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Hello! I am launching a blog to provide on-going training resources for our rotating pool of about 200 social service volunteers. It will include blog posts by staff and seasoned volunteers, links to external resources and webinars, and, over time, links to internal podcasts and videos we create specifically about our programs.
One of the reasons I am excited about this blog is the hope that volunteers will use the comment sections for discussions and questions about their service. At a recent Tech4Good training on social media, however, I heard that other platforms like yahoo groups and Twitter are much better for discussion.
- How effective in your experience have blogs been as a platform for discussion? What have you tried and what do you recommend? (okay, technically that was two questions...)
- What on-line platforms have you found effective at generating lively discussions, especially those that allow users to initiate their own discussions?
Welcome to TechSoup.
I think that blogs, Twitter, online groups/forums all have their place as useful discussion platforms.
But I have to question the statement you heard at Tech4Good regarding these various discussion platforms. Namely that "Yahoo groups and Twitter are much better for discussion." I don't agree with this statement because there is no single tool that will always work best for everyone or for all types of conversations. So instead of that statement, I would tell you that the "best" discussion platform is one that will best serve your constituents (whether they are volunteers, members, donors, etc.).
It really helps to understand the needs of your constituents and who they are. Knowing this will put you in a better position to understand what discussion tool you should go with for your organization. The fact that you came here asking for advice is a good sign -- it shows that you take the time to do your research.
Blogs are great for starting a topic and then turning over the discussion to your audience by letting them provide feedback/comments to blog postings. Good way to engage in a back-and-forth conversation with your audience. Twitter can be a useful tool for this as well. However, I find that Twitter fails miserably as a discussion tool per se because it doesn't provide an entire picture of the conversation you're having.
Let's say you want to start a discussion about a program offered by your organization. You're interested in getting feedback from your readers to learn about how you can improve things. In this example, I might favor a traditional blog format as my primary discussion tool versus using Twitter. Why? Because with a blog you get to see all comments in an organized and coherent fashion. The conversation flows and evolves naturally. With Twitter on the other hand, your same conversation will appear fragmented. It will be harder for your audience to follow all the responses you get to a topic because that's the nature of Twitter. The other thing to keep in mind is that Twitter imposes a limit on the length of a post (140 characters), which in my opinion greatly limits this medium as dedicated discussion tool.
Don't get me wrong. Twitter can be a powerful tool for engaging your audience. But the operative word here is "can". Because while many organizations are making great use of Twitter, others are using it simply because someone suggested they should. They never took the time to understand if and how this tool can benefit them. As a result, it doesn't offer them much value other than being able to say "We have a Twitter account."
Although I don't know anything about your audience or organization, I might recommend that you try to go with a traditional blogging format. There are different ways you can go about it. For example, you can add a WordPress blog to your site. Also, you can use Twitter as a marketing tool to help promote your blog, for example by Tweeting to your audiences about a new blog entry just posted on your site.
If you haven't done so already, I recommend you take the time to better understand your key audience and their needs. Your organization should be asking questions like:
These are just a few questions you'll want to think about. I'm sure you probably already have answers to most of them.
Yann ToledanoForum Moderator, TechSoup.orgDigital Marketing ConsultantYTConsulting.com@MarketingYann
A blog could certainly be used to initiate and foster discussions, but with blogs you may have some limitations you would not have with other options.
If you use a blog, you may want to consider one that makes it easily to have many authors such as b2evolution (http://b2evolution.net). It's free out of the box like WordPress, but it's also easy for one installation to have many different blogs that you can switch between.
Most blogs don't encourage people to register or join. Even if they do the options they have for working with the blog may be limited and that can be counter to the idea of building a "community". And comments are not exactly a "discussion" but a lot of random statements that may or may not follow a thread of thought. Still, I'm sure it could work if you promote and manage it well. Consider how people will become aware of updates and new posts. Having a newsletter that allows you to send the latest post to all the members is a good way to keep them informed and allow them a quick link back to the blog if they want to comment.
In my opinion the best platform for real discussion would be forum software. Forums such as what we are using here on TechSoup encourage membership and adhering to a topic in a thread. There are many options for people to be notified about new threads on topics they are interested in. And they also have options for people to send personal messages that are not part of the main forum discussions - Useful for discussions where people want to keep their distance but still talk.
There are many options for forum software that are free or low cost, but I should warn you that the operation and maintenance may be a little more demanding than that of a simple blog. But for a robust discussion community I think the effort is well worth it.
"hope that volunteers will use the comment sections for discussions and questions about their service."
It might work. Your challenge is that getting people to comment on a blog, outside of a blog with a really provocative theme, is *really* hard.
With all that said - I do still think a platform that is specifically for discussion, like YahooGroups or GoogleGroups, is a better choice for generating lively discussions than a blog. And I also think that, ultimately, the platform does NOT matter as much as things like having someone who is a terrific facilitator of online discussion and has a mandate to employ those skills, a culture among volunteers that encourages opinion and information-sharing, and having employees and volunteers dedicated to making the discussion a success.
More at Internet discussion groups for volunteers (my resource).
-=-=-=-=-=- Jayne Cravens Author, The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook
Blogs tend to work in one direction. You have a person who posts, and you might get a few comments associated with that post - perhaps a lot more than a few - however the psychology of a blog is that you are commenting on the poster's initial offering.
Forums are a much better option. I've been involved in setting up many forums using Drupal's forum module and the accompanying Advanced forums. The psychology involves the sense that everybody is equal to the original poster. Even so, forums need to be seeded and cared for by the administrator to be successful. They don't just take a life on of their own.
Using social media to drive people to forum posts can be very effective if you have a social media large enough and well targeted to your forum's content.
http://www.dogstar.org NonProfit Technology Consulting
It sounds like "blog" is only part of what you want to do. You probably need more of a collaboration tool with some blog-like features. There are some great options out there for that.
The P2 WordPress theme is the first thing that comes to mind. Totally free, and you can get one hosted on WordPress.com very quickly:
Some companies use P2 exclusively for communication, in almost exactly the same way you described. Using P2, you could have the occasional blog post, and slowly accumulate your organization's information over time.
Personally, I've used it quite a bit. If you have any questions, let me know!
I'm Andy Adams: Web consultant and founder of Whistling Duck, a simple non profit donor database.
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