Starting an academic blog is easier imagined than done. I fantasised about my research blog, digimediaculture, for so long before launching it last year.
It is clear from this Digital Academic series, that blogging is an essential part of one’s career.
In the first part of the series, Dr Nadine Muller talked about social media and employability in academia. In the following post, Andy Tattler gave 23 hacks for researchers using digital media. Check them out for links to their presentation slides as well.
Here, I reflect on “Starting an Academic Blog” by Dr Inger Mewburn, the Thesis Whisperer (TW). The final session from the Digital Academic event.
An important first step to starting an academic blog for the TW, is having a mission statement. Direction is key to having a successful blog.
Blogs give you the opportunity to share your knowledge with the world.
It was encouraging when the TW mentioned that it took her 7 blogs to find her niche in the blogosphere. That made me realise that it is okay to evolve as you go along. Have no expectation to get it to be perfect on the first try.Have a mission statement for your blog-to-be. The Thesis Whisperer blog for instance, is “to help PhD students get their jobs done on time”
It is worth asking, why do you blog or want to blog? Some people blog to improve their writing, others, to offer up their ideas for feedback and debates.
In a study of academic blogs by TW and a colleague, Pat Thompson, they found some interesting points about blogging in academia today. She says people were happy to blog about academic culture critique, research dissemination etc. Blogs on self-help and technical advice, personal reflections, teaching, and career advice, were not so many.
There just might be a niche in there for you.
The TW says, “find your niche!” – the following questions might help. Where do you fit in?
1) Where do you offer the most value?
2) How does your skill help you offer the most value?
3) How can you solve problems?
She goes on to say, “when you are writing blogs that solve people’s problems, your blog will take off.” Offer knowledge on “things they don’t know” and “things they dont know that they don’t know.”
You might worry that your expertise is so niche there is no huge audience for it. To this, the TW says, “size doesnt matter – who is reading it and how much do they matters more to your network.”
To start a successful academic blog, you need to research the community you are reaching out to.
Where do they live online, where do they hang out? What problems do these communities have? How can I help?
Other important points to note about Starting an Academic Blog include:
1) Learn about Creative Commons and how to licence your stuff
2) Don’t sweat the day by day numbers
3) The statistics are your friends – what are people looking for, what do they want me to write? Let it inform your posts
4) To build social capital online takes time – consistency pays off in the long run
5) Universities are not here to maintain your web presence – you need to take charge of this for yourself
6) If you dont want to run a blog, rent a space… contact the blogger/editor, pitch a story that’s current or relevant…why this story is relevant and why people will want to read it.
7) Every blog has a strong idea about what sort of content they want.
8) All blogs are desperate and happy for content
9) Remember it is a dialogue and not a monologue …
10) Have a schedule… it doesnt matter what the schedule is, as long as it’s regular and consistent
11) Quality of the prose, typos… these things are important
12) Overall, “be short, be regular, and be useful” said the Thesis Whisperer.