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!
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!
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.
- Global Voices has created a Guide to Blog For A Cause
- Here’s a how-to guide for Community Planning & Measurement
- Get data and information about the blogosphere from Technorati
- Start reading other blogs to get an idea of how to do it – here’s a whole dashboard full of blogs to get you started! (Have suggestions for blogs that should be added? Just let me know!)
(Photo credit: Flickr futureshape)