Last year, I had the unique privilege to help facilitate The Local Philanthropy Workshop with the TechSoup Romania team. It was a lot of fun, and as much as I was asked to share some of my knowledge and ideas, I learned a great deal from the local participants. The social media/technology landscape in Romania is very interesting – with a diverse set of issues, struggles and opportunities. Many participants were interested in using facebook as a communication platform for local campaigning and I created a session all about it. Another topic that is of interest and can serve as a valuable launch pad for conversations and information, both for Romanian NGOs and organizations around the world, is a blog. And here’s how to start!

Why Blog?

It might not be new, and it might not be sexy. But blogs can help your organization in a few key ways:

Central Communication Hub

It’s important to have a place that you can link to for more information and for follow-up, instead of sharing news or updates only in a tweet or facebook message, and especially if it is just in an email newsletter. A blog can provide the space for sharing news, announcements, stories, and other information and let you reshare and distribute it all over the web. A blog can also help people find out more about you or find other ways to stay connected to you. If someone sees an interesting post from you on Twitter, clicks through to the blog, and then can sign up for the newsletter, click to “like” you on facebook, and learn about your organization – well, that’s a whole lot more engagement and communication (that you didn’t have to work for) than simply posting to Twitter and leaving it at that.

Create Community Dialogue

Another great opportunity you have with a blog is opening up your organization by allowing comments and dialogue. Whether you are asking for feedback, sharing stories, or urging people to take action, providing a place for your community to share back with you shows your openness to feedback and interest in the community. And no, the possibility of getting a “bad” comment is not enough to disable the option for people to share their ideas, support and encouragement. Most of the time, if someone has something bad to say, other community members will step up to right the remark before you even have a chance!

Multimedia Storytelling

Think blogs are boring? Well, maybe the kind you have seen are. Or, maybe you weren’t interested in the stories being told. Your blog is a chance for your organization to show just how NOT boring it is! Do you have videos, pictures, or slides? Do you have lots of different voices? Your blog doesn’t have to be plain text on a big white page. You can use videos or images, you can hold competitions for ideas, you can post your favorite links or have guest contributors. Your blog is for you to share the storytelling you want to, with the kinds of media you want to!

How To Start a Blog

So, you’re ready to get started – woohoo! Starting a blog can be similar to planning your first road trip. Here are a few basics:

Plan Your Route

Before you jump in the car and hit the open road, you want to take the time to plan where you’ll go, and what you need. Planning for your blog means thinking about who on staff, and who not on staff (board members, volunteers, organizers, community leaders) may contribute. What kind of content do you already have that you could reuse (videos or interviews from events, data or research, etc.) or stories you know you will have important information about (issues you are watching closely, political or social issues you are involved in). Getting an idea about the kinds of things you could post and the people who will post it will help you select the most appropriate platform to use and create an editorial/content calendar.

Test Drive It

There are two aspects to a proper test drive:

First, give it a go without having a blog. That’s right, I really said that. If you know who and you know what will be involved, have your “blogging team” operate as if there’s a blog, without one, for a month. If over the course of four whole weeks, you are still writing posts (even if they are just text files or emails to each other) then you know you have the stamina to get started. If you go a week and can’t get anyone or even yourself to keep going, then you may never get the blog off the ground.

Secondly, pick a platform based on the content you want to use and give it a try before you start promoting it, linking to it, and sharing it with the world. (There are lots of great posts out there about getting started and selecting a platform, including this one from ProBlogger.) Some of the leading platforms you may want to consider include (in alphabetical order):

Prepare to Change Directions

Just like any good road trip, sometimes the winds pushes you in a different direction, and you just have to go with it! If you get started with your blog and find that the content your community responds to (or doesn’t) is not what you had expected, that’s a great sign telling you where to go. Don’t let the what or the how determine your success, but instead whether you are meeting your goals (sharing information, getting feedback, building community, growing trust, etc.). It isn’t a sign that you have failed if your blog changes direction from talking about news items to sharing the stories of volunteers – it isn’t the “what” that matters but instead that your community is engaging and you have content to support your work and communications.

Resources:

(Photo credit: Flickr futureshape)

So, You’re Thinking About Blogging? How To: Create a Blog for your Organization
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  • Chris from TechSoup in Romania

    Thanks Amy!

    • Anonymous

      My pleasure, Chris – happy to help!

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  • Great article! With all the focus on twitter & facebook, I still love the way a blog can communicate the culture & motivation of an organization. Thanks for sharing!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, David! I totally agree – there is a lot to be said for being
      “present” around the web, but I really believe that without some “home” to
      send people to, to show that you are real, and to aggregate all your
      conversations and content, you just become as temporary as the twitter
      stream!

    • I love that you highlight what it can do to communicate the “culture & motivation” of an organization. This is so helpful if organizations want to connect with the right folks to build community.

  • What I love about the blog that really stands out from the other social media platforms is that your organization gets a chance to really start deeper conversations. The other platforms are really snippet based and there is only so deep the conversation can go with that. Blogs allow for deeper conversation…deeper connection…stronger relationships within your online community which can all build towards more powerful actions in the real world.

    Without a doubt my favorite tip is the planing portion. “Failure to plan, is planning to fail” holds true for blogging as much as any other activity your organization may engage in.

    Thank you for keeping some fresh attention on this issue as it really is a powerful tool that many nonprofits are not fully tapping into yet.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for adding in, Ash! You make a great point and I second it! Blogs
      really give an organization the opportunity to not just have a conversation
      by allowing comments or other feedback mechanisms, but allow for real
      dialogue through community members responding to each other in the comments,
      guest posts, text chats and so much more.

      Excellent quote, too! I will have to start using that one 🙂

      At first when I was asked to share some information about setting up a blog
      for The Local Philanthropy network, I though, “gosh, there’s probably a ton
      out there and I really don’t need to do this.” But then, I started reading
      posts and they were all so dated – from 2-3+ years ago! And they mostly just
      focused on actually setting up a blog. So, I knew that even if “blogging”
      isn’t the hottest topic anymore, it clearly needed some attention!

      Thanks again,
      a

  • As a fan of blogging, I commend you on the way you describe the value it brings to nonprofit organizations. Love the resources too!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much, Susan! If you come across other resources you’d like to
      share with readers, please link to them in the comments 🙂

      Thanks!

  • What are your thoughts on using Tumblr as a platform? I’ve see a handful of newer orgs use it as a light-weight way to get started.

    • Anonymous

      Great question, Rob! And thanks for asking. I actually thought about adding
      tubmlr to the list but decided not to because, at least to me, I don’t
      necessarily consider it a true blogging platform. In my definition of a
      blog, you need to have the options to make it anything else in addition to
      the “blog” like pages, forms, other engagement mechanisms, etc. Tumblr is a
      form of micro-blogging or even aggregation as you can pull various content
      streams together into that place. There are organizations with very slick
      tumblr pages, for sure (check out the
      directoryto visit some
      great examples), but they are very limited in what they can
      do, ultimately, with that space in a way they wouldn’t be if they had a
      wordpress site, for example.

      Have you used tumblr for your work at any time?

  • I like that you mention how significant the Blog can be in building your online identity.
    I enjoy the very fact that you can monitor the engagement not only by traffic but by the social interaction created when people comment on a Blog post..

  • I was looking at an article recently on Gifthub and it talked about commercializing the social, implicit in The Clue Train manifesto.

    http://www.gifthub.org/2011/01/twitter-monetizes-conversation-micro-blogging-platform-twitter-could-generate-as-much-as-250-million-in-ad-revenue-by-201.html

    What do you think this says about us, in communities, in nonprofits, and as bloggers?

    Personally, I am feeling more ambivalent towards blogging now.

    Mazarine

  • I was looking at an article recently on Gifthub and it talked about commercializing the social, implicit in The Clue Train manifesto.

    http://www.gifthub.org/2011/01/twitter-monetizes-conversation-micro-blogging-platform-twitter-could-generate-as-much-as-250-million-in-ad-revenue-by-201.html

    What do you think this says about us, in communities, in nonprofits, and as bloggers?

    Personally, I am feeling more ambivalent towards blogging now.

    Mazarine

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing the link, Mazarine! It’s a very interesting topic and I’d
      love to hear more about why you feel ambivalent towards blogging now. Do you
      mind sharing?

      Personally, I’ve never tried to “monetize” this blog: it does not have ads,
      I do not engage in paid-for (whether with money or other rewards) content
      and all of the content is licensed with Creative Commons for non-commercial
      attribute share-alike repurposing (I don’t monetize the content and others
      are free to reuse it so long as they aren’t trying to monetize off it). As
      such, the monetization of Twitter doesn’t make me feel less inclined to
      blog; if anything, it makes me feel less inclined to tweet! 🙂

      Thanks again for bringing this up!

  • Julia Smith

    This post came at just the right time. Our organization already has a blog, but some of us are planning a separate blog to keep people informed about a specific project. As we work to get our WordPress set up, I started a Google doc called “Blog Sandbox” (inspired by your Test Drive idea) where the staff who will be writing can dump ideas and drafts, and even begin commenting on each others’ “posts.” It’s really helping us to find our voice(s) and figure out what will belong on this separate blog as opposed to the org-wide blog.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your feedback, Julia! I’m so glad to hear that the test drive is
      going well 🙂

      I really like that you are also commenting on each other’s drafts and ideas.
      Hopefully, just as dumping things into the google doc will help you find the
      voice and focus for the blog itself, it’ll get the team into practice of
      commenting and starting conversations when the posts are actually published!

      Thanks again for sharing,
      a

  • Christian Guerreiro

    This is a great post on the benefits of starting a blog and how it is such a fantastic platform for sharing content and commenting.
    I think a nice follow-up to this would be for the bloggers to use plug-ins which will help them optimise their content for the search engines. This will make their content more crawlable by Google and the other search engines and will result in attracting more visitors to the blog which in turn will help their readership grow.

    WordPress have free plug-ins called All in One SEO Pack, http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/all-in-one-seo-pack/

    This will appear below your post and you can start by optimising your content title and description tags so that they reflect the main subject/ topic of that particular blog post. Be sure to include that as your main keyword within both of these tags.

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