A strategy for These Digital Times

First some apologies.

An apology to that colleague who recently said he had signed up to my blog. I did not have the heart to say that it had ground to a halt.

Another apology to those reading Jeremy Porter‘s list of “91 Journalism Blogs and Websites You Will Love” who have clicked through to These Digital Times, as recommended, only to find the blog so out of date.

And an apology to me for being tough on myself, first, for the months of work I put into this blog and, second, for the months of angst I gave myself when I didn’t.

Let me give you some background to see if it can help you. And if not you, help me to restart my efforts.

Early Days

The original masthead for These Digital Times - from launch July 2008 to April 2009

It was a casual conversation with another colleague at his leaving party that gave this blog a voice. He was going to have some time on his hands. I suggested he use the opportunity to get up to speed with social media. My email to him, listing some ideas, became “Six steps to get started in social media”. And a blog that rambled on about anything and everything for the seven months up to that point suddenly acquired a voice. These Digital Times, and the experience I gained through it, was a way to help my colleagues (pictured either side of me in the masthead) to acquire the knowledge and perhaps the skills necessary for new media. And the more I helped my colleagues in traditional media to understand new media, so These Digital Times became useful to all those grappling with similar issues.

As soon as I had established these two goals (OK, I know you are supposed to do that BEFORE you start a blog), I then worked out very quickly my strategies to deliver that goal – a highly optimised headline, an often abstract illustration from Flickr’s Creative Commons and a list. I then backed it up with my recently activated social media activity on Twitter and Linkedin. The more I learned in public, revealing all faults and blemishes, the more the traffic came. The more counterintuitive I could be, the more people came back regularly.

I reached a peak of what WordPress calls over 700 “views” in one day in February with such classics as “Six types of Tweets if you Tweet every day” (1970 views since posting in January),  “A list of 10 social media habits I am stopping immediately” (808 views in February 2009 with 343 of them in one day alone) or “A list of eight answers to the most commonly used excuses for not using the web” (18 views yesterday SIX months after it first appeared). Posts bookmarked on StumbleUpon had the longest shelf life  –  75% of my traffic or thereabouts, comes from StumbleUpon these days. Indeed the power of the bookmarker is so long-lasting that it makes Tweeting out a link to a blog post seem a short-term gain.

For the truth is that a traditional journalist like me still finds it astonishing that the web has no concept of breaking news or shelf-life. If people are interested in a subject, and they appear to do so on my blog, then they will find this stuff whenever they wish –  days, weeks or months after its appearance. (Only last week, someone kindly Tweeted out a link to one of my blog posts nine months after I had posted it and only this morning someone else Tweeted out a link to a 14 month old blog post.) And if the content helps people to acquire new skills, then there will always be those who know less than you, even if you once knew less than them. I call this phenomena the Knowledge-Time Continuum.

What came next?

The next masthead - from April 2009 to December 2009

So what happened next? Well first was my ability to extend my network, discovering and, in the process, learning from social media and new media experts. The overlay of practical experience  (actually writing the blog, commenting on others, putting in links) with the knowledge and wisdom generated by so many people made me a fast learner. It changed not only how I thought, literally rewiring my brain, but also what I looked like. The transformation was such it brought about the first change in masthead for this blog – see “On being John Welsh – why you need to change your social media identity to remain authentic”. Indeed I now look at the masthead for These Digital Times from that period (above)  and I see something that I had never seen in myself before. The photo (taken by Hollis Thomases in San Francisco) and the art work (by Claudia Moeller) suggests someone pretty much at ease in the world of social media.

From a personal perspective, the masthead was spot on – I had acquired skills and moved on from those early days in social media. But from a professional perspective, the masthead had already become out of date. My job is much wider than just social media. Once I had acquired some of the skills of social media, it was time to assimilate those learnings, assessing social media merely as one of several types of strategies available to achieve digital goals. Social media was certainly not a goal in itself. My learning in public came to an end and silence ensued.

And now?

The new masthead for These Digital Times

If lists about social media activity can be of use to so many people, it also hammers home the interest in the subject by so many companies concerned to catch up. How much more useful I might be if I can find a way to discuss other digital activities within a company like United Business Media. I felt relaxed to learn about social media in public without divulging anything sensitive about the business. Can I feel as comfortable discussing data, SEO and monitoring?

Let’s see.

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