The term ‘blogging’ has a strange history. For some, it still conveys a rather unglamorous image, captured in Andrew Marr’s infamous remarks a few years ago that “a lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting”. Associated with this stereotype is the image of blogging as a lone pursuit. However increasingly this is not the case and the reasons for it are not complex. To attract an audience it’s necessary to update a blog on a regular basis and, as a sole author, it’s very difficult to do this. Those who manage it usually, in my experience, see the blog as an integral part of a wider set of activities which they would be doing anyway. So the blog is embedded within an existing cluster of practices rather than being yet another responsibility they have to keep track of. For instance in my own case, I primarily use my blog as a notebook to develop ideas, which is something I struggle to do without writing. But this isn’t for everyone and, unless blogging is something which you’re likely to commit to and/or embed within your existing activities then it’s going to extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a sole authored blog with any degree of regularity, at least in the long term. This is why multi-author blogging, which can take many forms, is an increasingly popular practice, as Chris Gilson and Patrick Dunleavy from the LSE’s Public Policy Group ably summarise,
According to some good estimates, perhaps 80 per cent or more of the single-author blogs on the web are currently inactive, or are ‘desert blogs’ that very rarely updated. And this is because people start them with high hopes, in determinedly individualistic mode, but find that hard to sustain after a while. Coming up with fresh content, day after day or week after week, is hard work for any academic, especially in the current climate where there are so many other demands on people’s time. But if you don’t post regularly, in a rhythm that is clear to readers so they know when to come back, then it can be hard to keep things going.
We don’t think single-author blogs are a sustainable or genuinely useful model for most academics – although all praise to the still many exceptional academics who can manage to keep up the continuous effort involved. By joining together and forming multi-author blogs, academics can mutually reinforce each other’s contributions. We have 350 authors now on BPP, so if they blog with us twice a year we can post two posts a day without too much difficulty (as we do). And there are many synergies – for example, readers who come for a blog on political developments may stay reading for comments on social policy, or constitutional reform. On a multi-author blog, you often benefit from the content that others provide, and they often benefit from yours.
Quite why more universities don’t take the LSE’s lead is utterly beyond me, given how obviously a relatively small investment in multi-author blogging serves to build capacity for impact and public engagement, thus allowing the vast majority of academics who don’t want to sustain a sole-authored blog to nonetheless engage effectively online. But leaving the chronic shortsightedness of communications policy in UK higher education to one side, it’s worth taking a look at the LSE sites if you’re not already familiar with them to see what they entail in practice: the LSE Impact Blog, LSE British Politics and Policy, LSE EUROPP and the LSE Review of Books. These could be seen as the upper end of the spectrum in terms of organisation and resources, given they have full time staff working on them, though I’d argue they constitute a gold standard for organisations within higher education seeking to engage in multi-author blogging. But it’s also possible to run a multi-author blog with little organisation and no funding. Milena Kremakova and I have have been running the Sociological Imagination for over three years now, with no funding and institutional support while we’ve each been doing a lot of other things. This is much easier to do then it looks with sufficient planning and part of my enthusiasm for this technology stems from my curiosity about the explosion of creativity which would likely ensue if everyone who might potentially be interested in doing something like this realised quite how emphatically it is within their grasp to do so. So what do you need to get started?
- A team, network or group with a shared interest. This shared interest can be something diffuse and it can be something plural. But the project is unlikely to succeed without an underlying interest which can subsequently inform and shape what you do in practice. Is it a particular research topic or cluster of topics which interests you? Is it a particular approach to doing research? Is it a particular career stage and the issues related to it? If you have institutional backing then this a somewhat different issue but, assuming you don’t, these are the sorts of questions which will help guide you as you’re planning and setting up your blog.
- A sense of the blog’s purpose and the kinds of content it will host. Will it be longer academic pieces? Or shorter posts written for a broader audience? Will you include multi-media and video? Will you collate resources relevant to your topic and use the blog to share them with a broader audience? There are a lot of options and setting out with one idea in mind in no way precludes later expansion. But it’s important to think about what your multi-author blog will actually look like and what sort of content it will host. What would it need for you to feel the blog is a success? This question might be difficult, if not impossible, to answer at the outset but it’s worth thinking about and discussing as a group.
- How will work be distributed amongst your group? How rigorously will you proof read and edit each other’s work? Will specific individuals have particular roles or will you all post as and when? Will you co-ordinate your activity as a team and, if so, how will you do this? Is it possible that there might be disputes about content and, if so, how will you resolve these within your group? It’s important to make sure everything is on the same page at the outset but, again, there’s no reason why an understanding you reach at the outset needs to be anything other than provisional.
- Will you accept guest posts? If so will you actively solicit these through an open call or by approaching people directly? If you publish guest posts will these be read and agreed upon by the team or is it enough for one member to have thought it was suitable for posting?
- Try and build an ‘archive’ at the outset. Given that blogs require regular updates to succeed, it’s important both to have a (realistic) aim about how frequently you will post but also to have a backlog to sustain you at the outset when you’re finding your feet and in case of dry spells where people are too busy with other commitments to write regularly for the blog. Scheduling posts within WordPress can be useful for this as well, given it allows you to ensure the blog is updated up until a particular point in time. It also means that something which would otherwise have to be a daily(ish) activity can instead become a weekly or even a fortnightly one. When we’re both busy, Sociological Imagination is sometimes scheduled weeks in advance. It’s really surprising how much you can get done if you spend an entire afternoon working on a blog once every couple of weeks.
- How will you promote your blog? For instance a twitter feed is pretty essential so that new posts are automatically tweeted. However tools like Buffer App can be used to automatically schedule tweets from your archive. This can take a bit of getting used to but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to make this a regular activity and it’s nowhere near as time consuming as it might sound.
This is a very provisional first go at something I’ve intended to write for ages. I’m not sure if it’s v1.0 or v0.1 really. I’m going to come back to it in the future, probably quite a few times, to flesh out points 1 to 6 a lot, add more points and write a conclusion. In the meantime, any comments are much appreciated and I’m particularly interested in any questions or issues you think it would be useful for me to address in future iterations of it.