Sunday, 6 January 2013

Why do I blog and should I bother?

In a moment of over-indulgence, this time last year I did a couple of self-congratulatory blog posts reflecting on the previous year. It seems it is still the thing to do, as this excellent review of the year by Alex Marsh suggests.

As I put it quite bluntly to Alex on Twitter, my blog is no way near as good as his. In fact it was his blogging and that by Alasdair Rae at Sheffield, which gained him the attention of the Graun, that inspired me to start blogging in the first place.

However, my latest few posts have given me pause for thought – well, essentially I’m turning into this:

Back in the summer, if I put up a post then I could guarantee that in a day it would reach over 100 hits. My all-time most popular post (970 hits and counting), on housing and planning wasn’t written by me, but by a wonderful colleague at Sheffield Dr Sarah Payne. My other guest post by my colleague Dr Kirsten Besemer was also popular with 335 hits. My own most popular post was one of my rants about cycling with 691 hits. This obsession with audience was not helped by watching the excellent film Julie and Julia the other night!

It’s the funny thing with blogging – you get a good idea of your audience from these stats, which you rarely get with other written media, although Facebook insights allows you to become even more obsessive. What do all these numbers tell me? Well, reading them straight off, it seems I’m not a very good blogger and my two guest authors have written better than me. Well, I am when I rant about cycling, but people are less interested in my academic work, particular around public sector reform and regeneration (apart from this post which went bizarrely viral among people employed by the Scottish Government). More realistic is the link between Twitter and the blog. Somehow, I’ve ended up with over 1,200 followers on Twitter – my unique blend of tweets on RCTs on the best fat to cook roast potatoes, cucumber special offers in Tesco and random musings on local government seem to float people’s boats. As I said to academic lawyer Malcolm Combe when he started blogging and joined Twitter, Twitter and blogs go hand-in-hand – if you build up sufficient followers on Twitter then when you tweet out your new blog posts, and get retweets, then it drives traffic to your blog.

So, if I wanted to drive more traffic to my blog I should write more rants about cycling and tweet about it more. I’m not sure about the former, but the latter is something I should think about – I don’t tweet as much about my blog as I used to as I find the self-promotion a little awkward.

I used the classic clip of Norma Desmond for a reason – you’re supposed to pity her over-inflated ego. I don’t want my concern about falling audiences on my blog to give you the impression that I spend my days in my office worrying about it. It’s just something I had noticed. And anyway, people reading what I write is not really why I started to blog in the first place. I presumed no one would read it and if people did it was a bonus. I mainly write because it is a form of analysis. I can have ideas and arguments in my head, but they only really come to anything if I write them down. This has led onto work being published in academic journals, for example this post became this Viewpoint in Local Economy journal; and this post by Kirsten is being worked up into a bigger piece of work on deprived neighbourhoods and sexual orientation in Scotland based on some more analysis of the Scottish Health Survey. Blogging is just a nice way to get ideas out there and reflect on practice and research.

Looking back at my self-congratulatory post a year ago, one thing I said I would do, that I haven’t really, is blog about the exciting Ladders to the Cloud project in Wester Hailes. This was very remiss, as a lot has happened, as these two posts in the Hailesmatters blog show. The Totem Pole is now up, with the Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh unveiling it and Jennifer Jones is now working in the neighbourhood for a few months to build up some citizen journalism capacity.

Another set of posts that people in HE seemed to enjoy were my “reflections on teaching practice”. That I could do these was fortunate due to the fact I was completing my Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice and had to produce the work and I’m coming to the end of this now. However, I want to keep up to these as reflections on teaching practice as it shouldn’t stop just because I’m not studying – it’s the only way to improve on my excellent practice so far, after all.

All-in-all, I think my blogging New Year’s resolutions will therefore be:
  • To keep blogging;
  • To make sure I publicise my blog through Twitter;
  • Make sure I blog about Ladders to the Cloud as the project comes to an end;
  • To keep blogging about my teaching experiences.
Oh, and the other thing I’ve noticed, is if I link to my own blog in my blog posts it drives traffic no end! And with that, I’ll leave you to go and read a proper academic blog post over at Alex’s Archives.

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