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The Pitfalls Of Institutional Blogging

February 3, 2009

Many arts institutions are launching blogs these days. In some ways, the advent of institutional blogging makes perfect sense: Blogs provide an easy, interactive and cheap way to reach out to audiences and provide them with more detailed insights into such areas as the artistic process, the latest ticket deals and how an organization runs on a day-to-day basis.

But in the process of figuring out what content to put on their blogs, the tone and style of entries, whom should be responsible for authoring them and with what regularity posts should be added, arts organizations frequently come unstuck. Lately, I've heard several slightly worrying stories concerning issues that have arisen as a result of institutional blogging which highlights the differences between blogging as an outsider (like me) and blogging as the spokesperson for an institution.

The most alarming tale I've heard was of a young staffer at a theatre company who was given the job of blogging about the process of rehearsing a production of a play by a famous playwright. The playwright was closely involved in the rehearsal process and the blog focused quite significantly on his presence in the rehearsal room. The blogger did what most outside bloggers do: He gave his opinions. Unfortunately, these opinions weren't altogether positive. When the playwright saw the blog entries on the theatre company's website, he demanded an apology from the theatre company. The young blogger got his fingers burned and the incident put a strain on the company's relationship with the playwright.

Clearly, blogging as an insider doesn't give the author carte blanche to write whatever he or she wants. There are particular limitations imposed upon the voice one can adopt online when it's coming from inside an institution. But because blog entries are very easy to publish and don't often involve the middleman in the form of an editor, there's little to prevent this kind of problem from happening.

On the other hand, though, the restrictions that arts organizations feel that they need to put on themselves in order to stay within the boundaries of institutional priority can make for some pretty dull blogging. Employees are not sure how much editorializing they're allowed to do without risking writing something untoward. All too often, they end up regurgitating canned public statements that have already been published by their organization in grant applications, press releases and programs, which hardly makes the blog a place to go for interesting nuggets of extra information that you wouldn't find anywhere else. Plus, beleaguered employees, trying to do their already very busy jobs, often find blogging a chore.

That being said, many arts organization insiders love to blog and are very good at it. For example, I always enjoy reading California Shakespeare Theatre's blogs -- the actors and other production personnel that take it upon themselves to write the blog during the rehearsal process often provide me with information about their way of working which I wouldn't be able to get anywhere else. Sometimes, the writers are extremely eloquent and have a good sense of humor.

In order for organizations to get the most out of their blogging efforts and avoid getting their employees into trouble, they should think more carefully about what it is they want to convey with their blogs, who should be responsible for writing them and what checks and balances they might put in place to ensure that the information that ends up appearing on these blogs is fresh and interesting but not likely to incur the wrath of important stakeholders.

5 Comments:

  • It is especially frustrating when institutional blogs are used purely as a mailing list. The great thing about blogging is the cross pollination of communities--when you get to engage in a dialog with more than one person or institution. I hope that is never lost.

    By Blogger marc arthur, At February 3, 2009 at 9:43 AM  

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