One of the great advantages of being part of the Chicago Now blogging network
is the opportunity to interact with a diverse range of unique individuals. So when the opportunity came to participate in today's "Q & A With a Blogger Day", I eagerly volunteered....and when I received the name of the person who I was supposed to interview, I was a bit perplexed....her nom de blog is marycontrary, and she writes Chicago Now's Extreme Parenting blog.
So how do I related this to tech and social change? I thought to myself. How can I sneak nonprofits into the mix without seeming....well, obnoxious?. But then I flashed back to a conversation I had with many who work for nonprofits. There is a slightly common reluctance on some agencies to engage in social media - more specifically, blogging - because of concerns about lacking authenticity. Balancing a sense of a nonprofit mission's "voice" without sounding too formal or corporate - or even revealing too much about personality - can be a challenge in many agencies. As marycontrary and I talked over the phone, it became clear that there were many lessons nonprofits, social ventures, and other social change agents could learn when engaging potential advocates online.
(Note - I'm actually going to be paraphrasing from our conversation, since I want to respect her privacy. She writes about a variety of things, and you're always welcome to click on the link above and check out her blog. There are some great, short pieces that are worth your attention).
mary began her Chicago Now blog (and blogging in general) back in January as a way of improving her writing skills. Her children range in age from being old enough for a driver's licence to being old enough to ride a bike. She writes about her own experiences, focusing on the extremely personal while simultaneously balancing a hint of anonymity. So I kicked off the interview with that question - how can individuals (and organizations) handle that balance of being authentic without losing sight of the bigger picture.
marycontrary's response was that she writes with an eye towards discretion and respect for others. By nature, she is a painfully shy and private person, and she continually works towards a balance. Maintaining an emotionally honest recounting of her experience, while simultaneously respecting the privacy and rights of others in her life, has proven to be a challenge - especially for someone who considers herself soft-spoken and polite in real life. But it's maintaining the emotional honesty of her experience - yet also considering how her words might affect others - is a key lesson for nonprofits looking to engage their audiences via blogging or social media.
We also touched base very briefly on social media engagement, since marycontrary is looking to use social media as a way of building her online audience. Admittedly, I have a bit more experience as I engage via various channels both professionally and personally. Knowing that there are many people reading what's being written, and risking a potential reaction, can cause potential anxiety. So the challenge is balancing an authentic voice (reminding people you are a human being) while being truthful and honest (maintaining a "mission" for the blog) while making sure that potential negative reactions can be handled.
And obviously, our conversation turned to that very subject: what happens when someone responds to you in anger, or disagrees with what you've written? This actually happened to the both of us - for me, it was a sustained attack via Twitter (mostly false accusations of spamming) but for marycontrary, it was a series of angry comments which were taken down in response to a particular post. Handling difficult situations that arise is key - very few people are ever quite ready for strong reactions, and every blogger struggles with that eternal question of "What if people don't like what I've written?"
In both our cases, we were able to handle it through either pulling the offending comments or reporting offensive Tweets. (Ironically, the Twitter users who were reporting me as a spammer were.....obvious spam accounts, and in violation of Twitter's Terms of Service). For nonprofits and other formal social change organizations have a variety of options, ranging from crafting a formal social media policy to creating a public relations "escalation plan" for such a contingency. For many independent bloggers, it's taking a standpoint that we create from a place of courage - that we share our experiences without worrying about repercussions, but that we are mindful that we are respectful towards others. (Or in other words, writing about things as being personal without being personal about it).
Our talk was brief, but I am grateful to marycontrary for her time - sometimes, it is easy to fall into a mental silo, and believe that any blogging efforts are done in a vacuum. It's easy to forget that part of why anyone engages online - whether writing blog posts or tweeting - is that it's finding that community of supporters, advocates, and other like-minded people.
We should really do this again. Seriously, Chicago Now, let's make this an annual event. I received a great deal of insight, and at the very least....it's one less post to worry about. But what are your thoughts? If you have opinions or insights, please feel free to leave a comment below. In addition, you are always welcome to visit and join us on Facebook, as well as contact me directly via this blog's About page.
And as always, thanks for reading!