The Agro-Know blog is now one year old! It started as an idea more than one year ago, by the end of November 2013, after a relaxed discussion between Nikos Manouselis (Agro-Know CEO) and me over a cup of coffee in a cafe near the Agro-Know offices. We discussed about how useful it would be for us to find a way to expose all these nice things that we are working on in Agro-Know and since I had some experience in blogging (I have been blogging since 2007 for personal purposes and 2011 for professional ones) I was the perfect candidate for this exercise.
The following infographic summarizes some basic facts regarding the use of the blog. It is my first attempt to create one but I think that it summarizes some facts about the Agro-Know blog in a better way than listing numbers.
The role of the blog
The blog started as a mean of providing dynamic information about Agro-Know and its work – the website is rather static as expected so the information there might become obsolete or missing (it is much easier to update a blog than a website, especially if you are not a web developer). In this direction, the blog provides information about the Agro-Know solutions, organization and participation in events (such as Conferences and project meetings), interviews with the Agro-Know team members and interviews with people activated in the agricultural information management, open access and open data, promotion of interesting news, events and initiatives, presentation of the Agro-Know values, even personal views of the Agro-Know team members on topics of interest for the agricultural information and data management communities etc.
Each blog post is promoted through the Agro-Know Twitter account, the Facebook page, the Google+ page, the LinkedIn page – sometimes we use our Instagram account for this reason, too. Then it is up to the Agro-Know team members to further spread the word using their personal accounts. At the same time, we keep pushing the new blog posts in related social media channels of groups that might be interested in the specific posts (e.g. Facebook pages of agricultural communities, metadata management groups, LinkedIn groups related to agricultural information management etc.).
But what is the main aim of the blog? If I could summarize the objectives that the blog serves at this point, I would end up with the following list:
- Create general awareness (fuzz) about Agro-Know: Agro-Know is much more than a SME providing data-powered solutions; it is a big family consisting of several members following a set of corporate values. We have our own way of doing things and this could not be expressed through any other social network. In addition, Agro-Know is a relatively new player and we need to ensure that the Agro-Know name will sound familiar to those that are activated in the same context as Agro-Know, including potential future collaborators and customers.
- Expose the work of Agro-Know: Agro-Know team members are hard workers and this work is not always visible to people outside Agro-Know. We are working on EU-funded projects, projects outside the EU, we participate in events all over the world, provide our consulting services to major customers of our field etc.
- Promote the Agro-Know data-powered solutions: What Agro-Know does is “capture, organize and add value to the rich information available in agricultural and biodiversity sciences, in order to make it universally accessible, useful and meaningful.” (see more at the Agro-Know profile page). It is obvious that we need to explain the ways that the Agro-Know Data Framework can help end users in organizing, managing and sharing their data. In the same way, we need to find a mean to promote the work that we are doing in the context of developing Open Access implementation plans in several cases, such as the CGIAR and the Horizon 2020.
- Provide a mean to every Agro-Know team member to openly express their opinion: This is a feature not currently exploited by the Agro-Know team members (see below) but still it is an option; we are consuming so much related information daily that sometimes (or at least when we find some time) we can compile it into a useful report or transform it in a way that better serves the team’s needs. Everyone is invited to use the blog for commenting on topics of interest and expressing their personal views with no censorship!
Challenges so far
It is obvious that an effort like that faced (and still does) some challenges in the way. Since I am personally responsible for the Agro-Know blog, I have been trying to find ways to meet these challenges and solve any issues that could prevent it from operating normally. The following list contains the biggest challenges that we have faced (and still face) regarding the use and acceptance of the Agro-Know blog:
- Engaging people in blogging: This is by far the hardest part of the process as most of the people are not used in blogging and writing. Some people do not feel comfortable expressing their ideas and work in written form, some others simply do not have the time. In any case, the result is that the blog maintained by a small number of team members who contribute their parts in the form of blog posts. It is obvious that this is not sustainable (unless we are talking about a dedicated blogger) so we keep exploring ways of engaging Agro-Know team members in writing blog posts. A training on the use of the Agro-Know blog that was delivered some weeks ago did not seem to be really effective in this direction – nor the personal assistance I provided to colleagues for writing and formatting/publishing their first blog posts. We have tried to emphasize on the importance of exposing our work outcomes through the blog but we haven’t seen any responses so far as it seems that blogging is not a part of the work routine of most of my colleagues.
- Engaging people in commenting: Despite the fact that the Agro-Know blog describes the work of Agro-Know (including events) it seems that it has been hard to persuade people that they could visit the Agro-Know blog every now and then and comment on the existing blog posts. The most common issue is the lack of time and the fact that they feel that blogging is something outside the things that they are working on so currently the interaction is minimum.
- Attracting external audience: The Agro-Know blog is public so it is aimed at anyone interested and discusses topics of general interest for the agricultural information management community. In this direction, we always expect interaction with people outside Agro-Know who are concerned about the same issues as we do and are working on similar topics. Now that the Agro-Know blog is well-established, we may need to put some extra effort on promoting it to relevant communities and find ways to engage their users to the blog posts.
- Describing the work of others: While it is easy to blog about generic topics and topics that you have previous experience, it is usually not possible to blog about work done by others. There may be critical information missing, incorrect information transferred etc. This means that while wonderful work is done by Agro-Know in several aspects, this work is not exposed through this blog and may be available (or better, hidden) in project deliverables, internal work reports, trip reports and presentations delivered during internal meetings; not all this information is restricted, so the issue lies in the dissemination of the outcomes.
- Keeping the content updated: As regards the content, it seems that some periods are busier than the others so we have many news to share in little time; on the other hand, there are periods that nothing interesting takes place but still the blog need to be updated in terms of content. The solution to this is buffering a number of posts for those weeks and distributing them as equally as possible within a week.
- Keeping the blog updated: This refers to the management of the blog from the administration side. Existing widgets need to be updated every now and then or replaced by more efficient ones, backups of the content need to be taken on a periodic basis, new widgets need to be installed in order to provide new functionalities to the blog etc. This is something that takes time – and usually time is precious.
Ideas for the next steps
Now that the first year of the blog is over, we plan to make use of the experiences collected so far and further improve the Agro-Know blog. Our efforts will be focused on the following aspects:
Content: Ways of having blog posts representing all Agro-Know teams will be studied; it is really important to ensure that the work that everyone is doing will be more or less exposed through the Agro-Know blog.
Dissemination: More effort will be put in promoting the blog itself to related communities and reaching as many stakeholders as possible; at the same time, new ways of engaging Agro-Know team members in contributing to the Agro-Know blog will be explored so that the content will be even more interesting and diverse.
User Interface: A face-lift of the user interface of the blog should be expected within the next months providing an improved user experience (e.g. larger fonts, less clutter in the sidebars etc.).
Analytics: The use of analytics for exploring the ways that traffic is streamed from various sources to the Agro-Know blog and from the Agro-Know blog posts to other web pages will be carefully studied; this might also be combined with regualr reports on the use of the blog using infographics (if time allows).