When I start out these series, I seem to have an idea in hand about how to organize them, which, invariably, gets rearranged in the course of writing. Such is life. I had originally planned to talk about RSS/XML after tagging, but I decided instead to hold off on that as a start on the posts about the inner guts of Web 2.0. So, here's the post about Blogs, and their follow ons: podcasting and vlogging.
Blogging is old hat. I've been doing blogging for almost 4 years now. I wrote a blogging module into my web database project, Xina, more than 4 years ago. I have pretty much always understood the difference between blogs and websites - but I recently got a better feeling as I was redoing my own website. It's not so much about depth and breadth, although that certainly can be a part of it. It's more about the ephemeral versus the enduring. Blog posts get old, and out of date fast. That's part of the point. Websites shouldn't. Which, of course, is why many people and many organizations don't need blogs. But that topic will wait for a few paragraphs - let me finish my descriptions first.
There has been a lot of talk about nonprofit blogging in the last while. Most recently, Michael Gilbert pointed me to a very good whitepaper by Nancy White about blogs and community. It's worth a read. She has some interesting things to say about the emergent properties of blogging communities. At this point, many nonprofit technology providers have blogs, and use them to get their message out (and, I think, create an interesting community that is somewhat changed from the community I knew pre-seminary, which was primarily fueled by email discussions.) The originators of blogging probably thought of it mostly as a way for people to be able to easily update their websites quickly, and provide interesting content on a moving basis. I think the community aspects of blogging were somewhat unexpected.
Their natural follow-ons, podcasting and vlogging are not as ubiquitous, or as frequently used in the nonprofit technology space. Beth Kanter has been doing some great coverage of the emerging fields of blogging, podcasting and vlogging (she has a fabulous linkroll of blogging how-to's on her blog.) Podcasts are simply audio blogs that were downloadable, and you could put on your favorite digital audio device (hence, "Pod"casting). Vlogging are video blogs - and they are as simple as a talking head in front of the camera, and as complex as including animation and other things.
It could be argued that iTunes made podcasting mainstream. But without a doubt, YouTube made vlogging, and mass video creation mainstream. And the major engine that makes these three types of ephemeral media really work, is RSS, which is the subject of the next post.
So, now the question - should a nonprofit organization have a blog? Should staff of a nonprofit blog? Would this help: 1) gain donors? 2) communicate the message? 3) keep stakeholders informed? 4) provide collaborative opportunities within, and between organizations?
All of these are good questions, and will be totally different for different organizations. I can think of two organizations that I've worked with, which are, in a sense, case studies for why to have a blog, or not to have a blog.
Organization 1 is a medium-sized mental health organization in a smallish city in the Northeast. It gets most of its clients by referral, and just about all of its funding by state or federal contract. It has really defined policies and procedures. It continues to grow, but is growing in well-defined ways, that mostly don't require communication with many stakeholders.
So, should this ED start a blog, or should the organization have a blog? Unless the ED wants to provide some kind of leadership in the mental health or nonprofit space, this ED doesn't need one, and neither does the organization. The time and effort it would take to maintain a blog isn't going to result in any better accomplishment of mission. (Actually, they don't even have a website. Which is just fine.)
Organization 2 is a small pro-choice membership organization that depends upon outside funding, has many stakeholders in many different communities, and provides advocacy and activism nationally. Should this ED, and/or this organization have a blog? Heck, yes (in fact, it was for this organization that I originally wrote the blogging module that I mentioned above.) The time and energy that it devotes to their blog(s) (yeah, they should probably have more than one) would likely pay off in the short, and long run.
But there are many, many organizations in the middle of these extreme examples. Blogging takes time, focus, and energy from someone or someones. And it only makes sense if the connections that can be made, the communication channels opened, the voice heard is worth that investment.
As for podcasting and vlogging. I'm much, much more bearish on those technologies (oooh, something I can be bearish about. <wink>) First off, both of these (particularly vlogging) take an order of magnitute more time and energy to produce than a blog. And they likely have an order of magnatude less audience. I'd argue that it's likely that only organizations who's major focus is technology or media, or who are large enough, and have enough audience (like an Oxfam, or a Greenpeace) should tip toe into this territory.
And, I'd argue, the stakes are higher for an organization than an individual that starts a blog, or podcast, or vlog, and then decides later to stop. I think it might be better not to start at all. But it does require a lot of thought. Look at what organizations like yours are doing. Look at what kinds of things you can do to your website, for instance, to create RSS feeds for new content, instead of thinking of starting a blog.
It is my not so humble opinion that, like many technologies, simply the presence of them provides pressure for some to adopt them. I'm an early adopter, I know - it's easy to feel like everyone's doing it, and maybe I should look into it. Or whatever. But like any technology decision, it requires thought about how useful that technology will be, and whether, and how, it will serve your mission.