Michael Geist: “Blog posts are often used as a testing ground for new ideas”

This week we’re presenting the second installment of our Original Clawbies Winners Interview Series with these blogging insights from Michael Geist. Geist  is a law professor at the University of Ottawa and started his eponymous website/blog in 1998.

Michael Geist blogs at michaelgeist.ca

Michael Geist blogs at michaelgeist.ca

You’ve been blogging for more than a decade. Do you remember what prompted you to start blogging in the first place?

I’ve run a webpage since 1998 and the site gradually evolved to include blog posts. At first, the posts were a bit stiff, used primarily to alert readers to a new column or article.  Over time, I found it much more interesting to use the blog to post original content that might not appear as a column elsewhere.  As the readership grew, so too did the frequency of the posts.

Has blogging changed your professional or personal life? Can you share an anecdote or two?

Professionally, it has provided a much wider audience than my conventional scholarship or my mainstream media columns.  I’ve found that some posts can generate hundreds of comments and tens of thousands of views.  I think it’s fantastic to have a large, interactive and engaged audience on digital policy and I’m grateful for the steady stream of readers that keep coming back.  Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the blog has come when I’m posting regularly on a hot-button policy issue.  For example, the blog was very active during the copyright reform battles in Canada or the contentious negotiations over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The media and politicians seemed to regularly consult the blog and it was frequently cited in various reports and debates.  That was exceptionally gratifying and provided a valuable reminder of the potential of the Internet to provide everyone with a platform to share their views and opinions.

Has blogging helped you become a better lawyer/librarian/etc? In what way?

I think it has definitely helped me become a better academic, lawyer, and advocate. Blog posts are often used as a testing ground for new ideas and when you get it wrong, your readers are not shy about letting you know.

How do you decide what topics to cover?

I try to cover all matters Internet and digital policy.  That typically includes copyright, privacy, telecom, and a myriad of other emerging issues.

How do you spread the word about a new blog post? Through social media or other channels?

I’m active on social media with posts immediately promoted on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.  I also have a fairly large Twitter following (about 85,000 followers), so that provides a natural place to alert people to new posts.  I also include a picture – all the photos on my site are openly licenced under a Creative Commons licence – which makes the site look better and may attract a bit more attention.

How do you know people are reading? In other words, what kind of reader feedback do you get? comments – social media feedback – email – media calls – blog traffic monitoring, etc.?

All of the above.  I get comments, email responses, and media calls on many posts.  My site also contains some basic analytics that I consult from time to time to see traffic patterns for various posts.

What are you best tips for lawyers or other legal pros thinking of starting a blog, or struggling to maintain one?

I would offer four main pieces of advice.  First, just do it.  Writing regularly is hard, but making the commitment provides many professional and personal rewards. Second, stick with it even when the audience is small.  It takes time to find an audience (and for them to find you), but regularly postings will eventually gain traction with search engines, word of mouth, and a steady growth in readership.  Third, actively use social media to promote your work.  It is hard work to write regular, original posts and you might as well promote it as much as possible.  Fourth, find your own voice. Blogs that adopt overly conservative or “legalistic” postings will have a hard time finding readers beyond the profession.  Making your work accessible and personal is important.

Thanks so much for your insights, Michael!

P.S. Check out last week’s interview with David Canton here, and watch this space for our chat with Vincent Gautrais next week.

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