[This post originally appeared at on the NCVO website in December 2010]
I met with a friend recently to help her think about how she could write a blog for her small business. A lot of the concepts are easily transferable to voluntary organisations so I thought it might be useful to post them up here.
This is by know means everything you need to know about blogging, for a more in depth guide I’d suggest taking a look at the excellent resources produced by Mark Walker at SCIP, all free to download at http://scipdiy.wordpress.com/downloads/.
Why are you blogging?
It’s important that before you start you know why you’re blogging. It will help you to keep focus and make clear decisions. I’d like to suggest that you might blog to:
- Reach supporters – letting people know you’re there and encourage them to make a connection with you, encouraging them to get involved
- Community – fix yourself within the voluntary sector online community
- Profile – raise your profile as a person, organisation and cause
- Engagement – start connecting with people in your field and taking part in conversations
Message: Before you do anything think about what it is you’re trying to say with your blog. Are you talking about the work you do specifically, the general work of the organisation, policy issues relevant to you, a campaign or something different? If you are clear about the focus then people will find it easier to connect with you.
Tone: Make your post personal but don’t feel like you have to reveal too much. You can say that you like something without having to give away any more than that.
Platform: What are you going to use to start your blog? Many websites have a blog built in but if yours doesn’t then you might want to use something like WordPress www.wordpress.com, a really good and popular (and free!) blog site in the sector. I’m going to assume you’re using a WordPress blog from now on.
Title: The name of the blog is important as it will be your URL e.g. http://name.wordpress.com.
URL: It is possible to get a custom URL through the WordPress site so it becomes something like www.mycharitycampaignblog.com more info at http://en.support.wordpress.com/domain-mapping/.
Theme: WordPress has lots of template “themes” that set out the structure for the blog (including number of columns, font etc). Take a look through them and see what you like. Choose one with a “custom header image” so that you can put your own photo at the top http://en.support.wordpress.com/themes/.
Statistics: WordPress has an in built statistics package. As well as keeping track of the numbers of people visiting and where they came from you can also see what key words people use to get to your site http://en.support.wordpress.com/stats/.
Creating pages: As well as the blog posts you can also create static pages. These can be useful places to describe yourself, your organisation, how to contact you etc http://en.support.wordpress.com/pages/.
Scheduling posts: If you’re feeling productive then you can write multiple posts without publishing them and then schedule them to go out at a specific time. This can be useful if you know you have a busy week coming up http://en.support.wordpress.com/posts/schedule-a-post/.
How will you get people to read your blog?
Find local blogs and comment: There’s no point writing a blog if you’re not connecting with others to promote it and entering the blogging community. Find other people blogging about your topic or similar and connect with them. Start by posting a comment on their blog to say hi or refer to something they’ve written and then encourage them to return the gesture.
Google blog search: You can find other blogs by using the Google blog search http://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch/advanced_blog_search. Put in keywords and your email address and it will alert you each time something relevant appears on the net.
Other blogs: If there are some key blogs that you want to promote to your readers then you can add them to your blogroll http://en.support.wordpress.com/blogroll/. Look at the blogrolls of other blogs to find new people.
Link to others: The more people link to your blog, the higher it will appear in Google searches so it’s really important to make those connections.
Encourage comments: Comments are the great thing about blogs so, as well as posts that state fact, post something that encourages views from people.
Google alerts: Google alerts are more general, scouring the whole of the net for new content http://www.google.com/alerts. You can set up an alert using the same keywords as your blog search.
Newsletter: Include a link to your blog in your newsletter if you have one, on your email signature and any print materials.
Post straight to Facebook and Twitter: It’s easy in WordPress to send a link to your new post to other channels such as Facebook or Twitter. There’s some info about it here http://mashable.com/2009/10/08/wordpress-twitter/ and http://en.support.wordpress.com/publicize/.
What should you write about?
Personal: Make your posts personal in the sense that people feel like they’re hearing from a human but don’t feel like you have to say too much like where you live or the names of your children.
Short: Blog posts don’t need to be long think pieces, short and sharp works well. A couple of paragraphs is fine, maybe 500 words max, and pictures make it more attractive.
Often: The most important thing is probably to post regularly (and you can decide what regularly means; every day, every other day, every week, every fortnight). It’s possible in WordPress to draft posts and then schedule them to go live at a specific time.
React to news: If there is something in the news that relates to your work then why not post your reaction to it? Journalists search blog posts so you might even get an interview about it.
New products/ services: Post photos and descriptions, promoting your wares.
Campaigns: Give behind-the-scenes information about your campaign planning and delivery including successes and challenges.
Use what happens in the office or at events: If something happens in the office or out at an event then why not post about it? Don’t use it as a place to moan but turn it into something constructive, possibly ideas or top tips.
Case studies: How are people benefitting from the work that you do?
Events: Promote your events in blog posts and those of similar organisations.
Your geographical location: If it’s relevant then why not talk about what’s happening in your town? How does the organisation fit in with the local community?
Policy issues: How are the decisions being made at a government level affecting your service users?
Gimmick: Why not have some kind of gimmick on the blog, maybe something that says if someone quotes the blog when booking a place on an event then they get £5 off.