Why all non-profits should have a blog – a good one

Why should you blog? What should you put in a blog? How do you structure a blog? How to get started… 

I came across these notes I made a while ago for a presentation about blogging. Thought they might still be useful to someone.

blog is a revolution in publishing. Before blogging, if an organisation wanted to tell people about the work they did, they’d press release it and send it to journalists who would chop it up and rework it and publish in the press. The organisation has little control over how the information is presented or used.

Now that we can blog, we can create our own content, the way we want it, using free software such as PosterousWordPress or Blogger and use more free social media such as Facebook and Twitter to tell people about new blog posts. This allows others to tell their networks about it, and so we can build a readership. An organisation’s blog is the bridge between the work you do your everyone who has any interest in the work you do.

Whereas traditional media coverage gets a lot of attention on the day it’s published, it is often lost the day after. A blog on the other hand has an ongoing audience because it remains online and gets picked up by search engines like Google and can be linked to time and time again.

A blog gives you fresh and up-to-date content to put on your website and keeps people interested. It’s a demonstration of what your organisation does and how active it is. It’s also a chance to tell people about all that great video footage you’ve got sitting unwatched on YouTube.

Blogs enable you to demonstrate the worth of your organisation to funders, potential funders, your target audience, other and new stakeholders. In a time where funds are scarce, this is a vital tool because funders and potential funders want to know what you’re achieving, why they should invest in your work. Your blog is a public testament to why your organisation exists and should demonstrate your core values.

What should I put in a blog?

Stories. Stories are the key to successful social media. They are the oldest and most powerful way of communicating a message. Your message should depend on the core values of the organisation. Include stories about individuals and how your organisation has helped them. Images. We’re hard-wired to respond to people’s faces so use photos of individuals – one colourful image is enough to entice people to read on. Group photos are ok if it’s relevant to the topic but people respond to images of individuals (especially smiling kids!) – so make sure you’re taking photos all the time to use later. Quotes. Get quotes from people and use them in your blog. They make blocks of text infinitely more readable and they back up the facts you’re giving with a human voice. Videos. Video is one of the most popular ways to communicate a message online. If you’ve got a short video (ideally, no longer than a couple of minutes) make that the focus of the blog. Let videos tell your stories but make sure there’s ample text included to introduce a video and say why your audience should watch it.

During an event or project, keep your eye out for a story. If something happens that would make a good example of why you’re doing what you’re doing, get a quick photo. A quick camera phone shot takes just seconds and will be really useful for blogs later.

When thinking about what you should be blogging about, remember great content lies in the overlap between your organisations overarching aims and your audiences’ needs and interests. Don’t forget your audience has interests other than the work you do so it’s worth blogging about what others are doing too.

Make use of newsletters. When you’ve posted a blog, use every resource available to you to tell people about it. Tweet links to it on Twitter. Post it links to it on your Facebook page. Include links to it in your email newsletters.

The anatomy of a blog

A blog contains multiple blog posts. At the top of the blog is the latest post, underneath is the previous post, and so on.

A post is made up of

  1. the title at the top
    The title should simply communicate the message of your blog post in a single (tweetable) sentence – a question is good, a controversial or funny statement is good, having the word ‘you’ or ‘your’ in the title is also an effective psychological tactic.
  2. the date and author’s name underneath the title
    Blogs are comment and opinion-based, personal in nature so it’s important that the reader is able to identify the person who wrote it and when
  3. the first paragraph of a blog is your conclusion: ‘this is what I’ve discovered and why it’s important.’
    This is very important. People skim-read online, more so than with print and will decide very early on whether this is worth reading or not. You need to get your main message across as concisely as possible in the first two or three lines.   The other reason this is important is because most readers will click a link to your blog having seen it somewhere else, e.g. Twitter or Google Reader where the title and sometimes the first line is all they have to go on when deciding whether it’s worth reading.
  4. the main content of the blog explains how you reached your conclusion. It contains text and an image or video where possible. A blog post should be short (around 600 words) and should sum up what it’s about in the first paragraph.
  5. tags and share buttons
    Tags are useful later to search your archive of blog posts for all those that refer to a similar theme or project. Share buttons are essential because you want your audience to share your content with their network using the social media tools they prefer. This will spread your messages and increase the popularity of your blog.
  6. comments
    Comments are a crucial part of a blog. Comments enable your audience to feed back on your blog, to offer their opinion, experience and generate debate. If someone comments on your blog post, you should reply to them thanking them for their comment and giving a response. This demonstrates that you’re listening and engaged with you audience. To encourage comments, ask questions in the main body of your blog posts. Try ending on a question. Blogs aren’t about broadcasting information but bringing it up in a conversational manner – and conversations are never one-way. 

Getting started

Blogs are free to set up. You can use free tools such as:
www.Blogger.com
www.WordPress.org
www.learn.wordpress.com for instructions on how to use WordPress

If you don’t know how to do something or if you get stuck, ask Google how to do it, e.g., How do I use blogger? More often than not, someone will have created a useful step-by-step video and posted it on YouTube. This is now one of the easiest ways to get instructions about how to do something. You can pause the video, follow the instructions as you get them and re-watch parts.

A few last tips

  • A good way to kick-start a blog is to make your first post a list of recommendations of other blogs. This requires a bit of research on your part but this job can be shared out among staff. Provide a list of existing blogs that you think are good, give links to them and say why you think they’re worth checking out. They should be blogs that you think your target audience will find useful or interesting. But be aware that you’re vouching for these blogs – make sure they really are worth a look! Once you’ve done this, email each of the bloggers individually (using their names), telling them who you are, what your organisation does and what you like about their blog particularly. Tell them you’re setting up your own blog and have started by recommending the blogs your think are great. A lot of the time, bloggers don’t know how useful their blogs are, or indeed if anyone is reading them at all. If you email them and tell them this, they’ll thank you for it and check out your organisation website and share links to your blog post because you’ve recommended them. This helps kick-start an audience for your blog by using existing similar audiences.
  • Link to other blogs. Social media is about being social, not selfish. And email those other bloggers telling them what you like about their blog and that you’ve recommended it on behalf of your organisation. In the third sector, people are much more inclined to help each other out than they are in the more competitive private sector. And social media is about collaboration – not competition – which gives charities an edge! Tell them about your blog and give them a link so they can check it out. Linking to other high quality content and getting others to link to yours makes it much more searchable on Google.
  • It’s important to update your blog as regularly as you can. Be aware of what others are blogging about. If you don’t have anything to blog about, blog about what someone else is doing. There are millions of blogs out there that will also be relevant to your audience and your audience will respond to you if you provide content that is interesting/relevant to them regardless of who originally created that content.
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3 comments

  1. E Hoffmann

    I enjoyed reading your #panorama article and this one about blogging. Do you have any good suggestions for how to make articles more visual when the organisation’s work doesn’t lend to photography? I work with people with dementia and find the photos that are used in my field highlight the invisibility (no faces) or the disability (distant, lost looks, etc.) or exploitation (need). I lean toward not do any instead but know that doesn’t enhance our blog.

    • bristoljames

      This is often a problem for organisations whose business is dealing with people are who vulnerable in some way. Images definitely enhance a blog but they necessarily need to be of the individuals discussed therein. I think it’s a case of getting creative and choosing images that very broadly represent or enhance the subject matter. For example, dementia is a rapidly growing problem in the UK and as the population gets older, it’s going to affect more and more people in different ways. In that sense, it’s relevant for absolutely everybody so it’s not necessary to use an image of someone with dementia sat in a care home because you could use an image that speaks to people with families such as a family eating around a dining table or out for a walk. I would try to use images of everyday events to bring home the fact that the issue of dementia is an issue for everybody, not just people who already have experience of it.

  2. Pingback: What the Chief Executive needs to know about social media | bristoljames.com

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