The Electronic Papyrus blog recently hit 6 months of existence and we felt that some reflection on what we have learned from our experience was in order. Here is a list of lessons learned in no particular order:
Electronic Papyrus Traffic from March 2009 to September 2009 (6 months)
1) Content quality always determines the viability of a blog. We met multiple times prior to our first post to work through issues of audience, tone, scope, main areas of interest, frequency of posts, and division of work. We continue to meet periodically (perhaps once every other month now) to course correct or discuss strategy. Overall, we probably spend about four to five hours a week on the blog. Keep in mind though that with three contributors, this averages out to about an hour per week per contributor since each of us generally posts only once a month.
2) Although we initially wrote our posts for a broad audience that included an academic and private enterprise readership, we have been consistently surprised to see how geographically diverse our audience is (or has become). Our readers are primarily located in the following countries (listed by highest proportion first): U.S., United Kingdom, India, Australia, Canada, Germany and then Italy (Cluster Map of this data). We then have a smattering of readers from all over the world, i.e. Latvia, Iran, Kuwait, Senegal, Romania, etc.
3) Regularly reading other blogs that focus on the same content domain is beneficial for many reasons. In short, it’s very difficult to enter a broader dialog about a specific topic without participating in other blogs. When possible, we found that it is helpful to post comments on others’ blogs as this helps foster relationships with other contributors in the blogosphere. Case in point, while preparing this post, I wandered across the Upside Learning Solutions Blog that had a post on their lessons learned at six months.
4) Statistics and analytics are indispensible (and sometimes painful). Our most popular keywords are the following (listed in most popular first): Palm Pre, iPhone, Mobile Devices, SmartPhones, Microlearning, E-learning, Rapid E-learning, Millenials, Netflix and Modularization. Ranking article popularity is relative to a number of arbitrary variables, but it appears that our most popular articles were those that dealt with mobility, E-learning, generational characteristics of learning and to some extent, different social media topics.
5) It’s good having friends. Over the last 6 months, we depended on what I call “Blog Angel Investors” to help us understand how best to engage our audience and to also help give us some marketing buzz. Tony Karrer over at E-learning tech highlighted many of our articles in his vast expanse of blog terrain, which resulted in a significant increase in traffic to our site. The authors of Infodoodads also helped us initially by sharing some of their experiences with blogging. We were pleased to see a relatively high number of feeds for our posts–by way of example, Harold Jarche was also kind enough to embed a link to our post from his very well-crafted blog.
6) Be real and if possible, a bit edgy. Blog readers expect blogs to be a little more in line with face-to-face or stream-of-consciousness dialog and more than just an academic article. We did our best to recognize that our identity as a group is tied to an academic department (more attention to presentation style, grammar), but we also did our best to express opinions, grind our axes a bit and in general, to be ourselves. Whether or not we have totally succeeded, it is also a goal to ensure our posts apply to workplace environments. We have also experimented a bit with creating posts as lists, inserting interactive polls, ending our blogs with questions aimed at invoking input and so on. Overall, I think we probably agree that this is an area we can continue to improve as we ourselves learn more about our audience’s preferences.
7) Comments aren’t everything and are probably not the best indicator of a blog’s success. I think that initially we had hoped for more comments on our posts. The reality is that very, very few people post blog comments, while the vast majority of readers are simply consuming the information. Here’s a great article about participation rates in virtual communities. By way of example, survey other blogs and even those that have hundreds of thousands of page views, still receive only a handful of comments on their posts. Having said this, I think we still received a rather high number of comments for each post considering our blog’s focus, but it is an intriguing exercise to think about how we might increase this. Interestingly, several of our posts surprisingly resulted in responses that were longer than the original post.
8) Think “reach.” I think I still feel a bit overwhelmed by the concept of how many people we have reached with our posts and thoughts. On a normal workday, we might discuss our latest thoughts with two, three or ten other people at most. When sharing these thoughts via our blog, it’s possible that several thousand people from thirty different countries will read these thoughts over the first several months. This is eye opening and I think relevant to the notion of academic engagement. For better or for worse, reach and promotion seem to go hand in hand. While trying hard not to self-promote, we have added reference to our blog’s URL in our email signatures and have also begun twittering our new posts.
9) Practice humility. I think each of us probably felt more humbled by the fact that there are numerous bloggers who understand this content domain much more deeply than any of us do. Blogging ultimately “levels the playing field” and from time to time, forced each of us to acknowledge our viewpoint was probably not the most current or accurate opinion on a specific topic. Hopefully, this also helps shape our tone and eagerness to post incoming comments.
10) Share. We need to share what we have learned just as others shared with us when we first kicked the blog off. After looking over the most popular blogs housed here at Oregon State University, I was at times surprised to see that our blog is the most read blog. In short, I find most of the other OSU blog topics more fascinating and my gut feeling is that OSU is loaded with content areas or stories that can be told more interactively and broadly using a blog format. I think the fact that our blog has a larger readership is a reflection on some level of our attempt to be more systematic and principled in our approach to building, advertising and maintaining the blog. I think our group here now feels more comfortable describing this in more detail and then sharing this with others. When we first began our blog, these types of “how to” or “why” articles were invaluable to us. We were also somewhat shocked to see the average read time on our feeds being over 8 minutes. This reinforced the idea that feeds are an essential mode of outreach for disseminating the blog content.
11) Brevity can be sweet (especially if you plan on posting multiple times a week). Where better to put this item than as number 11 on a 10-point list? It was obvious that some of our most popular articles were not always the longest. Length isn’t the always the kiss of death, but it better be well justified.
Some Statistics from the Top Five OSU Blogs (129 total blogs listed)
March 1st to August 24th 2009 (roughly 6 months)
(1) Electronic Papyrus: 50,137 visits, 73,034 page views
Feeds: 14,817 visits, 20,125 page views (visit length = 8:44 minutes)
(2) Israeli Palestine Trip: 29,320 visits, 32,00 page views
(3) H2ONC (Rob Emanuel): 28,000 visits, 38,000 page views
(4) Deliciousness Blog: 28,000 visits, 34,000 page views
(5) Pam Van Londen’s Blog
I would agree with you that comments are not necessarily a good indicator of quality of content. I’ve found a lot of great stuff on your blog. And our experience with evaluating what signals good content is that comments are not as important as other signals. You can use eLearning Learning to see what it sees as your best stuff.
I really wish other universities were doing something similar. Keep up the great work.
Tony, many thanks for the words of encouragement. We’ve tapped your Elearning Learning lists often to have a better understanding of which topics seem to be drawing more traffic.
[...] Yes, it reaches more peo0ple than I could ever reach in person, phone or email. According to Electronic Papyrus, a blog by colleagues (and friends) Mark Anderson-Wilk and Chris LaBelle of EESC, between March 1st [...]
Apart from content, linking building and SEO has also became an important factor. Search engine is algorithm is changing very often. To maintain the steady flow of traffic all these things are very important.