More on Blogging When Your Industry Isn't Into It

The other day I posted on how to blog when your industry or occupation hasn't embraced the whole social media thing. Today I ran across a great article on 15 Practices to Deepen Human Connection and Engagement Online that I think are a nice complement to some of my previous suggestions. Some of these ideas include:

  • Ask people for advice and favors.  People like to help.  Helping others gives them a sense of autonomy and choice, which is a reward to the brain.
  • Use videos and audios to deepen the connection with your audience, activate the mirror neurons and synchronize the brains.
  • Ask open-ended questions: who, what, when, where, how, why, etc.
  • Host online chats and events where people can talk about a specific topic for a longer stretch of time.
  • Organize a local meetup or tweetup for your online friends to meet in person.

Also, in comments on my previous post, Sarah Stewart asked about facilitation as a blogging strategy, thinking about using a blog to facilitate conversations:

You have listed a number of things you can use a blog does facilitation fit into this picture or is "facilitation" a broad term to decribe all these functions you have listed?

Sarah is currently running a FREE(!)  course on Online Facilitation (that looks fabulous, by the way) so I can see why this is on her mind.

In my opinion,  many of these practices would fall under the facilitation category, although I see that as a somewhat more advanced technique in blogging that requires you to have some level of an audience before you're able to do it. It can also be one of the most fun and rewarding activities you can do with a blog and will certainly help you build a positive brand if you can pull it off. In my experience, it's these kinds of activities that have also led to the best networking and deepest connections.

If you want to go the facilitation route, Sarah's course is actually a good example of using a blog to facilitate learning.  We also did that with the 31 Day Comment Challenge a few years ago. 

One thing I've been thinking about is facilitating other activities/conversations through a blog. On Twitter yesterday, LaDonna Coy shared a blog post she'd written on using The World Cafe Model to have some conversations about sustainability. That has me wondering if it could be adapted as a blog activity.

Another one that would be interesting to try facilitating through a blog discussion (although maybe it's better on a wiki) is this "Breaking the Rules" activity Frank Calberg shared during today's Twitter #lrnchat

Just some additional thoughts. . .

Dealing with Negative Comments on Your Blog

Speechbubble-1 Someone emailed me this morning to ask how to deal with negative comments on your blog. I sent her a response, but thought it might also be helpful to do a post.

What is a Negative Comment?
The first question we have to ask ourselves is what do we mean by a "negative" comment? There's a difference between commenters who engage in name-calling or clearly inflammatory rhetoric on your blog and those who simply disagree with what you say. Trolls are an unavoidable aspect of blogging and it's important to split them apart from your other commenters when it comes to thinking about responses.

Your mileage may vary, but for me, my definition of "negative" commenting is pretty narrow. Name-calling and personal attacks are out. I also consider inflammatory or hateful language to be negative. Beyond that, we start to get into some pretty squishy territory. I've had several commenters who make very legitimate points, but do so in ways that irritate me--usually because they seem to be impugning my motives or calling me stupid. Although I have a strong emotional reaction to these comments, I've had to remind myself that people express themselves in different ways and often my response is more about my own insecurities than anything else. Easier said than done, I will say.

My Theory of Blogging and "Negativity"

When it comes to dealing with negativity, I think you have to think about the role that disagreement plays in blogging. My theory is that when you blog, you should have an opinion. If you have an opinion, someone is going to disagree with it. Hopefully they leave you a comment so you can learn something from the disagreement. Honestly, if you don't have people disagreeing with you once in awhile, I think you have another problem.

If people do disagree, as in real life, some people will do a better job of voicing their disagreements than others. Your challenge is to separate out those people who genuinely disagree but lack blog social skills from those who are just being jackasses. A fine line at times, but one worth investigating. Learning comes from exploring not just our similarities, but also our differences. 

Three Responses to Negative Blog Comments
As in real-life, we have three options for dealing with negative comments on a blog:

  • Engage with the commenter
  • Ignore the comment
  • Delete the comment

Engaging with Negative Comments
The first and most obvious response to a negative comment is to engage with the commenter. This is where you have to be careful that you're not dealing with a troll, whose main motive is to get a response from you. Trolls should be ignored, not encouraged.

If I see some aspect of the comment that I can respond to--the person has made a legitimate point, albeit in an obnoxious way--I will generally respond to that aspect of the comment. I tend to try to avoid any inflammatory language of my own, a reflection, no doubt, of my real-life tendency to defuse conflict. I might also say something about how blogging allows us to discuss and share different opinions and ideas.

I  think  how I deal with "negative" comments most definitely is an aspect of my "online brand." If someone has a legitimate difference of opinion with me and I respond in the same negative tone they use, I'm going to look like as much of a jerk as the commenter. It's important to me to get disagreement right because people watch how you handle these situations as much as how you write a blog post.

The challenge for me in these circumstances is to see the legitimacy of a person's comment without being overwhelmed by how they said it. I actually find it easier to deal with negative comments on line than in real-life though. Online, I have time to think through and craft a response. I can look at what the person said and make better decisions about what's really going on with the comment. In real life, I'm usually either lashing out or standing there with my jaw dropped, wondering where THAT came from.

Ignoring Negative Comments
If I think the person is a troll or on the borderline, I ignore the comment. My experience is that in those cases, people are looking to stir up controversy and one of the first rules of online community is "do not feed the trolls."

Usually these kinds of comments come from commenters who have never commented before. They also tend to not leave a link to their website. If the first time you visit my blog you say something nasty and inflammatory and then don't leave a link to your site, you're usually just dropping in to cause trouble. If you never return, I KNOW you were just trying to cause trouble.

Fortunately, I've had few of these situations.

Deleting Negative Comments
The final option in dealing with negative comments is to delete them. I have a VERY conservative delete policy (mentioned in my comment policy). I happily delete comment spam as quickly as possible. Beyond that, the only comments I would delete are those that call me names (and they would have to be some pretty bad names) or that use hate language.

To me, the blogosphere should be a free speech zone as much as possible and as long as the discourse doesn't descend into personal attacks, I'm not going to censor people's ideas and thoughts, even if it is "my blog." I see no purpose to this, although I know of some blogs where disagreeing with the author is enough to get a comment deleted. (BTW--To date I've only deleted comment spam)

So these are my thoughts on dealing with negative comments on your blog. What are yours? I'm also curious about how you define "negative" commenting. Leave me a comment--negative or otherwise. :-)

Blog Interference

Despite the fact that I regard blogging as necessary to both my professional development as well as my ongoing personal branding, it's clear that in the past few months, I've fallen down on the job. I've actually gone over a week without posting on several occasions, which is just not my style.

Here's some of what seems to be getting in the way:

  • Work and lots of it. I am just swamped with projects right now, many of which have not lent themselves to blogging. Or at least I haven't found any inspiration in them. They are things I need to get done in order to move on to the next thing I need to accomplish. Reflection has taken a back seat to action, something I always warn against, yet here I am, doing it myself.
  • Blogging for clients. I agreed to maintain a blog for one of my clients, which has sucked up some of my overall blogging energy. I find myself keeping an eye out for stories to put on my client's blog and in doing that, have less time to spend here. 
  • Mental clutter and the fact that not all of my fixes seem to be working. The multitasking, in particular, continues unabated.

Mostly it's the work though. Seriously, by the end of the day I have nothing. I've tried writing in the morning, which is generally my better time for thinking, but even that hasn't worked well. I start to think about all that I need to accomplish and the next thing you know, I'm working on my "to do" list.

Aside from the fact that I feel like I'm letting people down by allowing my blog to go stale, I can feel that I'm going stale too. Not good when you make your living from your ideas.

I have no solutions right now. This is more of a diagnosis kind of post. Or at least an acknowledgment, which is always a good start. Maybe it will open up some new lines of thinking.

Blogging for Personal Branding: Your Best Advice?

Person_winning2 We had our first webinar today for the folks at Career Commons. One of the questions that came up was how to use a blog for personal branding, particularly during the job search.  As Jesse put it in our call, "there's a broad blank canvas of possibilities when you start writing for your professional blog,  so how do you get started?"

Jesse had a great idea--he plans to start responding to the Learning Circuit's blog Big Question. I also shared some follow-up ideas and resources in the forum.  I'm wondering, though, what advice you have for the job seekers over at Career Commons.

Here are some questions:

  • What's your best advice for job seekers who want to start a blog as part of their job search and personal branding process?
  •  What kinds of posts could they write? How often should they write?
  • What other advice do you have for a new blogger wanting to put his/her best professional foot forward at a time when the blogger really needs to be visible?
Let me know in comments or write your own post and drop me a link so we can share it with everyone. These are particularly important questions for all of us to think about in today's economy.

What to Say the Next Time Someone Asks Why They Should Blog

Picture 1 Although WIRED is now claiming that blogs are dead, I'm not buying that. Maybe they're dead to a minuscule group of people who are easily bored and only talk in 140 character spurts, but if learning is reduced to tweets, I think we're in big trouble. It's that kind of short-term, surface discussion of issues that in my opinion has contributed to the current world-wide financial crisis we're in. Life is becoming more complicated, not less so, and Twitter comments and writing on someone's Facebook wall will not get us out of this mess.  We need more sustained discussions and reflection, the kind that's supported by blogging.

This 1 1/2 minute video with Seth Godin and Tom Peters pretty much sums up my response for why blogging is important. Seth says that it's the meta-cognitive process of reflection on what you do and the humility of explaining yourself to an audience. Tom says that no single thing in the past 15 years has had such a profound impact on his professional development:

        "It has changed my life, it has changed my perspective, it has changed my intellectual outlook, it has         changed my emotional outlook--and, parentheses, it's the best damn marketing tool I've ever seen."

Plus, as Seth points out a few times, it's free.

Blogging, Podcasting and Screencasting with ASTD Cascadia

I'm just back from a long week of training and Wii bowling with Christine Martell, which explains my unanticipated blogging break. I had intended to write, I swear, but somehow time changes and cross-country travel got in my way. And yes, the afore-mentioned Wii bowling didn't help either.

One of my stops was to Portland, where I did a day-long session on blogging, podcasting and screencasting with about 25 members of ASTD Cascadia.  I took care of the beginner track, while Christine, Kevin Jones and Dave Richards handled the advanced group. Really interesting experience. We had about a 50/50 split between public and private sector folks, although it seems that they're all struggling with similar concerns about access, privacy and control.

To start, I showed them the Work Literacy course and how we're using these online tools to facilitate the "class." We wanted them to get a sense of how all of these pieces can work together to support learning in a way that's different from their usual structured e-learning activities. We also discussed the Comment Challenge and SpanishPod and a few people shared some of their own experiments with social media and learning. Then we broke the larger group into beginners and advanced to explore the three different topic areas.

Although we started out with some level of structure (you can see the wiki we put together for the class here), we also wanted to leave things a little open to explore the questions people had about social media in general. We covered a lot of territory in a short period of time, but I think the most valuable thing for people was the chance to be hands-on. I had a few people tell me that they were surprised at how easy it was to use the tools--they had thought creating a blog was a much bigger deal.

We also pointed out that what we were doing in class is part of the nature of informal learning with social media where people are experimenting for their own purposes, helping each other when they run into trouble, etc. Learning is definitely a little messy compared to more structured activities.

One really interesting point that came up was around deployment. Most people seemed to be looking at larger-scale implementations ("We need to have blogs and wikis around here") where they would need to get permission from higher-ups. I could see the old LMS model in there where you have to get all this buy-in and support to implement things on a large scale. But as we discussed, the beauty of social media is that you can sneak it in and play around with it before you start looking at large-scale implementation. Use a blog for a few classes or within a department so you can start to gather information on how that might work. Manage your next project with a wiki or start using social bookmarking to work with a group of learners. It's the "beg forgiveness" school of design, where you have a chance to experiment before going into full-scale deployment. This also allows you to build a business case based on real-life experiences. 

Enough for now. Now let me close with a photo of Herman the Sturgeon taken by Christine from our visit to the fish hatchery in the Columbia Gorge. When you visit Christine, this is where she takes you.  


Blogging for Learning--"Audio Blogging"

This is the last (for now) in my series of posts on using blogs for learning.

Earlier this week, Lee Kraus wrote a post on finding the time to blog. He mentioned that he has a two-hour drive every day, which leaves lots of time for thinking, but not for writing. Time is always a challenge for bloggers, but if you're in the car two hours a day, audio blogging (podcasting) might be something to consider.

A great option for this would be Gcast, which lets you record a podcast from your cell phone. You simply set up your free account and then when you're ready to record, you call a toll-free number and start blabbing into your cell (hands free, of course). You're also able to upload podcasts you've recorded from another source, but for easy, on the fly recording, the cell phone option is a good one, I think. Once you're done, it can be uploaded directly to your blog.

Some possible uses?

  • Record and share audio at meetings, conferences and workshops
  • Record and share interviews with SMEs or with speakers at conferences.
  • Create mini audio lessons that staff can download onto their computers or mp3 players and listen to at their convenience.
  • Document success stories and best practices--in their own words.
  • Have people introduce themselves for an audio employee directory.
  • Have learners create audio journal entries--maybe describe what they learned as the result of a training event or as an ongoing professional development activity.
  • Create learning channels--maybe a leadership learning channel where you create and share podcasts on leadership lessons and issues or a channel for different professions to share best practices and ideas.

Here's a quick guide to using Gcast. This guide is helpful too (PDF).

What do you think? Does podcasting have a place in the blogging for learning toolkit? How do you see something like Gcast working as a blog learning tool?

Blogging and "E-Flective" Practice

Over at Work Literacy this week, we hosted a great webinar on using blogs for reflective practice. It was run by Paul Lowe, who is a senior lecturer and course director at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. You can access the recorded session here. Just click on the link and then log in as a participant without a password and it should start playing.

Terry Carter posted a nice summary of the webinar here. Paul's own reflections on the experience are here and Harold Jarche added some additional thinking here. Unfortunately a client call intervened and I wasn't able to attend the live version, but I'm planning to go through the recording this week because by all accounts, it was a really engaging discussion.

More on Learning Through Blogging: What Readers Think

Blogthis My post a few days ago arguing that the real value of blogging lies not just in reading blogs, but in commenting on blog posts and writing your own, generated a lot of comments and some great references to what others are thinking.

Most people seemed to agree with my premise that while reading blog posts can be helpful to learning, commenting and being a blogger yourself adds even more value. Barry Wooderson commented, for example:

I agree that changing to contributing from just passive reading makes a huge difference.

I have recently made the change and find that the process of producing a post or comment makes you properly think about the issue, whereas just reading tends to mean skimming an article and moving on.

If you participate then you have to read properly and the value you gain from it is many times greater than just reading.

Andy agrees:

Absolutely right. What makes the internet valuable is not that it's an alternative passive media source, like the radio or the TV. What makes it valuable is that passive readers and listeners become active writers and talkers!

Learning is an active process.

And Brandon shared a great story of how Twittering at a conference (a form of live microblogging) improved his own learning experience.

I attended Penn State's 2008 TLT (Teaching & Learning with Technology) Symposium in March 2008 as a requirement for a graduate class I was taking, entitled "Disruptive Technology in the Teaching & Learning Process." For this class, we students were divided into 5 different groups, with each group assigned to one disruptive/emergent technology: Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Wikis, and Twitter. I was cursed to be on Team Twitter. Cursed at first, but later this turned out to be a blessing. In fact, the symposium itself turned out to be the catalyst for change from curse to blessing.

Our team asked the class to create Twitter accounts before the symposium and to experiment with tweeting their experiences, thoughts, and ideas at the conference. What happened was that we all entered a new community of tweeters and further engaged in the different sessions we were simultaneously attending! At one point, I was having a conversation with an individual about our sessions' topic; it wasn't until 10 minutes later that we found out we were in separate-yet similar sessions, and that we each brought a unique perspective to the conversation. Another instance of how we all benefited from attending the conference armed with Twitter was that interesting and useful websites were instantly disseminated to the rest of us via Twitter, no matter where in the conference center we were at!

Micro-blogging at the conference enhanced our engagement with the sessions we attended, as you found during your experience. But it also allowed us to experience and benefit from the other sessions we could not attend...and it happened in real time

As is so often the case, though, Ken Allen jumped in to challenge my thinking, both in comments and in this post on Blogging, Learning and the Desire to Learn:

Learning through questions, and discussing in a classroom or social community, has gone on for hundreds of years. People have also learnt a great deal from books during that same time.

So what’s wrong with just reading a post and learning from it? What is so special to learning about writing a comment on a blog post?

If learners want to learn, they will learn. The same desire may well tempt learners to put comments on blog posts. They may even ask questions there.

So the difference between those who lurk and want to learn, and those who comment, may not be so great. Learning takes place when the learner wants to learn.

Learning can happen if the learner sits quietly during class, for instance. Certainly, asking questions will help. But if learners do not ask questions in class, they may still go home and read about what they’ve learnt in a book. Many do. They may also lurk on a few blog posts on the Net.

I don't disagree that learners can get a lot from reading and "lurking" online. Certainly I learn a ton from reading and I know that many others do, too.

250px-BloomsCognitiveDomain.svg As I told Ken in a comment on his post, though, what I take issue with is the level of learning that takes place when you are only reading and not actively engaging with the content.

Looking at Bloom's Taxonomy, for example, we can see that passive reading might be effective for lower-order cognitive skill development, but when we start to move into higher order thinking, we really need to start actively engaging with information. How can I apply, analyze, evaluate and create without in some way interacting with this information? And even if I can, is my learning going to be as deep?

Catherine Lombardozzi supports my thought process here in her own post on blogging and learning where she reflects on how the process of blogging has deepened the learning for her:
The act of writing has a way of crystallizing your thinking on a topic.  As I have worked on this blog - and other journals more private than this one - over the last year or so, I have come to appreciate how much clearer my thinking becomes as I try to put my musings into sentences and paragraphs.  (Although at times I wonder if my writing is actually all that clear.)  I have found that writing forces me to coral nebulous thoughts into something coherent, to name and own what I really think on a subject, to bring together ideas from several sources, and to consider how a potential audience might react.

Having made a commitment to posting here on the Learning Journal blog at least once a week, I also notice that when something piques my interest, I store it away as a potential topic for an entry.  Knowing I may want to write about an idea causes me to mull things over that may - in the past - have come and gone in my head without ever finding a place to settle.  Even if I don’t actually write about something in the end, I find myself thinking about these interesting ideas more thoroughly.  Lately, I’ve had to physically stop myself from proceeding some contribution to a work discussion with…”As I said on my blog…” - but I’m awed by the fact that this little experiment has had that kind of an impact on me.  (I also keep a blog on my vacations which has been a huge hit with family and friends; from my perspective it compelled me to really notice where I went and what I did so that I could capture that essence on the daily posting of my travels.)

Catherine also points out how people commenting on her blog helps her thinking:

If I am really lucky, people react to my postings - with either positive comments or constructive discussion (usually in person) - that helps me to think more deeply.  For example, my concpetualization of the learning environment design model has morphed and solidified over time as people have reacted to my writings and presentations on that topic and related ones.  I benefit the most from people who don’t agree with a point or an approach; regardless of whether we come to agreement, I am forced to articulate my ideas further.

I would add that the process of commenting on others blogs helps clarify thinking--my comment response to Ken's post actually is part of what led me to a better understanding of what I was trying to say in my first post on this issue. It's also a demonstration of Catherine's point. You learn the most from people who disagree with you.

Ken wasn't the only one who had a different perspective to share. Fresh Start indicated that some people may be reluctant to comment because of online privacy concerns. I can respect and understand this, although the fact that you can use a pseudonym to comment and blog anonymously is a pretty quick fix for that in my opinion.

Ultimately, this posting and processing back and forth only bolsters my point. I've learned far more from writing and interacting with commenters on this topic than I would have had I only read a blog post. As Andy said, "Learning is active."

27 Inspiring Women Edubloggers

A few weeks ago I blogged about Zaid's list of the top Edubloggers and Janet Clarey's observation that out of 25 bloggers, there were only 3 women on Zaid's list.

Not one to forego a learning experience, Zaid immediately took our discussion as an opportunity to expand his own learning and set off on a search for women edubloggers. The result is in his slideshow. You can also read more about his thinking and process here on his blog.

I want to underscore how this experience is another example of learning through blogging.

Zaid posted his first list as a way to share with others some of his favorite blogs. Janet picked up on it and blogged about her observation that there were only three women, which led to a lively exchange in the comments of Janet's post between Janet, Zaid and other bloggers.

I picked up with my own post, as did Cammy Bean. Additional conversations ensued through the comments sections here and at Cammy's place.

As a result of all of this, Zaid decided to go back and look specifically for women bloggers he could further explore, thus coming up with a whole new set of voices he hadn't experienced before and then sharing the results of his learning again.

This to me is the essence of the learning/blogging/commenting process. Through these various exchanges, we all learned and thought more about the issues of gender and blogging and it happened across multiple blogs and in multiple formats. Thanks to Zaid's willingness to create his list of 27 Women Edubloggers, we also had an opportunity to find new people to add to our own feed readers.

This learning loop wouldn't have occurred, though, if Zaid had not been open to the learning process. He could have chosen to see the discussion as an attack and then become defensive and closed to alternative options. Instead, he showed the courage of the true learner and used our observations as a springboard to expanding his own thinking--and ours as well.

Hat's off to Zaid on this one!