Or a personal reflection on what I’ve learnt about blogging in Three Years and how it has helped me grow as a practitioner and a person.
This post is really in two parts. The first part is about my own use of a blogging platform and the second part, an exploration of the wider role of blogs to inform, engage and promote ideas and thoughts.
This blog is hosted on WordPress.com. It runs along similar lines to Blogger (which is operated by Google). For obvious reasons (namely that I am still here!), it remains my favoured platform. Both these platforms are free. I like the ‘long form’ of the blog. It allows me to explore ideas and have a rant when necessary. It has good spam protection and while sometimes I wish I had more freedom to add other things or use different themes, the positives outweigh the negatives.
The difference between WordPress.com and Blogger is generally one of personal preference. Blogger allows advertising while WordPress.com doesn’t. I prefer the lack of advertising on the blog because it keeps things ‘cleaner’ but if you want to put adverts on your site and potentially turn it into a money-making venture Blogger would probably be a better place to start.
The software ‘behind the wheels’ allows me to monitor not only how many page views I get on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis but also where this views come from. It is both fascinating in understanding the ‘reach’ of a blog but it also serves as a motivation for me to keep writing. I can see what I write is being read and that spurs me on.
I make a differentiation between WordPress.com and WordPress self-hosted blogs because although the software is similar, it is also possible to set out your own WordPress blog on a hosted site. I’ve tried it. I bought the relevant domains but at the end, it was a bit fiddly for me and there was nothing I could gain (apart from advertising) that I couldn’t get on the free hosted site. I do try from time to time and may well again. It is not difficult though. That’s just me! That way you have much more control over what is and isn’t on your page. It’s often advised as the best way to go if you are ‘serious’ about blogging as an enterprise.
I would equally recommend either of those free sites to ‘start on’ if you want to give blogging a go and see how it feels for you. I know more about WordPress but I can password protect posts and create a private blog or private posts if there is the need or if you want to use the software in different ways. It isn’t about ‘hits’ but it is about quality of content and what it does for you and your practice and interactions that make the difference – well, that’s how I see it anyway.
Multi-author blogs can also be easily set up – either as a way to communicate and share ideas among a small group of people or as a way of sharing different professional perspectives. One of my favourite multi-user blogs is Mental Nurse and I’d recommend anyone go there and see what can be achieved. One of the best things about Mental Nurse is the way that it builds community and authorship between ‘professionals’ and ‘users’ of Mental Health services.
That’s some of the technicalities out of the way.
As for professional practice my main gains have been two-fold.
One is as a method and system for extended reflection. Much of that reflection may well happen through unpublished or private posts (there are a few of them that you will never know about!!). Sometimes I write about how I respond to things that happen rather than the things themselves. It can take time to build a style and a voice of your own. Actually, I kept the blog completely private for the first few months to try and build a ‘rhythm’.
Protection and respect for service users remains heavy on my mind. Many of the things I do on a day to day basis, I won’t ever write about but I do think there is learning to be done regarding the type of work I do. While I change many of the details and information for the purposes of anonymity, sometimes the situations and feelings are very raw and I don’t want the to share them.
Sometimes I ‘time delay’ posts that I have written in the spur of the moment because I needed to ‘get the feelings out’ but needed to review them before hitting the publish button.
Generally I write with an audience of other social workers in mind but I also write with a view to explain what we do and how we work.
To give feelings if not a face to those seemingly detached bureaucrats that sometimes seem to hide ourselves between paperwork and being busy and represent what might be going on ‘behind the scenes’.
Anonymity or not is another choice to make. Some don’t keep up the ‘anonymous’ veneer and others, like me, do.
Although I stand by everything I write and don’t –think- I’d get into trouble at work if discovered, I don’t want to take that chance but more importantly, I think attaching my name to my blog would inhibit some of my more free-flowing writing style. I would be more reserved and circumspect and I don’t want to be.
The other thing to be mindful of when writing about social work in the UK, at least, is that there are a lot of people who hate all social workers. I have had a period of being targeted in an extremely unpleasant and vaguely disturbing manner. I am very glad that my name isn’t ‘out there’ bearing in mind some of the threatening and aggressive emails I have received. WordPress has a good comment moderation system. In those early halcyon days, I had no comment filters. I learnt quickly.
The other massive benefit of blogs and blogging is the support and sharing. A community grows around a website and you have ‘regulars’ – not just commentators but visitors. Often comments are very helpful and add massively to the content of my post as people share useful experiences and insights. It is a fluid document. It allows the input of people whom I may not have contact with on a day to day basis.
It gives me a voice far greater than the voice I have as a busy front-line practitioner with no supervisory or managerial ‘role’. I am a basic grade practitioner and I want a voice. This is a very good way to build influence and grow a voice if you have something that people want to hear. As a result of this blog, I have written in Community Care and for the Guardian Local Government Network website. I have been on a BBC programme and spoken to many researchers about the work I do. These are opportunities I would never have even considered had I not been writing here.
I have also received emails from students and practitioners. Sometimes asking me specific questions, sometimes offering support. This feedback encourages me to continue.
The blog also has almost forced me to take a deeper interest in social policy and current affairs. As I try to keep pace with all the developments I feel more of a self-inflicted responsibility to have an awareness of relevant Green and White Papers and research issues. Interest in following up to date research is a massive and very real way that my practice has improved as a direct result of my writing.
It can also be a great campaigning tool and platform as well by holding local and national government to account. I’m not saying I can change the world through a small social work specific blog but I can give my perspective as someone who has experience in this field and who knows, maybe someone with a lot more influence than me will come across it or be directed towards it and learn about the issues that affect service delivery at a front line and client facing level.
There are blogs that do analysis and badgering much much better than I but writing and publishing on a regular basis gives one a fantastic understanding of the possibilities of different types of media in a practical sense and it is much more engaging if you are an active participant.
Some of the most important links I have made through this blog are with those in other professions and users of services and their carers. The form of writing and ‘giving a view’ creates a type of vulnerability and sensitivity to the views and inputs of others that is crucial in a role such as mine which has a such a massive power imbalance that one needs to work with.
There are other platforms to blogs of course and everyone has their own reason and style of writing.
If you are thinking about trying it out as a means to create a platform – whether public or private, I’d certainly recommend it with the proviso to be careful regarding privacy and what you throw into the public sphere!
Some useful resources I’ve found regarding blogging in general.
Problogger – A good ‘how to blog’ blog – emphasises making profit but many useful tips about writing.
Daily Blog Tips Similar to above but I find it a bit more money-orientated however some useful posts in the sidebar.
Copyblogger Bit of writing, bit of social media.
Alltop Blogs about Blogging (all the above appear in this list as well as a number of others).
Mostly though, you take some of the information ‘out there’ but shape the blog as your own with your own voice. That’s when it has the most power.
I wrote this post a few years back explaining how I put together posts. A lot of the information remains the same but I now tend to use Zemanta rather than Flickr for pictures when I do use them. I write less about people I work with and in much vaguer and less ‘real’ terms. I am also much happier in my job than I was three years ago when I wrote that. Perhaps that has coloured my perception somewhat.
Next week, I’ll look at some of the social bookmarking sites and the ‘shorter form’ blogs such as Tumblr and Posterous. I tend to use Tumblr to collate links and references which is the reason I am lumping them together but more about that next Monday.
So do you write? Are you interested in starting to write about social work or about mental health work? Do you have any other resources to add to my list?
Do you have experience of other platforms such as Typepad which I completely left off my list because I know nothing about it?
All comments welcomed!
- Social Media and Social Work – A Series (fightingmonsters.wordpress.com)