MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Connecting with the public is a top priority for Extension agents. Whether it’s a face-to-face conversation, monthly newsletter or e-mail, agents communicate in a variety of ways. Several K-State Research and Extension agents have added blogging to their list of connection points.
Innovative agents have started blogs specific to their specialties, but their experiences can teach others about how to start blogging and the value of online media. William Reid, pecan specialist for K-State Research and Extension and Missouri Extension, started blogging about his specialty in 2010. This was after attending a conference session focused on electronic media and delivering pest management information to growers. Feeling inspired, Reid created the Northern Pecans blog. Most of his readers are potential and current pecan growers.
He dedicates about an hour, on the average day, to creating blog posts. The small time commitment was a major draw for Reid as his posts are short and he does not have to spend hours on each post.
“Some people are scared by the time necessary to create and maintain a blog. It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment,” says Reid. Reid says he spends the majority of the time editing photos. These photos drive readers to the blog because they are high quality and detailed. Wrapping text around the photos gives readers visual and mental stimulation.
Like Reid, Rebecca McMahon, K-State Research and Extension horticulture agent in Sedgwick County and based out of Wichita, is the sole author for her blog. The Demo Garden Blog was created in 2009 as a supplement to the Master Gardener program. At the time, families were becoming increasingly interested in planting their own gardens at home. McMahon focuses her blog on how a family of four would operate a 100-square foot garden. Posts include information on what to plant, how much to harvest and costs from the perspective of a beginning gardener.
“The best way to learn how to garden is to do so along with someone who has been gardening a long time, a mentor. This blog allows me to garden beside new gardeners,” says McMahon.
The blog has allowed a relationship to form between readers and McMahon as they turn to her with questions, concerns, ideas and what to expect in the growing season. “Just reading the post can allow the reader to engage with the blog and the writer without feeling the need to post a comment,” says McMahon.
This relationship allows readers to feel comfortable asking questions of the author. Posting regularly can help answer questions even before the readers ask them.
Statewide extension specialist for horticultural plant pathology, Megan Kennelly, reaches out to readers alongside four other turfgrass experts through the Turf Diseases blog. She also contributes to the K-State Research and Extension Turf Blog.
Originally, a newsletter, the K-State Research and Extension Turf Blog was created in 2007, for ease of navigation so readers can search the site for information. Kennelly says that one of the most valuable pieces of blogs is that a reader can look back over years of information to find what they need.
The newsletter is still sent on a weekly basis, but with links to the blog posts. “The blog has worked really well to open up communication with our readers. They comment and reply to our posts regularly,” says Kennelly. These readers are a mix of turf and landscape staff, golf course superintendents, athletic field supervisors, arborists, county extension agents and colleagues in other states.
By reading what is happening in other states, Kennelly says agents can get an idea of what diseases or issues might be headed to Kansas. Readers from other states follow the blog to see what Kansas is experiencing and how turf managers handle it here.
The Turf Diseases blog is nationwide, with five regular contributors, focused specifically on golf course turf management. It was created by John Kaminski, assistant professor of turfgrass management at Pennsylvania State University, to give readers updates from around the country.
Advice for Bloggers
With years of experience under their belts, these seasoned bloggers also have some advice for those just starting out. Reid’s says to only start if you are committed to a focused topic and an audience you can reach with a blog. McMahon adds that the key to success is posting regularly. She also says that beginning bloggers should think long and hard about if blogging is the right medium for them and their audience. Kennelly agrees that the audience needs to want to connect via online media for the blog to be effective.
Blogs have opened up a whole new way to connect with not only local communities, but also the nation. Kennelly sums up the influence a blog can have in saying, “You can reach a lot of people with just a keystroke.”