Inviting Participation, Part 4: Specific Tools – Blogs

This is part 4 of my Inviting Participation in Web 2.0 series of articles.

So far, I’ve introduced both active and passive forms of inviting participation using web 2.0 tools. My next goal is to cover specific tools, like blogs, wikis, and myspace. How does one invite participation using all these way-cool web 2.0 tools?

Inviting Participation with Blogs
The first tool I’m going to discuss is blogs. Blogs are the granddaddy of social tools, and there are many ways to invite participation using them. So to start off the “specific tools” part of this series, let’s take a peek at both passive and active forms of invitation using blogs.

Passive Invitations: Remember passive invitations? These are the more indirect but useful ways to invite participation. There are many ways to do this using blogs – here are some ideas:

  • Turn Comments On: If comments are off, you are not inviting participation. Period.
  • Quick Moderation: You are allowed to moderate comments – sometimes people say bad things. But if you DO moderate comments, make sure that you do it quickly and fairly. Also make sure to get all comments online and public as fast as humanly possible – the faster, the better. YOU don’t want to be the barrier that hinders participation!
  • Easy to find rss: Make sure to place a link to your blog’s feed in the upper right or left corner of your blog (usability gurus think that’s the best place for them). Also don’t disguise it with techie words like XML, Aggregate, or even Syndicate. Instead, use customer-friendly words and concepts like Subscribe. Also use the more popular graphic icons for RSS feeds (the Firefox-ish radio icon or the orange RSS icon). Also make sure there’s a “what is this?” link that explains what RSS and blogs are, and even more important – how and why RSS might benefit your customers.
  • Include links to your stuff: When you’re talking about a book in your library, link to the catalog record. When you are talking about a library program, link to the event page on your website. Always point to your own stuff.

And some great ideas from my readers on passive invitations:

From Kathryn Greenhill: “make comments available in one spot.” Great idea, and one that really hints at how to treat the main page of a blog. A main blog page CAN be just a running list of your newest stuff, plus a few other links. Or, the main blog page can be a true introduction to yourself and your blog by displaying a few recent posts, the most popular posts, recent comments, categories, etc. This way, the main page becomes a passive invitation – it says “here’s what this blog is about – come on in if interested” without actually having to write anything (though that’s a good idea, too).

And one from Brian Gray: “Utilizing the functions of blogging software, such as pings, trackbacks, keywords, categories, etc. It promotes readership by other bloggers or people that utilize the various search resources to streamline the readings. Also, posting on others blogs says ‘I am interested in what you have to say, have you checked my blog.’ ” The point? Blogs do trackbacks – make sure they’re on, and use them. These blog-specific tools help literally connect your blog and your ideas to the general blogging community.

Active Invitations: Again, actually asking is the primary way to create active invitations to participate. There are many ways to directly ask for participation that can start and continue conversations, and can even begin building community. Here are some ideas on how to ask:

  • Think like a dj: You know – you’ve all heard a dj at a radio station announce “be the 10th caller and win a [fill in the blank].” While I don’t think we should give away cars and trips to Japan, I think we can adapt that mentality of dangling carrots in order to gain participation.  Even simple things, like asking people to click a link, read a short article, or to watch a video are great ways to “direct” customers into participation.  And a blog is the perfect place to do this.
  • Figure out the goal for your post: What do you want the customer to do after they’ve read your blog post? Why not tell them what they should do to make that thing happen. An easy (well, maybe not TOO easy) way to do that is to figure out what the end result of your blog post should be, and then write the post to support that goal.
  • Ask for Opinions: Opinions are always great, because people are more willing to share… so ask for them! Ask things like: what’s your favorite movie/book?  What’s your favorite genre? Why? Asking these things is a great way to start a discussion.
  • Use polls and surveys: Not really sure why (other than referring to my last point on opinions), but people tend to fill out online polls and short surveys – especially if they’re about more trivial stuff. You can simply do these within a blog post.
  • Use props: When supplementing the text in your blog post with images and links, make sure to invite readers to click on them. This tells readers “ooh – I can click on this!”

It’s your turn again – am I missing anything? What other forms of active and passive invitations can there be using blogs? Let me know!

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