Blogs

General information about blogging platforms and styles

Blogging is still a great way for your organization to convey messages that support your brand and position the people in your organization as authorities in their field. Blogs can serve other purposes as well, including driving traffic to your website, creating content for social media and conveying complex messages that cannot be transmitted through other mediums.

Blogs can be corporate in focus, or highly personal in tone, functioning more like an online diary. There are blogs devoted to sports, fashion, food and other special interests; blogs devoted to segments of people (e.g., “Mommy blogs”); blogs focused on political issues, neighborhoods, industries, professions, you name it. Some blogs become so well-established, they evolve into online news sources that sell ads and support employees.

Regardless of where you see your blog going, establishing a list of goals at the outset can help you determine what your site will look like. You might have short-term goals, such as becoming a go-to resource for others in your field, and more long-term goals such as influencing the national discussion around a certain topic.

Setting a one-year goal for your blog will inspire you to increase readership and engagement and help to maintain the long-term perspective needed to keep publishing.

The growth of blogging has provided a wealth of third-party options for bloggers. These include sites such as Blogger.com and WordPress.com that offer quick, easy access to blogging platforms. There are now entire online communities devoted to setting you up with a blog and connecting you with other like-minded bloggers (e.g., Edublogs.org). You can also choose to self-host your blog on your own website. Although more difficult to set up, a self-hosted blog has the advantage of driving traffic directly to your website.

If you have multiple people in your organization who can contribute, it helps to set up designated roles that govern how various people work on the blog. A blog editor-in-chief “owns” the blog and makes high-level decisions. A content editor edits content before posting. A content manager finds the right person in the organization for each post. Content providers write the content. Dividing up the roles and responsibilities lessens the load and raises the chances that you’ll be able to keep publishing and improving your blog.

As with other digital mediums, it pays to have a style guide for your blog. It will give the content a consistency and provide content creators, editors and managers with a resource to turn to when making decisions about writing, linking, posting images, etc. Some bloggers post an editorial guide or a bill of rights that sets out the standards of engagement and may include a code of ethics, a list of contributors or other information.

Creating content on a consistent basis is one challenge of blogging. Many bloggers start with a wealth of topics and then run out of ideas several months in. Think like your readers and try to imagine the kinds of information they would like to read. Review your analytics to determine what kinds of posts people are reading the most. Pay attention to the kinds of questions you are hearing from those around you and look to competitors for jumping off ideas. Develop an editorial calendar to help you plot out posts and stay ahead of the game.

Ideally your blog should fill a niche. As you create your editorial calendar, think about what distinguishes your organization and what’s not being talked about online. Once you’ve defined your niche, you can develop a list of story topics under which most of your posts will fall. Before launching your blog, write multiple posts ahead of time. You can schedule them to be released at future dates and you won’t feel a weekly deadline crunch as you get up and running. Some new bloggers even post back-dated content to avoid the impression that the blog has just been created.

For an all-purpose blog platform that can grow with you, look no further than WordPress.

Before publishing your first post, test your blog out. Ask co-workers to read it and look for any typos, technology issues, errors, etc.

One advantage of blog posts is that the medium allows you to address highly specific topics (e.g., Dealing with new state regulations regarding home schooling for special needs students). You can use blogging to share insights or to inspire discussions about the work your organization does. A blog can easily be spun around a single anecdote about the impactful work your organization does (e.g., the story of how a single student or teacher was affected).

As with social media, engaging with your readers is crucial and you should strive to respond to comments quickly. This will help build a sense of community on your blog and reader interaction can inspire new blog posts and help ensure that you’re writing relevant content. Moderating your blog will require a significant time investment. You can set up an approval process to keep spammers and trolls from vandalizing your blog, but putting too many controls in place will prevent conversations from happening.

Using tags and keywords for all of the themes and topics in your blog will help people find your blog. The title of your blog and the posts you write should include these keywords. It helps to have a catchy title that will grab people’s attention. Plugins will help protect your blog from hackers, provide forms for feedback and a way for readers to contact you and provide analytics so you can see what pages are being visited, how long readers are staying there and other important details.

The key elements of a blog post are the title, the content, the taxonomies (the categories and tags that you set up) and the images. Because blogs are often shared via social media, images are especially important. Choose a strong image to go with your post and select it as a featured image or social media services will choose a featured image at random. When you save your photo to your blog, its name should reflect the keywords and title of your post.

Bloggers used to rely more on search engines for spreading the word about their blogs but more and more, sharing – either through social media, word of mouth or by optimizing the technical elements of your blog — is the best way to disseminate your content.

The meta title and the description of your blog shows up in search engines and when the blog post is shared on social media. Customize these fields with the most important info first to make them more findable and shareable.

You can help drive people to your blog by following and engaging with other people in your industry who are writing blogs or maintaining active social media presences. You can also add your blog to directories or distribution programs and encourage people to subscribe to your RSS link, which is a simple way for people to digitally subscribe to your blog. Creating an email list of your readers will help you stay in contact with your audience. Alert your readers to your most recent posts through your social media channels.

As your blog evolves and as you attract more readers, you can continue to enhance the experience of visiting your blog. As with other marketing and communication efforts, it’s important to pay attention to your metrics so you can refine your blog and make sure you are still achieving what you set out to do. Track readership, traffic and engagement and look at which posts are performing the best on your site. It’s worth noting that the performance of your blog isn’t only about the number of direct visits. It’s also important to track how the blog is being shared on the web and the more intangible measurement of how the influence of your organization is growing.

You can find free, royalty-free photos for use in your blogs at Flickr (search by “commercial use allowed”), Pexels, Gratisography and other websites.

When it comes to determining the length of your posts, it depends on the subject matter of your post and your goals. In general, shorter posts (200-400 words) generate more comments, while medium-length posts (600-800 words) and longer posts (1,000-plus words) generate more shares and search engine traffic. This is another area where paying attention to analytics can help you determine what kind of content works best for your audience.