I'm not sure exactly how, but somewhere between the lemurs, the books, the dinners, and the ridiculously short sleep sessions that I encountered at Science Online, I managed to learn quite a bit from many of those science writers to whose level of awesomeness I aspire, and am consequently left with a handful of scattered thoughts.
Here is the first set of those scattered thoughts. Comments are, as always, welcomed and appreciated.
At the first of two sessions that I helped co-moderate, we discussed ways for the more established science writers to help support new talent. There is a bit of a Matthew effect (named for Matthew 25:29), in the online science ecosystem where the most tweeted/linked individuals and posts get more and more exposure in a continuing upward cycle, while the least tweeted/linked individuals and posts get caught in a downward cycle (or at least, stagnation). Many of the elder statesmen (and -women) in the room noted that when they find good content, they try to promote it. Many of those same elder statespeople also rightly pointed out that they have to become aware of a new blogger in the first place, before they can do any promotion. But is having good content enough to become "noticed," and promoted? These things take time and persistence on the part of the n00bs.
I suppose my experience is a bit on the extremely-speedy side of things, as I started my Wordpress blog in the middle of January and was on Scienceblogs by the beginning of April, just three and a half months later. I became the psychology/neuroscience editor for ResearchBlogging.org the same week that I moved to Scienceblogs. That said, here are some things that I've learned, that new bloggers can actively do to promote their work:
- Register your blog at ResearchBlogging.org. As a content editor, I try very hard to feature new bloggers in my weekly editor's selections (while not forgetting about the superstars either). I am convinced that the only reason I am where I am now is because of an early post I wrote about ant navigation (in my second week of blogging) that Dave Munger chose as an editor's selection, and then wrote up in a column at Seed Magazine. That post was also nominated for the 2010 Research Blogging Awards for best post (in which I lost, understandably, to duck sex). Moral of the story: sometimes it only takes one post to get you "noticed," at least initially. (But if you want to keep being read, you've gotta keep writing awesome posts, naturally.)
- Comment on other blogs, and leave a URL in the little comment form. I look at every comment that comes in on my blog, and if there's a link that looks halfway interesting, I check it out. If you comment a few times, and make it obvious you're not just a drive-by commenter, I'll be that much more likely to tweet or link you. As someone (Christie?) pointed out in the session, you could link to a specific post, even, rather than simply to your blog.
- Ask for promotion! This has to be done with tact, and it can't be done repeatedly, but if you have a piece you think is particularly terrific, send some of your blog icons an email, or a DM on twitter, or something. As Ed pointed out in the session, don't do this when you've just written your first post. But I'd be happy to honor such a request after you've written 4 or 5 posts.
- Get on twitter. Involve yourself in conversations, thoughtfully. Speaking for myself, if you're just tweeting links to your posts, you'll be summarily ignored. If you're participating in the community, sharing your perspectives, linking to good stuff you're reading elsewhere, I appreciate that.
- Submit your stuff for writing competitions, like Open Lab, or like the 3 Quarks Daily Prize in Science, or the annual NESCent Science Online travel grant competition. Even if you don't win, you will have promotion and traffic and more eyeballs on your blog, and those are wins in my book.
- If you screw something up (particularly something ostensibly factual), acknowledge it, change it, and move on. We're all human, and we all screw up from time to time - even the best of us. Seth Mnookin, for example, has already published a corrections list for his brand new book, The Panic Virus. If you do correct or change something, do it transparently.
Have more advice? Add it in the comments.
In planning for the session, fellow primate enthusiast Eric M. Johnson and I batted around some ideas for a science writing laboratory, or a big blogger/little blogger mentorship program. Perhaps we could match up new and established bloggers for a limited period of time (8 weeks? 12 weeks?), in an informal sort of way, based perhaps on thematic interests, or background. The "big blogger" could act as a sounding board for the "little blogger," providing feedback for post ideas, some light editing/comments on posts, an extra boost of promotion and linkage, and so on.
Or perhaps we could set up a forum or wiki, where bloggers could put blog post drafts for commentary from a set of established bloggers. I'm not certain how this would work logistically, but I'm sure something could be organized so as not to overwhelm anybody.
I would love responses and feedback on some of these ideas, or recommendations of ideas haven't mentioned or considered.