Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Blog Survey Lessons

I'm monitoring our survey results from the BB31 Day 20 Challenge (Survey Your Readers). Here's what we've learned so far:

  • We need to be posting at least every few days - and nearly half of you would prefer daily posts
  • I could be an interior decorator in a future life - you all like our current color scheme! (I'll have to let my boyfriend know, whose comments were less than complimentary during his first-time reader audit)
  • We need to tag (or label, as Blogger calls it) our posts
One additional note: It's great that Blogger now offers a survey widget, but there's not a lot of flexibility in it for non-techies like us. We would have loved to put a Blogger survey in a post or in our sidebar, but aesthetically it just wasn't working. We ended up going with a link to a SurveyMonkey survey instead. Anyone have any advice for future survey taking?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Better Blog Challenge - Day 20

We're a little behind in our Better Blog Challenge assignments, so I took some time today to accomplish Day 20's task, which is to run a reader survey about my blog. As Darren notes, the best way to enhance and build your blog is to hear from the readers themselves. Our short, 5 question survey includes questions raised from our Day 2 challenge of running a first time reader audit.

Please, take a minute (literally, only one minute!) and take our survey. Your feedback is important to the enhancement of our blog!

Friday, August 10, 2007

31 Day Challenge - Being a Statistician

Today our task is to analyze our blog's statistics; through Google Analytics, we have the ability to examine all sorts of data, including the number of hits our blog receives, the popularity of certain posts over others, where our readers are coming from, etc.

What I learned from our stats:

  • Our number of daily visits has grown exponentially since our blog first started. Duh. Although this may sound quite obvious, it is always good to know that we aren't blogging to an audience consisting solely of our 3 member blog team. Also, knowing we have a growing list of visitors will only encourage us to blog more consistently and have our content be useful and engaging.
  • Our bounce rate is embarrassingly high, and I'm not sure why this is, as I have perused Darren Rowse's tips for making your blog more "sticky" and we already follow most of his recommendations. For those not down with the blogosphere lingo, a bounce rate tracks how many people arrive at our blog and then leave right away without viewing much. Lower bounce rates are better. So, in order to decrease this stat, we need to make our blog more "sticky," i.e. do something differently in order to keep readers hooked on our blog. Perhaps I could follow Darren's advice to break our longer posts into series of posts. Also, as discussed at length in our Day 6 task, we should really try to make our blog more interactive and less like a news feed.
Although my day-to-day work centers more around with people who have a nicotine addiction, this particular task might just have brought a new form of addiction to my attention: I spent roughly two hours playing around with our Google Analytics stats...

Thursday, August 9, 2007


$653,600. Over half a million dollars. In the past 6 months, that's how much Big Tobacco has spent lobbying Wisconsin legislators behind closed doors in their attempt to kill anti-tobacco legislation and budget measures in our state.

This amount represents a huge increase over what Big Tobacco spent over the same period last Budget season ($259,101). What do you think - has Big Tobacco chosen Wisconsin as its next battleground?

Vote in Our Poll: Last Chance!

Our poll on "What is the Tavern League Talking About?" closes tomorrow, so don't forget to let us know what you think of when you hear "adult-only."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

If you've got 'em, flush 'em

A Michigan-based group called the Wisconsin Association of Distributors put out a press release the other day applauding Assembly Republicans for deleting a proposed $1.25 a pack increase in the cigarette tax from Gov. Jim Doyle's budget.

This group didn't say anything about how a higher cigarette tax would discourage kids from starting to smoke and encourage adults to quit, and how having fewer people who smoke would contribute to the world's population problem.

That's probably the best argument against higher tobacco taxes, but it apparently didn't occur to the distributors.

Instead, they were worried that a higher cigarette tax would cost jobs.

"Such a large increase in the tobacco tax will simply devastate the state's wholesale and retail community," said Polly Reber, executive director of the association.

"We're looking at about a 30 percent drop in sales costing the wholesale and retail community more than $80 million. What will happen is simple: People will lose their jobs."

The Michigan-based association said economists had forecast that cigarette sales in Wisconsin would fall by almost 80 million packs, costing the state's wholesalers and retailers almost 1,200 jobs.

William E. Eggleston, my late father, picked up on that argument when it was made in the mid-1960s, after the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health.

My father reasoned that we know that smoking kills us, and quitting is the only sane thing to do, but those job losses would be mighty painful.

With a gift for satire that would rival Jonathan Swift, my father came up with a solution. The only patriotic thing to do, he wrote, was to continue buying cigarettes as though the surgeon general had never come out with his damning 1964 recitation of the harm smoking does. But instead of smoking the cigarettes they buy, my father wrote, people should take them home and flush them down the toilet.

We could still have the jobs — the good-paying jobs, our union brethren might add — in the tobacco factories, not to mention the less-than-munificently remunerative positions in the convenience stores. Temporarily there would be fewer good-paying jobs in cancer wards and funeral parlors, but hey, people will find new bad habits.

And there would be more very good-paying jobs for plumbers called out to fix all those clogged toilets. So America's economy would continue to hum along, and the health of the nation would improve, my father wrote.

It would be a win-win-win situation. Too bad my father never met Tommy Thompson.

It's been more than 40 years since that first surgeon general's report. People are still smoking cigarettes. The surgeon general has followed up his 1964 report with dozens more, each more damning than the last. And people are still smoking cigarettes.

But the reality of those reports — and the predictions that tax increases cut tobacco use — is beginning to trickle down to the powers that be in Washington.

The New York Times reports that leaders of the Senate Finance Committee have reached agreement on a bipartisan plan to raise the federal cigarette tax to $1 a pack. Republicans and Democrats in Washington seem to see eye to eye on more things than Democrats and Republicans in Wisconsin.

By the way, my father never actually quit smoking. But for many years he cut his smoking to eight cigarettes a day, only during odd-numbered hours. He couldn't have another cigarette if he stayed up late, guaranteeing that he wouldn't lose any sleep to the tobacco companies.

And until the day he died, he understood a specious argument when he heard one. Maybe if we all learned a lesson from him and laughed at all the specious arguments we encounter, the world would be a better place. There'd sure be a lot more laughter.

-- Rich Eggleston

This piece also appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal (7/20/07) and The Capital Times (8/7/07).

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

31 Day Experiment - Day 6

Our task for Day 6 of the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Challenge is to e-mail an "old timer reader." As Darren Rowse (the creator of the challenge) explains,

"Do you have readers that have been reading your blog since the ‘early days’ of your blogging? You know the ones, they’ve been commenting and contributing away to the point where they’ve almost become part of a the scenery on your blog.

These readers play a big part in making your blog what it is. Their comments are actually content that is being added to your blog, their involvement brings a sense of community and makes it a more vibrant place and their input adds to the knowledge base of your blog."

Despite our blog's young age of six months, Liz and I figured we have a few "old timer readers" who have been with us since the good ol' days of early 2007, and we could at least e-mail them and thank them for sticking with us. And then we encountered our first big challenge of the BB31 challenge: Darren referred to "old timers" as those folks whose comments have become the scenery of the blog, and who are consistently commenting and bringing a sense of community to the blog. Unfortunately, we were at a loss - we just don't have anyone like that. Liz went back and counted and we only have 26 comments on our blog TOTAL, 9 of which were written by Liz and Jennie.

So we started brainstorming/asking why this could be. We were able to separate our questions into two different categories: 1-how we treat the blog and 2-how our readers view the blog.

1st, questions that relate to how we treat and use the blog:
  • Are we not giving our readers enough opportunity to comment or share their opinions?
  • Are we neglecting to ask our readers what they think?
  • Are we valuing our output to the point where we make our readers feel there's no room for input?
  • Does our blog resemble a recorded message rather than a live conversation?
2nd, questions that relate to how our readers treat and use the blog:
  • Do our readers see the blog as an additional and more-frequently updated information source, rather than a forum to offer their opinions?
    • Has our blog become like the bi-weekly conference calls we hold to update our partners, where SFW does a lot of talking and other partners do a lot of listening?
  • Are our readers giving blogs a first try with us?
    • We think what we're doing with our blog is pretty revolutionary in the tobacco control world - could it be that most of our readers who work in tobacco control are timid about jumping in?
  • Are half of our readers Big Tobacco spies?
    • Seriously Big Tobacco, we know you're watching...
There are many more questions on our list, but these were some of the ones we decided we wanted to answer most. So now a plea to our readers - let us know, what do you think about commenting on our blog? Do you view this blog as a place where smoke-free supporters in WI can exchange ideas openly? If you're shy and don't want to let us know in the comments section, feel free to drop us an e-mail.

Friday, August 3, 2007

"Adult-Only Locations" - What is the Tavern League Talking about?

Recently the Tavern League released a survey claiming that there is support for exempting "adult-only locations" from a statewide smoke-free air bill. What qualifies as an adult-only location?
In Wisconsin, minors are allowed to enter taverns with their parents or guardians. Minors 14 and older may also be employed where alcohol beverages are stored, sold, or served. (Wisconsin Alcohol Beverage Laws summarized here.)

Given this information, what does the Tavern League mean when they ask survey respondents about exempting "adult-only locations?" They can't mean taverns. What do you think of when you hear "adult-only?" Strip clubs? "Novelty" shops off the highway? (Take our poll to let us know!) It's confusing, misleading, and insignificant to ask a question that relies on such a muddy definition. Confusing poll questions result in questionable results.

The Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies conducted a survey of WI voters in February 2007 where they asked respondents: "Would you favor or oppose a law in the State of Wisconsin that would prohibit smoking in most indoor public places, including all workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants, and bars?" The poll found that 64% of voters who responded were in favor.

When comparing the two questions, it's gotta be embarrassing for the Tavern League: there's no question which results are based on a clear, well-defined question. For the sake of fair and representative polling, it is disappointing that the Tavern League is reporting their results as sound data.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

SmokeFree's 31 Day Experiment...

It's hard to believe we've been blogging since February! (I guess this calls for a six-month anniversary.) Amber, Jennie, and I have been talking lately about how to make our blog better and more helpful to you, our readers.

A recent post on Michele Martin's blog, The Bamboo Project, came at just the right time. She's taking up Darren Rowse's "31 Days to Building a Better Blog 2007" challenge and she challenged her readers/fellow bloggers to do the same. There are 3 goals of the experiment, 2 of which we're interested in here at SmokeFree Wisconsin:

  • finding readers
  • building community/keeping readers (this one's for you, folks)
  • monetizing a blog (this is the one we won't be paying much attention to)
I have to admit I wasn't sure if this challenge was right for us at first, but after reading what other bloggers (like Laura Whitehead from the U.K.) are saying about the challenge, I think there's a real potential for us to improve the way our blog serves our readers' interests.

So, here we go! (And for all you silent lurkers out there, please use this month as an excuse to leave us a comment or send us an e-mail!)

Bars continue to profit after smoke-free laws put in place

The Tavern League would like you to believe that smoke-free laws slash profits for tavern owners, but the research proves otherwise. A new study published in The American Journal of Public Health found that neither selling price nor sales declined for bars in areas with smoke-free laws when compared to bars in areas without smoke-free air laws.

In other words, when smoke-free laws are enacted...

Some things stay the same
Selling price is the same
Sales are the same

Some things change
Workers are healthier
Patrons are healthier

What is holding our elected officials back from making this important decision for the health of Wisconsin?