By: Karen Zgoda, MSW, LCSW
I’ve been home sick the past few days. I think the last time I left the house was Tuesday night, and it is now Saturday. When not sleeping, I’ve heard neighbors gabbing loudly on their cell phones, smelled and heard the barbeque party going on next door, seen the taunting, bright sunshine streaming in through the window, and listened to cars and ambulances whizzing toward destinations unknown. My two cats have kept a constant vigil, and it relaxes me just to watch them relax at my side. I have access to television, cable, news, an actual newspaper that is delivered daily, and, of course, the Internet and Facebook and Twitter and their social media ilk. In fact, I even have an iPhone (thank you, Santa!) that allows me to stay connected to all of these things when not at home and is also loaded with fun games. So what do I find myself doing in those moments when I am not filling my wastebasket with tissues and cough drop wrappers? With so many choices at my disposal, and without even realizing it, I have spent today reading blogs.
The End of Blogging?
I thought blogging was dead, or at least about to die. Once micro-blogging services like Twitter and FriendFeed (soon to be gobbled by Facebook apparently, see http://mashable.com/2009/08/10/friendfeed-facebook-users/) came onto the scene, I assumed that blogging would begin its descent into obscurity. With micro-blogging, one can converse with many different people about endless topics, dialogue back and forth with information and comments, and give instant feedback, enabling a sort of link-based conversation in real-time. After tweeting for a few months, I wasn’t quite sure how blogging would be able to compete. I mean, blogging, or web logging, has been with us for nearly 10 years. Don’t all these technologies have some kind of implicit expiration date? Wired Magazine seemed to think so in its piece titled “Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Make Blogs Look So 2004” (http://www.wired.com/entertainment/theweb/magazine/16-11/st_essay) ending with the tweet “@WiredReader: Kill yr blog. 2004 over. Google won’t find you. Too much cruft from HuffPo, NYT. Commenters are tards. C u on Facebook?” Or as this recent New York Times article titled, “Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/fashion/07blogs.html) puts it:
According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream—or at least an ambition—unfulfilled.
I suppose the technologies that are unable to evolve do eventually go extinct. Blogging, however, is actively evolving.
Blogging By the Numbers
As of 2008, Technorati estimated in its State of the Blogosphere report that roughly 20 million Americans had started a blog (http://technorati.com/blogging/state-of-the-blogosphere/). It is estimated that 50-77% of Internet users read blogs, with 60 to 100 million unique visitors. In terms of demographics, the majority of U.S. bloggers are male, aged 35+, have a household income greater than $75,000, and have a college degree. Interestingly enough, the majority of bloggers in the U.S. do not live near large cities. It is also noteworthy that women bloggers tend to use a more conversational blogging style, and men tend to portray themselves as experts on a topic on their blogs. The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates that “33% of Internet users (the equivalent of 24% of all adults) say they read blogs, with 11% of Internet users doing so on a typical day” (http://www.pewinternet.org/Commentary/2008/July/New-numbers-for-blogging-and-blog-readership.aspx). In fact, one blogger is worried that she is becoming the “crazy cat lady of too many blogs” and compiled a list of warning signs, of course, on her blog (http://www.lamomsblog.com/2009/08/the-crazy-cat-lady-of-too-many-blogs.html). And in other blog news, the Harvard University Extension School is offering a journalism-based class on blogging (http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k63367). Although the course itself is already at full capacity, you can follow the class blog here: http://e138.blogspot.com/.
What Makes Blogging So Enticing?
So many folks are so excited to start a blog. What is the allure of blogging, anyway? Why do we blog? In essence, blogging allows anyone the chance to be an authority on a subject of his or her own choosing and a writer at his or her own pace. It gives people the opportunity to assert their place in the world, their thoughts, opinions, stories, ruminations, all complete with an unchanging Web address and the possibility of an eager, interactive audience. Anyone with an Internet connection can start a blog using free services such as Blogger, WordPress, or TypePad.
Despite my own love/hate relationship with the process of writing, I started a blog called Fussy Eater (http://www.fussy-eater.com) back in 2004. Among my group of friends, I was quickly becoming the go-to person for dessert recommendations, and I wanted a way to keep track of them all. I also thought it would be fantastic to connect with others who shared my love of baked goods. As a student who also suffered from crippling writer’s block when trying to organize my thoughts and put them down on paper, I also saw my blog as a way to get me into the habit of writing and help make the writing process easier by practicing more often. Despite my difficulties with writing, I find the process cathartic and almost therapeutic once the writing is complete. I’ve come to accept that I’m the sort of person who needs to write to process my thoughts and reflect on my experiences. Alas, it is a slow process. I never got much out of journaling to meet these ends, but blogging has certainly proved to be very helpful. Perhaps it is a sort of public proclamation to hold me accountable to my goals.
Why Do Social Workers Start Blogs?
Social workers start blogs for a variety of reasons. Some social workers started blogging for educational purposes. An MSW student in South Carolina named Amy writes a blog focusing on her experiences as a student. She started her blog “with the encouragement of her field instructor, who has all of his students create social work blogs and strongly encourages journaling, whether public or private.” Melinda Lewis, an adjunct instructor blogging at http://www.melindaklewis.com, started her blog at the request of her students “so that we could continue to share ideas and have a forum after students graduate. There are relatively few social work mentors for those doing policy, advocacy, or community organizing work, and they felt that this would be a way for them to have questions answered, keep access to resources that I shared in class, and connect with other macro practitioners.” Another student blogger tells me that New York University’s social work program “uses a few official student bloggers (see http://www.nyu.edu/socialwork/our.community/student.blogs.html) to promote its program as well as forging a sense of community and creating a springboard for discussion.” Ms. T. J., a student blogger at The New Social Worker blog (http://blog.socialworker.com/), adds that “during some of the most stressful times when I was working full-time, going to classes, and working at my internship, hearing from other students was very helpful. Their feedback about their experiences made me realize I was not alone. Even though I’ve never met the individuals who comment on my blog, I feel their support and I offer mine to them, also.”
For others, blogging is a way to spread social work knowledge or highlight unique voices in the field. The editor at http://www.socialworkblogs.info “initially started blogging because I thought I had something to say to the world...and to chronicle my experiences. I was inspired to start it by some of the great social work bloggers out there. I was finding all of these wonderful social work blogs out there, and I thought they needed an audience. I love finding new ones and sharing them.” Mark Licitra, who blogs about mental health and Christianity at http://marklicitra.com/, started his blog to “have a forum for talking through some of my thoughts regarding mental health and Christianity...and to invite others into the conversation.” He hopes to address “how the church treats those with mental illness and to write about these issues on a broader scale.”
Still other social workers see blogging as a marketing and ongoing communications tool. Nate Prentice started his blog, http://nateprentice.wordpress.com, when beginning his private practice to “help with advertising my practice and keeping in contact with prospective and current/previous clients and referral sources.” Nate sees his blog “as an advertising tool, but also a public service.”
Some social workers see blogging as public journaling. According to Leslie Lovett, who blogs at http://heartofsocialwork.blogspot.com, the “idea of reflection is what I believe to be the most relevant use of blogging in social work practice. For example, blogging can be an effective form of self-care and prevent or reduce compassion fatigue. Blogs and other social media expand our professional network and introduce us to practitioners who we would never meet without social media.” Ms. T. J. adds that blogging is like having an interactive journal, “I have learned that [blogging] really helps to get my thoughts out of my head; the feedback from other social workers is incredibly valuable to me.”
Other social workers use their blogs to help stay current and connected to news and developments in the field and as a platform for ongoing mentoring. Melinda Lewis says, “It’s tremendously helpful for me as a motivator to stay up on developments in policy, advocacy, community organizing, nonprofit development, the use of emerging technologies in macro practice, and other fields. I have three children under age three, and without the blog and my student readers as motivation, I think it would be hard for me to stay connected. I also gain insights from their questions—it’s a continuation, in many ways, of what I learn from them in class.” Lewis has also had former students serve as “guest speakers” on her blog to discuss “their successful job searches, their advocacy experiences, and other insights—that helps to build a network of mentors for macro practice social workers across graduating classes.... For me, [blogging] is an indispensable tool for mentoring and augmenting how I engage with students and graduates.”
Blogging Tips for Social Workers
Use blogs for reflective practice. Leslie recommends using blogs as a tool for reflective social work practice, quoting Michelle Martin (http://michelemartin.typepad.com/thebambooprojectblog//2008/03/incorporating-r.html) as “ ‘examining your experiences and gleaning from them additional questions, key learnings, etc.’ Michelle goes on to say ‘to reflect on your practices, you will need a vehicle or structure for reflection.’ Not surprisingly I’m going to suggest using a blog. This allows you to link to others and to expand your thinking in ways that simply do not happen in an off-line environment. I see this as a foundational skill that helps keep social work professionals healthy and reduces the risk of compassion fatigue.”
Be aware of time and privacy concerns. Reas Kroicowl, editor of the Trench Warfare blog (http://reaskroicowl.blogspot.com/), points out time commitment and privacy issues, saying, “Blogging is a commitment, blogging several times a week, yet you have to keep content fresh if you want people to read it. I’ve learned to be respectful of the clients I’m blogging about—I always change identifying information and details about situations and try to be sufficiently vague with entries. I think those of us who blog keep our identities a secret for the same reason: to protect those we see, but also ourselves.”
Cater your blog to your audience. A student blogger at NYU points out that blogging “lets me share thoughts, ideas, and stories with others who may be interested without imposing on those that aren’t. I believe the voluntary nature of blog reading is one of the most spectacular aspects of the tool. People are able to connect with others on a deep and meaningful level if and when they choose to do so, making the interaction more meaningful for everyone involved.” As Darren Rowse points out in his blog post titled “The 4 Pillars of Writing Exceptional Blogs” (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/07/19/the-4-pillars-of-writing-exceptional-blogs/), “the key is to focus on your readers and give them want they want.”
Use your blog to highlight social work. Ms. T. J. wants “other social workers to know that they are doing something that matters. It is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting, challenging, and important careers. And I want [my readers] to know that their feedback inspires me to keep blogging.”
Karen Zgoda, MSW, LCSW, is an ABD doctoral student at the Graduate School of Social Work at Boston College. Her research interests include the role of technology in social work, the effects of information communications technologies (ICTs) such as the Internet and e-mail, poverty and class, aging, social informatics, socioeconomic development, public policy, and community practice. Karen is the chief editor and founder of EditMyManuscript.com, providing manuscript editing services to students, faculty, and other social work professionals. Her Web site is http://www.karenzgoda.org. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/karenzgoda.