Building Momentum: How Blog Action Day Got Started

Today – October 15th is the very first annual Blog Action Day. As the international dateline passes over the world, over fifteen thousand bloggers will be waking up to prepare and post about the environment on their blogs.

Three months ago “Blog Action Day” did not even exist.

For my Blog Action Day post I thought I would tell you a little about how the day came about, the strategies we employed to build momentum and what we hope to achieve for the environment.

An Idea

I can remember growing up that my father, who at the time ran a large IT company in the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea, would always tell me that every business should do work for the community. While this is important everywhere, in a developing nation like New Guinea, it was even more essential as there was much to be done.

Years later my wife Cyan who blogs at FreelanceSwitch, Leo from ZenHabits and myself found ourselves trying to think of something we could do that would allow us to use blogging to benefit the community. We wanted it to be something new, something that hadn’t been done before, something that really made use of our knowledge of blogging.

The idea came from thinking about memes. A meme for those of you who might not know the term (in blogging) refers to a series of blog posts in response to each other.

Often bloggers will tag other bloggers to respond, and memes can quickly go viral. This led to thinking about how great it would be if bloggers were all talking about the same thing, and then to the final Blog Action Day idea, to ask every blogger to post on the same day about the same issue.

It was one of those ideas that sparked a lot of “You know, that could actually work!”-type comments. It was a simple idea that could prove very effective.

We are all passionate about the environment, knowing it is an issue that is on everyone’s minds, so it seemed a logical choice for the first year’s theme.

Plus on a practical level, there is a way to relate an environmental issue back to just about any topic, which means one less barrier to entry for bloggers wanting to participate.

What We Hope to Achieve

Blog Action Day is at it’s heart about harnessing the diversity and the passion of the blogging community. With so many bloggers who all have different expertise we are looking forward to seeing a huge range of posts, and importantly from a huge range of viewpoints and on a huge range of topics.

Oftentimes in mainstream media you only hear a limited range of voices, but during Blog Action Day you’ll get to hear thousands of distinct thoughts, opinions and ideas.

If those millions of blog readers who read environmental Blog Action Day posts today each get one small idea, thought, new habit, or piece of advice, then Blog Action Day has been a huge success.

The world doesn’t change in huge leaps, it changes in small increments. We hope that Blog Action Day will be one more drop in the tide of change.

A Plan of Action

We needed a plan to make the idea into reality and after a little thinking we came up with what amounted to the biggest name-dropping initiative in blogging history.

It was based on a simple principle of social proof. When I hear that other people are doing something it seems much more like something I want to do. If the other people are ones I look up to, then all the better.

Taking this idea to our Blog Action Day plan, we decided that before we told the world we needed to have some big names already on board.

Of course to get those big names, we’d need a first few big names to convince the others that we had credibility.

So we began by making a list of about 80 bloggers we knew who had at lease a thousand readers. And when I say ‘knew’ I really mean had had some contact with in some way.

I got a list of tech blogging names and contacts from my father who is still involved in IT, Leo had a long list of names from the blog network he is in and from blogs he’s written for, Cyan had even more contacts from creative blogging and we compiled them all together.

Then we took the ones that we knew the best, who had some personal knowledge of us and would trust that we wouldn’t lead them astray.

The first blog to join was SEOMoz, followed quickly by GigaOm and Web Worker Daily, and then on from there. At every step of the way we changed the emails we were sending to include the names of other bloggers involved.

So as soon as SEOMoz joined, their name appeared in every email to help give credibility to what we were doing. By the end of the second day Leo’s contact with Gina Trapani of LifeHacker led to her involvement and from there we knew we’d secured enough of the big guys to make a real go of it.

One of the best things about this project has been that at every stage bloggers have been not only able to take on the task, but were also very willing and excited to do so.

Those early blogs to whom we are eternally grateful sent back enthusiastic emails of support and assurances of participation that really built the early momentum for what was to come.

Looking Good

One of the other tools we had at our disposal was our background in web development and marketing. We put together a flyer that went out with all those initial emails that you.

The great thing about design is it can make you seem much more professional than you might really be. So while in fact Blog Action Day is an initiative with next to no funding, worked on in our spare time, the flyer and later the website made it look like a contender, providing further social proof to all those bloggers thinking of joining.

As we continued to send dozens and dozens of emails out, our rails developer Ryan and I built the Blog Action Day website, its own blog and a registration/approval facility.

By the end of two weeks the website was ready to go, we had about 20-something big name bloggers who’d agreed to participate and we were ready to launch. If you’re curious you can see who the early bloggers were right at the top of the participants page.

Launch

The best way to reach bloggers is of course through blogs about blogging. Thankfully many of the most well known of these blogs were behind the initiative and thanks to Daniel ofDailyBlogTips, Brian of CopyBlogger, Darren of ProBlogger, Chris Garrett of ChrisG, Lorelle of BlogHerald , Liz Strauss of Successful Blog, David of Pure Blogging and Kevin of Blogging Tips, we did just that.

Through posts on both those blogs and the initial blogs who had joined the initiative, we quickly got momentum going and things took off from there.

Going Viral

The great thing about the Blog Action Day campaign has been how viral it has been. A huge percentage of the blogs who’ve joined the initiative have also posted up links, posts and banners going back to the site, bringing more and more bloggers, who in turn do the same.

Having the banners and resources available played a big part in allowing this to happen. For example one of the things we did was to create a video early on (which I’ve embedded below).

While we do have design talents, we do not have video skills. But thanks to the magic of iMovie, carefully chosen stock footage from iStockphoto and some great audio, Cyan managed to cobble something together.

It’s not bad for the first and only video she’s ever made and has gone on to be viewed 40-something thousand times. Bloggers it seems love to embed videos!

Additionally Leo is extraordinarily talented at writing for-digg type posts and he contributed two posts – Why Bloggers Will Change the World, and How You Can Help and 50 Quick, Painless Ways You Can Help the Environment Today which both made it to Digg/Delicious/… and brought even more floods of traffic.

Emails, emails, emails

During the two months of promotion leading up to today I have written over 2,000 emails about Blog Action Day. The floods of people writing to give their support, offer their help and wish us well has been amazing.

If you’ve ever had a cynical or jaded day in your life, then take it from me, people want to do good things for the world. SO many people!

Amongst these emails also came some from people in some pretty influential positions including the community manager for Opera, the manager of PixNet (a Chinese blogging platform with some 600,000 blogs on it) and many others.

Being available and responding to all the emails was a challenge but a rewarding one and helped make the day even bigger.

It doesn’t hurt to try

Happily we live in a world where it costs nothing to send emails. There’s no stamps, envelopes or even a trip to a postbox. It’s just write and send. So in such a world, it doesn’t hurt to try contacting people and to see what happens.

Early on we sent out emails to all the big blogging companies we could think of (technorati, feedburner, reddit, bloglines and so on) and though I really didn’t think any would write back, a few days later I got an email from Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit who informed us that he was going to update the Reddit logo on Blog Action Day in celebration.

Later I would also write to Wired Magazine in the hope that they might cover the story and sure enough the editor wrote back and said he’d be interested.

So it doesn’t hurt to try these things. At the end of the day people are interested to hear about what’s going on, many may not write back, but it’s worth it for those who do!

Unexpected Results

After a months of hearing and seeing bloggers joining I’ve been so impressed with the enthusiasm bloggers have that it’s without a shadow of a doubt that Blog Action Day is going to be a success.

What has been unexpected is that we have had support from some pretty important organizations. Notably the United Nations Environmental Programme has given their support, the EU Commissioner for the Environment is holding a live internet chat, Google andWellsFargo have put some of their corporate blogs behind the initiative and much more.

At the end of the day the success of Blog Action Day and in fact its ownership rests squarely with the blogging community.

This day is only going to get bigger with every passing year and is a showcase not just for how great bloggers are but for the power of the blogging community.

And with that I wish you all a very happy Blog Action Day, enjoy the posts and enjoy the day!

About Collis Ta'eed

As cofounder and CEO, Collis Ta’eed leads Envato, one of the world’s most thriving digital marketplaces and creative educational blog networks.

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