Blogging Tips, Traps and Tales
In the webinar "Blogging for Nonprofits: Tips, Traps, and Tales" last month, Kivi Leroux Miller, founder of EcoScribe Communications and keeper of the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, covered blogging inside and out, including information about the types of blogs nonprofits can create and questions organizations should ask themselves to make sure a blog is right for them.
Blogs, or Web logs, are Web pages that feature short, link-heavy articles and running commentary that appear in reverse chronological order and are frequently updated. For those new to the game, Leroux Miller went over the following basic blog terms:
- Post — individual article on a blog.
- Tag — a key word within an article that's linked to a page with other posts associated with that word.
- Comment — a response to an individual post.
- RSS feed — a means by which new blog posts are pushed out to the people who subscribe to it. Delivered to an RSS reader. Individuals also can subscribe to a blog and receive posts to their e-mail accounts.
- Trackback — shows who has linked to a blog.
- Permalink — a permanent link to an individual blog post.
- Blogroll — a list of links to other blogs that a blogger likes and reads.
- Plug-in/widget — boxed-out extras like polls or testimonials on a blog site.
- Badge — graphic elements on a blog site like links to Facebook or Twitter pages.
According to Leroux Miller, there are six key ways in which blogs are different from Web sites:
- Blogging software is easy and fast to use. Users can create and publish posts very quickly.
- Updates appear at the top of the page, whereas if you update your Web site, visitors don't necessarily know what content was updated when.
- Posts don't have to be long articles. You can add brief, frequent entries.
- Blogs take on a personal, friendly style. It's a conversational, not institutional, medium.
- Heavy use of links.
- People can subscribe so updates are delivered to them, rather than them having to visit your site to search for updates on their own.
Leroux Miller recommended RSS as a good way to subscribe to and manage blogs. RSS readers serve as central locations for all the blog posts.
"If you're going to keep track of a lot of blogs, it's best to go with a reader," she said. "Otherwise you clog up your e-mail account."
The short-and-sweet nature of blog content is only one of the benefits Leroux Miller discussed in the webinar. Blogs are great for search engines because they’re updated more regularly than Web sites tend to be, and they’re tagged by topic, which makes them inherently good for search engine optimization.
But by that same token, creating a successful blog requires a commitment to blog regularly (at least twice a month, preferably once a week); creating posts that add value to the community or industry ("That's the only way you'll get people to link back and read your blog," Leroux Miller said); and an enthusiastic attitude. If you think of the blog as just one more thing to add to a long to-do list, that attitude will show through in your posts, she added.
Blogs can be used by nonprofit organizations to organize information, share small successes that might not warrant a big article in your newsletter but nevertheless shouldn't be overlooked, build community, host conversations and react quickly to news items related to their mission.
Leroux Miller said there are five main types of nonprofit blogs:
- News blog. If your organization wants to be known as the go-to source for the latest news on a topic.
- Advocacy blog. If you want to be known as the "voice" of your issue.
- Toolbox blog. If you want to be known as a resource, problem solver or technical assistance provider.
- Storytelling blog. If you want donors to better understand the need for and impact of your work. Has a more personal tone.
- CEO/executive director blog. If you want to build confidence in your leadership and approaches.
The storytelling blog, Leroux Miller said, is a great tool for organizations looking to use a blog for fundraising and getting constituents excited about the work they're doing. For a good example, she suggested Interplast, which doctors and volunteers on the ground submit photos and stories about their work.
The CEO/executive director blog works for small nonprofits whose executive director is the face of the organization. This type of blog also works for larger organizations looking to put a human face to their issues. A good example: The Humane Society of the United States' President and CEO Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.
Before diving into creating a blog, Leroux Miller suggested, organizations should ask themselves the following questions:
- Is transparency too scary? "If the idea of the cat looking at you in the fishbowl is too scary," she said, "blogging is not a good idea for you."
- Is writing quickly, in a personal tone, too hard? "That can be a real mind shift for some organizations," she said. If 15 people have to approve something before it can go out the door, blogging is not for you.
- Is criticism too scary? Turning off the comment feature is not a solution. If you only want to talk to people who are nice to you, you're missing the point of blogging, Leroux Miller said.
- Can you make the time? Blogging doesn't have to take a lot of time, but it should be consistent and at least somewhat regularly updated.
- Can you articulate the value of your blog? Know why you're blogging, Leroux Miller said.
Finally, Leroux Miller finished the webinar by going over the why, who, what, when, where and how of nonprofit blogging — the details an organization should hash out to create the framework for its blog. They are:
WHY should we blog? Establish the ways in which the blog will be different from your Web site. What about your work is best suited to blogging? How would a blog fit into your marketing strategy? Don't just blog because everyone else is. Understand why it's right for your organization.
WHO will write it (and WHO will read it)? The best person to write the blog is the person who is most excited about it, Leroux Miller said. Will you have one or multiple authors? Guest bloggers also can help you keep up with the pace. Will it be an official or unofficial blog? For example, if your organization isn't ready to launch a blog but there's a staff member who is particularly interested in blogging, that staff member can start an unofficial organization blog in which he talks about the work he’s doing. Leroux Miller warned, though, that an organization choosing this route must be able to trust the person writing the blog.
Determine who you want your readers to be: current supporters, colleagues, other bloggers, word-of-mouth visitors, search engine visitors, etc. To get your blog out there, register it at Technorati — a main search engine site for blogs — tag content, link liberally in posts, and put keywords in post titles. Leroux Miller also recommended occasionally posting what she called "link bait," a "Top 100" list or other highly desirable content that a lot of other bloggers will link to.
*WHAT will we write about and link to? Good blog content is timely, personal, tells stories and has clear titles and subheads to help with SEO. Stories about what people at your organization are doing, posts on news in your field, resources, tips, how-tos and lists, interviews, and commentary all make for great blog content.
In terms of linking, do it often and be sure you give credit when you get leads from other bloggers and link back to items you comment on.
*WHEN can we find the time to blog? Leroux Miller suggested using some of the time you now dedicate to creating your print newsletter and writing ahead of time. You can write three or four blog posts in one sitting and then post them over time. Figure out a system that works for you getting your posts out.
There are a lot of ingredients that are required to getting a blog on track, Leroux Miller said. Bloggers should spend their time researching posts, reading other blogs and commenting on posts, drafting posts, managing comments, and marketing the blog.
*WHERE do we blog? Two easy, free blogging tools nonprofits can get started using today are Blogger and WordPress,org. For more information on the pros and cons of each tool, Leroux Miller advised checking out Idealware's Comparison Report and ProBlogger's "Choosing a Blogging Platform."
*HOW do we deal with critics? Leroux Miller recommended responding to criticism or disagreements as long as they're respectful. If they're not, you can delete them.