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Monday, February 18, 2008

Blogging Tips: Authenticity, Transparency, and Negative Comments

Jeremiah over at Wet Strategist has a great post he's doing explaining to businesses about Social Media. Part 1 is what to do with negative comments and part 2 is about authenticity and transparency.

These are two things I discuss at length with my students and I thought I'd share them with you!

What do you do with negative comments?

Hurricaine Maine saw this recently in her class. A student who deleted the comment of someone who disagreed with them. Here are my thoughts:

#1 - You have a right to keep profanity off of your own blog

I will not allow profanity on my blog. It doesn't come through a lot, but it has before. If I get profanity, I will rephrase the comment, reiterate my policy, and also reiterate my viewpoint that every perspective is important but that we should treat one another with decency and respect. (See my posting on xbox live to see how I handled this in November.)

I have found that people want to be heard, but sometimes see the bad behavior on political blogs or unmoderated forums and think it is OK to behave in such a way. I am an educator and it is my job to educate. I will not publish, I will rephrase.

#2 Everyone has a right to be heard
Recently, someone accused me privately of not publishing their comment. As I told them, I publish all related (non spam) comments 100% of the time. If it contains profanity, I will rephrase.

But I believe for my authenticity to be "real," that I should welcome dissent. If they take the time to dissent, I should take the time to respond - I think it is good practice for bloggers to comment on their own blogs and I do it all of the time!

#3 Can the Spam
If it is shameless self promotion and not related to my blog, I will not publish it. There is a fine line here, however, it is usually very obvious when someone is just trying to get a link from me. When the link is not educationally related, it is an easy decision.

#4 I should participate

Sometimes conversations move from my blog to other places -- like most bloggers, I consider it a compliment to be quoted and to have someone add their thoughts to mine. It is very important to use something like statcounter (which I prefer over Google Analytics -- I have both) or a technorati watchlist to see what people are linking to on my own blog.

I particularly look for those bloggers who are just starting out with no authority level on Technorati. (That means no one has linked to them) As an educational blogger, I believe it should be part of our ethos to encourage newcomers, to provide positive reinforcement for the fact that they wrote, hyperlinked, and pinged technorati, and to encourage them to continue. We should be authentically interested in others and not just do it for links or any gain.

I always remember the people who were kind to me and commented, linked or encouraged me when I was just starting out: David Warlick, Karyn Romeis, Doug Johnson, Stephen Downes, Jennifer Wagner, Ewan McIntosh, Jo McLeay, Darren Kuropatwa, Mike Hetherington and so many more.

If a blogger is going to be real, they need to understand that a blog is just part of a larger conversation and not be so "stuck on" themselves that they somehow think the world revolves around them and their own blog! It is about being part of something! (And bloggers should read other bloggers as well.)

In Faq #2 - Jeremiah Tackles the Question:

What does it mean to be authentic, transparent, or human?

"Things are different now, the internet allows for real people to connect with other real people and have discussions about anything that interests them –void of any shield, crest, or banner. Well to be specific, some people start creating their own individual brands (we see this on many blogs), but it’s at the core individual level."

#5 Have a voice!
It is so much about VOICE.
This is my first blogging lesson:
  • Students draw a colored chip (I use poker chips to do this) -- Each chip has a character -- I use Davy Jones, Will Turner, and the sailors on the ship as my three choices.
  • I show the Kraken attack from Pirates of the Carribean.
  • I teach my students how to embed the video into their blog. (We use a private ning now.) I also talk about HTMl and what it is.
  • Then, I have them write AS THAT PERSON. After we're done, we talk about VOICE. Emotion. Imagery. Feeling, and what makes a good blog post.
Here is one example of an eighth grade piece that was done. And remember this, the student was writing for me IN COMPUTER CLASS.

She was Davy Jones:

"There is one monster of the sea.
Whose terror reigns to infinity
That monster is me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There is no hope on my ship
Where my many servants serve out their debt
There is one man who tries to steal the key to the chest that contains my heart-BROKEN heart
Will Turner may he be cursed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A beautiful woman broke my heart.
CURSE HER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! C
Maybe love is the real monster after all"

After we do this lesson, it is easy for them to understand that they are to write with a voice, only the voice is their own.

It is that personal, unique voice that distinguishes the blogger from the separated, objective journalist. Yes, the blogger can report, but first person is very often what we do. Our blog is who we ARE.

#6 Make mistakes but learn from them
Often, my own mistakes provide useful lessons to others. SUre, it is humbling to share such mistakes as my own falling for the Microsoft Firefox parody, or sharing when my son drafted a 9/11 report citing only a conspiracy website as his primary source.

If you follow the threads on these two examples, you'll see that I had to endure what happens to most people when they screw up -- people jump in and tell you how "dumb you are." Well, in this world where we are all beginners, we have to work on making it a place welcoming beginners.

I leave up my own mistakes and use them as learning examples for others. And if I ever get "too big for my britches," one look back at those two examples gives me a humility antidote to last a few more months.

It is OK to make mistakes. Make them, correct your mistakes, and learn from them. Don't hesitate to correct what you've done wrong by using a strikethrough to mark out the wrong parts or by commenting on the post. Just remember, don't change the page the post is on, or everyone loses where to find it and all of your "backlinks" will disappear.

Making mistakes is OK as long as you are a real human. Now, if your purpose is to look like you know everything, then you could delete your mistakes and all of the comments, but then, I guess, you would no longer be real, but rather, A FAKE! All humans make mistakes!

#7 It is OK to be an individual "brand"
Many of us use our blog name in addition to our real name. I have met many people who know "cool cat teacher" but don't have a clue who Vicki Davis is. (Uhm, that's me, the person writing this thing!)

Some like to change their names on each site, however, I tend to stick to coolcatteacher. It is almost like a fourth name I have now and I'm OK with it. However, if I have something I want to blog that doesn't "fit" with the audience for this blog, then I just create another blog for that. Know who you are on each blog. Be who you are. But remember, you may have several aspects of your personality that don't fit in the same blog -- feel free to create another "brand" for that area of your life.

Blogging is different
Again, this is why we teach blogging AND essay writing at our school. They are two different means of communications. Sure, you can write an essay and post it on a blog or vice versa, however, having a successful blog is a different skill.

That is why I teach these things as well as my 10 Habits of Bloggers that Win and How to Comment Like a King (or Queen) as part of what I teach.

All of my students have an assortment of public, semi-private, and private blogging spaces. This is part of who they are and their future.

Understanding transparency and voice seems to be so difficult for many (especially business) who have tightly held their communications in the grasp of their PR departments. Blogging requires letting go of control, something schools and business seem to have a tough time with.

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