KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

To blog or to microblog? – that is the question

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People who are “on the brink” of trying out social media at my work often ask me “should I blog or use twitter, or something else? – I’m too busy to do more than one so which is best?”

The answer to this question is of course “it depends”, so I’ll start out by explaining my own path.

A few years ago I decided I wanted to get active on social media to investigate first hand its potential to support my work and that of the organization I work in. The problem was, how would I find the time to do it?

We were able to get a rough blogging platform up on our intranet using  Lotus Notes (back in 2005/2006), so a few colleagues and I started blogging about interesting developments in aid for an internal audience. But blogging regularly is a challenge – and doing it externally is even more daunting (see how infrequently I’ve been posting these days!), while my experience with blogging internally made me wonder if I was mostly talking to myself.

So my first foray with externally facing social media was with Twitter at the web4dev conference in 2009. I was initially very skeptical thinking, like many skeptics, that is was all about what I had for breakfast. But I quickly saw that you could use Twitter to follow a meeting or reach out to participants and even speakers very quickly, and in the early days there was a natural camaraderie among tweeters who were keen to meet and interact with one another.  I’ve been hooked on it ever since. But in the end while 140 characters was quick and easy, it was never enough to really get into the meat of an issue, and so I eventually decided to set up my own blog to allow me to express my own options and share my knowledge rather than to link to others or share using only soundbites.

So how do blogging and microblogging (i.e. tools like Twitter) compare? – what are the advantages for each?

For me the strengths of Twitter (or microblogging in general) are:

- It’s quick and easy get started, and there isn’t any programming to learn or complex interface to use
– It’s real-time – you can immediately share or respond to an event and you can hold a close to real time conversation with multiple people
– It’s a good quick way to share resources such as articles, news etc.
– It’s a shared platform so it’s easier to find and connect with others
– It has a rich network of plug-in applications and tools
– You don’t have to spend ages agonizing over saying exactly the right thing or checking your spelling and grammar

So if you want to dip your toes into social media then microblogging (and particularly Twitter) is a good place to start. But while it is quick and easy there are a few things that microblogging alone can’t do for you, and  blogging is complementary in a number of ways including:

- Blogging is much better suited to exploring topics in more depth, both in terms of word count and explanation, and also in terms of being able to share more of your personality and story.
– You can also interact much more deeply in the comments on a blog because you have more space to do so
– A blog is also more customizable – it’s your space so you can (depending on platform) customize the design and organization and make it personal to you. You might also be able to add widgets and features and other tools that twitter can’t such as rich media content.
– Blogs are less ephemeral. Microblogs may work on a shared platform with search but it’s really hard to find a conversation or like you posted if it’s from more than a few weeks ago – they thrive on the now, but are not a great place to capture and organize your knowledge or the “outcomes” of your conversations.

Basically a blog is better for a more in-depth, personalized interaction. A blog is technically harder technically harder to set up and maintain (although with free tools like wordpress.com and blogger. It’s not that hard – but still perhaps more than some are willing to do) and you have to work harder to keep producing content – so it represents more of an investment than microblogging. It’s more infrequent, it’s more effort to do usually reaches a narrower audience (I probably have over 10 the number of twitter followers than I have blog subscribers) but its worth it when you want more depth and you want to be able to capture things for reference and reuse.

If you have the time (and that might be a big if), I’d argue that to get the best out of online interaction it’s better to expoit the synergies between the two and have both rather than pick one. In fact there are lots of synergies between the two. Microblogging is a good way of promoting your blog and also to quickly share and respond to other people’s blogs. It allows you to do your quick sharing leaving the meatier stuff for your blog, or the comments section of others’.

If you are sitting on the fence there are also now a number of hybrid tools that attempt to get the best of both or at least the middle ground. A notable example is Tumblr which allows you to very quickly share photos, quotes, links and short updates in a simple blog like format. It’s easy to share or reshare content and so it has the immediacy and ease of microblogging while allowing greater length and interaction and better incorporation of rich media – although it still feels a little siloed to follow people compared to twitter.
Another notable example is Google plus which is a twitter/facebook like social networking tool but which allows longer contributions and better incorporation of rich media as well as tools such as chat and video hangouts while still being in one place and having a quick sharing feel.
Inside UNICEF we are also using Yammer which was originally conceived as a microblogging tool for inside the enterprise, but which has now incorporated a number of additional features for adding attachments, longer contributions and collaborative features which go beyond what tools like Twitter can do. Last year Yammer was bought by Microsoft and is now part of Office365 and is being gradually technically integrated too. This means there is great potential to combine the immediacy of Yammer with the document and workflow capabilities of SharePoint and everyday office tools such as Word, Excel and Outlook to get the best of both worlds for interaction inside the organization (we are working with our IT colleagues on how best to do this which will no doubt be the topic of many future blog posts). That said – Yammer isn’t a great format for a fully fledged blog, and so we will need to think about how to allow for longer contributions from those who want to do this.
In the end while I love Twitter and it is a great place to start interacting and sharing – I think there is still a place for the blog for those who want to get into more depth. Not everyone will want to write blogs, but I think most people will want to read them and online knowledge exchange would be much poorer without them, so if you have something to say or some knowledge to share then you should try blogging.
Note: I started this blog a long time ago but it has been stuck in the draft folder – showing how much more deliberative it is than a tweet. In the meantime the UNICEF digital team has launched a public blog where staff can share their work – a great step forwards. We now need to more people to use it to share what they know!
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Written by Ian Thorpe

July 28, 2014 at 9:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] People who are “on the brink” of trying out social media at my work often ask me “should I blog or use twitter, or something else? – I’m too busy to do more than one so which is best?”The answer to this question is of course “it depends”, so I’ll start out by explaining my own path.A few years ago I decided I wanted to get active on social media to investigate first hand its potential to support my work and that of the organization I work in. The problem was, how would I find the time to do it?  […]

  2. […] People who are "on the brink" of trying out social media at my work often ask me "should I blog or use twitter, or something else? – I'm too busy to do more than one so which is best?" The answer t…  […]


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