lentfer, who works at Oxfam American and is focused on locally driven development initiatives.
4) The Bobs – An annual award given to innovative blogs around the world by Deutsche Well, focused on online activism and the freedom of information and press.
5) Insight on Conflict – is the leading online resource on peacebuilding in conflict zones worldwide from Peace Direct.
7) Peacefare– – dedicated to building peace worldwide. It focuses on the concepts, analysis, policies, institutions, people, experience, lessons learned and tools needed to prevent and resolve violent international conflict.
8) Al Jazeera Blogs – Key bloggers on issues in international affairs.
9) Fast Company – Insightful and widely followed blog on innovation in business (often touching on international and design issues).
10) Africa is a Country – a collective of scholars, writers, artists, filmmakers, bloggers, and curators who together produce online commentary, original writing, media criticism, short videos, and photography.
11) USIP Olive Branch – a place for timely analysis, views from the field and an exchange of ideas about how to build peace and end or prevent conflict.
What are additional resources for blogging for change that you would like to suggest?