Wednesday, August 4, 2010

UU Bloggers Survey Responses

The "Best Practices for Unitarian Universalist Blogging Report," originally published in August of 2008, is being updated, and bloggers who promote Unitarian Universalism are asked to respond to this survey via a blog post.  This blog is new to the scene, but here goes:

1. Why do you blog? What goals do you have for your blog?

I blog to explore a variety of topics in an interactive forum.  I blog because I enjoy reading the blogs of others.  I like blogs and other forms of online communication because they are available whenever I am, and always waiting for when I have the time, but they are also dynamic and conversational.

I write about whatever I find interesting.  The goal of my current blog, "Called: Musings on Religious Leadership" is to explore topics related to religious leadership with UUs and non-UUs alike*. 

*Note: I am thinking more and more that if I could, that is what I would do for a living right now :-).  I am increasingly interested in studying systems and people and helping my faith community grow into its future in a healthy and positive way. 

2. Who is your intended audience?

Anyone who is interested in religious leadership.  The blog is definitely informed by my perspective as a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, but I hope many of its topics will speak to a broader audience of religious leadership.  I suspect it will end up speaking most strongly to UUs (and perhaps a few religious leaders in some liberal/"progressive" mainline denominations). 

3. Who owns your blog? Does it belong to you as individual or to your congregation or other organization?

It belongs to me.   I keep another blog that belongs to the congregation I serve as religious educator, but it is currently used for newsletter announcements and wouldn't have much appeal to those outside the congregational circle.

4. How frequently do you post?

I am currently posting about once monthly, but this is a fairly new blog for me.  Having written several different blogs over the years, I know that as my readership grows, I become much more motivated to post regularly. With a regular readership, past experience indicates I blog on average about once per week.

5. What is the tone of your blog?

Professional but not without personality, frank, and reflective.  I can be critical at times of our association, but it is because I feel loving and passionate about our faith.  I hope that love and passion is abundantly clear to my readers. I like to ask questions to try and engage others (the whole interactive forum thing), but without having built my readership much, I am not yet getting responses. 

6. What steps do you take to make sure that your blog is a safe space, both for you and for other participants? Do you have a code of conduct?

I don't yet have the readership to worry about this much.  I do moderate comments, and I try to stick to a professional tone, as I see my blogging to some extent as an extension of my professional life into my personal life.  I also try to write from a place of compassion and love.

I do not use my real name in my blog, not because I am trying to hide behind the anonymity of the internet in order to write things I wouldn't otherwise, but for a number of reasons including the fact that as a foster-adoptive parent, I have some special concerns around family safety. 

7. What kinds of boundaries do you observe around confidentiality?

When I name individuals, which is extremely rare, I use only first initials.  (Note: on the church blog I keep, I use first names with or without a last initial, when I name folks, which I usually don't.)   I try to write about me and own my perspectives and experiences, as a general rule, so normally this isn't an issue.  I also don't write things I wouldn't say, which means some stories will never be told on my blog.  I certainly wouldn't post confidential information. 

8. How do you respond to comments and email from readers?

I haven't received any emails (I don't think I have an email address up).  Sometimes it takes a little while, but I always try to acknowledge comments, and I try to do so in a way that keeps the conversation going.  As I said, I am really interested in blogging because of its potential for interactive exploration of topics. 

I have been known to write an additional post when responding via comment gets long.  I do sometimes worry that it is too directed, especially when I am questioning something, so I am not sure how much I will do this in the future.

9. What are the most challenging aspects of blogging in your experience?

I find it really encouraging to have readership, so with a new blog that has only a few readers, it is hard to get motivated.  When people don't respond, I tend to wonder if I am not writing about things that interest others or if I am not writing in interesting ways. 

It is easy for me to start writing about what I think people want to hear about, even if I am not "feeling it" in the moment, which makes my writing far less interesting.  So the challenge is staying true to who I am and keeping up with it, even if it takes a while for the thing to get going*.

I also am working on word economy, but I have to be really gentle on myself about that one or I lose all confidence to write at all :-).

The other big challenge is that sometimes I will start down a train of thought, and it will branch out into several tracks.  This is fine, but (1) I often get too long-winded, and (2) I don't always have the energy to follow through, so I have a lot of abandoned tracks out there.

*I admit I feel small twinges of jealously toward bloggers who have loyal readership and lots of comments :-).  How do they do it?

10. What are the most rewarding aspects of blogging in your experience?

I like when a conversation opens up that is interesting and engaging, and people start picking it up on their own blogs.  I like watching conversations develop, and watching folks take a stab at things from different perspectives, so it is a good feeling to be a part of that.  I learn a lot and engage in helpful discernment through these experiences.

11. What advice would you give to Unitarian Universalists who are new to blogging and want to get started?

Stay true to who you are and keep at it.  Also, if you are looking for conversation, don't be afraid to self-promote, and don't forget to make yourself a regular reader of other folks' blogs.

12. How do you evaluate the success of your blog? What have been your most successful blog posts or series?

I'll feel really good about my blog when it is a place for really engaging conversation with other folks out there who are interested in this stuff.  I want people to come to my blog because they are looking forward to those conversations.

So far my blog only has a few comments rolling in here and there, but with other blogs I've really appreciated it once that ball got rolling. 

It isn't really a sign of "success," but I admit that I find it gratifying when folks "subscribe."  It feels like a placeholder, indicating that they plan to come back for more conversation.  That always makes my heart sing. 

13. What do you wish you had done differently in your blogging?

This is a new blog, so I feel like I am using a lot of lessons from previous blogging experiences.  Primarily, I am more focused now.

I also spend less time making promises (promising to write on a particular subject later on or promising to start writing more often, etc.).  I let the blog speak for itself, and I just keep working on the stuff that I know I want to improve. 

14. What other online tools do you use to promote your blog? (i.e. social networking sites, Twitter, social bookmarking tools, etc.)

I'm starting to use Facebook for promotion.  It took a while to gain enough confidence about what I was writing, and how I was writing, to feel comfortable promoting it in such a way that folks from my own congregation might see it, which is why I previously never posted on Facebook.

I haven't done any other promotion except to post comments on other UU blogs that I read regularly, and to make sure to link to those blogs periodically.  I have done that for years, through many blogs. 

Since I am looking forward to having more conversations going on my blog, I guess I need some advice (and encouragement) on the front of blog promotion, perhaps with step-by-step instruction :-). 

15. Do you use an Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed? How many subscribers do you have?

I haven't looked into it, but I may already be doing it (?).  I use the subscription feature on blogger.  Tell me more.

16. Do you track site traffic? How many unique visitors do you have per day (on average)?

I have done that with previous blogs, but I found that I read too much into the numbers, and it made me dull.  I think the number of comments I eventually get will be my best indicator of readership, even though I realize folks often read without comenting.

17. Do you find Unitarian Universalist Association resources helpful to you as a blogger? What additional resources could we provide to Unitarian Universalist bloggers?

I haven't checked out the resources, but you know, it is funny because I have blogged openly as a UU for years and never really been acknowledged for it, so I guess it is reciprocal :-). 

18. Please write any additional comments or suggestions.

I bet there are way more UU bloggers out there who are not "in the loop" of the UU blogosphere. 

I also have to agree with others who have answered this question by saying "I’d like to find active UU blogs more simply. Many of the lists online contain numerous inactive blogs, which is discouraging to the reader just looking for a place to start reading UU writings."

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