Promised to blog this piece from the dissertation in February (together with What pragmatists might want to know about blogging), but wasn’t happy with it. Still not happy, but here it is (in a slightly updated form).
From an organisational perspective, weblogs provide a people-driven way to share knowledge and to develop ideas. For example, weblogs are useful for:
- Tapping into the undocumented. Blogging provides a low-threshold opportunity to write down ideas not related to current deadlines, but important to prepare for the future. Bloggers might use their weblogs to document their experiences and lessons learnt – those that escape official reports, but are usually very useful for others to learn from.
- Making expertise visible. Weblogs provide traces of personal expertise and practices. Making it visible helps to get an idea of who knows what, which is a starting point for collaboration. Reading a weblog written by experts allows others to gain insight about their ways of thinking and working, and to learn from them.
- Unexpected connections. Weblogs support serendipity – finding ideas that fuel innovation and interesting people to talk to or to combine efforts for a shared goal.
What is essential for facilitating adoption of weblogs in knowledge-intensive environments?
Putting an individual in control
Blogging works best when it is driven by personal interests and passions. Start by helping potential bloggers to find uses of a weblog personally meaningful for them in the long term – these are essential to sustain blogging while social effects of it emerge. Impose as few rules as possible: freedom and a sense of personal ownership of a weblog are important to be able to find those personally meaningful uses. Personal investment in blogging might create tensions with organisational norms and practices; however, this is the price that must be paid: be prepared to relax rules and embrace ambiguity. Avoid the temptation to measure the business effects of blogging: most of the added value of it is in enabling work rather than doing it, which is difficult to measure explicitly.
Supporting an ecosystem
Blogging is about microcontent – publishing small pieces of thought and commentary, anchored with permalinks and carried away by feeds. However, the real value is not at the post level – ecosystems between blog posts and connections between their authors are more interesting and more important. When thinking about introducing weblogs in particular settings, it is essential to create conditions for weblog ecosystems, rather than only supporting individual weblogs. The essential ingredients for this are:
- Readership. Introduce newsfeeds and newsreaders as part of the practices of working with information. Make sure that intranet weblogs are accessible via those.
- Scale. Facilitate the broadest possible reach. Communicate clearly that blogging is supported in your organisation. If there are things that should not be blogged in public, make those exceptions known.
- Visibility. The infrastructure that supports visibility of public weblogs (weblog indexes, aggregators, search engines) has to be recreated if weblogs are used within an organisation.
- Feedback. Bloggers need tools to monitor the interest and reactions of others to their writing, which are often missing when weblog infrastructure is provided by an organisation. Statistics about references and traffic should be made available to the weblog authors.
Making the best out of it
Although blogging looks simple, in practice it requires navigating a number of challenges. To help potential bloggers with those it is necessary to address several points:
- Some uses of weblogs are not obvious. Make sure that unexpected practices of blogging that are useful in relation to work are shared between bloggers.
- Think of blogging as a new tool for old tasks. For example, why not start a weblog for trip reports that are currently lost in separate documents? Lab notebooks, course notes, progress reports, customer communication and many other activities could be shared more easily via weblogs.
- Learn about the risks and benefits of blogging. Discuss those with the people in your organisation and then trust them in knowing what not to talk about in public.
- Provide blogging tools if you can, give basic how-to training or, better, ask a few experienced bloggers to coach newcomers by giving them time and recognition.
- Make it part of “work as usual” – make sure that spending some time on blogging is perceived as normal, account for it in performance appraisals, integrate it with other technologies in your organisation.
If people in your organisation are already blogging, is there still something to do? Definitely: help others to navigate the sea of blog entries, support cross-fertilisation, find ways to reuse quality entries and recognise good authors. This could include, for example, making sure that employee weblogs (and also external ones) are indexed by an intranet search engine or creating a “best of blogs” column in your monthly newsletter. Blogging is best driven by personal passions, but once there, weblogs need to be embedded into organisational practices to bring business value.