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September 16, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

Summary:

Eventually most organizations will blog.

Before your organization starts blogging, make sure you're asking the right questions.

Advanced planning will go a long way towards developing an effective blog.

"To blog!" you hear from your 20-something or tech-savvy staffers.  "Not to blog" you hear from your grizzled communications veterans and legal advisers.  "It's basically free to turn on a blog" the first group says.  "But what if people criticize our organization" the latter group responds. Who will win this epic battle?  Quite bluntly, your 20-somethings will.  Yet, despite this inevitable march to blogdom, now may not be the right time to start blogging.  Or maybe it is.  Here are a few questions you should be asking your staff to determine whether now is the right time to start blogging.  

1. Who will read our blog?
Everyone!  Hooray!  And then the money will come pouring in. Or not.  A better strategy is to keep the blog focused on a specific audience and try to avoid the temptation to speak to everyone all the time, whether it's your advocates, potential advocates, service recipients, friends & family members of service recipients, the public at large, members, donors, and your neighbors).  Pick your niche and nail it.  Then you can start to expand if it fits your objectives.

2. What's the objective of our blog?
Sorting this out is crucial.  Expect that your blog will have a soft ROI and may take months and even years before it builds the audience and following that can turn a post into dollars or advocacy actions.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but manage your expectations.  Blogs can serve many different functions from serving your constituent base at a program level to providing insights on news and analysis on how current events impacts your constituents.  For an example of excellent blogging, visit the Sierra Club - they have several organizational blogs, each with a specific audience in mind and objectives.  Whether it's raising awareness about what individuals can do about climate change, encouraging people to get outdoors and go hiking, or getting the Club's position on the latest news and policy by Carl Pope, each blog has a clear purpose.

3.  Does our staff have time?  Will they have time two month from now?
Blogging is all about consistency.  Your organization should be prepared to write quality content once a day and no less than three times a week.  Reemphasize that it must be quality.  This is no small task.  Most personal blogs last three weeks before the posts stop because bloggers run out of content or can't keep up the daily regimen.  Blogging takes time, make sure the hours are available to make it happen.

4.  What does the editorial calendar look like?
Before the first blog gets written, your organization should create an editorial calendar.  From an executive perspective, this ensures that the right types of things are being talked about with the right frequency.  Every blog should have variation in content and a editorial calendar can help here as well.  I'd recommend planning out 3-4 weeks in advance to ensure that proper research is done, if needed.  If you have multiple bloggers, this helps provide firm deadlines.

5.  What is our editorial policy?
This is where you address potential trouble spots from trolls (i.e., people who argue for sake of arguing) to organization detractors to overly zealous (and potententially factually incorrect) supporters.  In your editorial policy, you will determine what your organization responds to and when.  It also establishes an escalation protocol depending upon the nature of the comments being made.  Resist the urge to over manage this process - not everything needs to be responded to.

6.  What are our community guidelines?
Having a clear, non-legalese page outlining how your organization expects people to behave on the blog is a very good idea.  What sort of comments and behavior is in bounds? What's out of bounds?  Be straight forward and make sure you can stick with it even when people are critical.

7.  How will people find our blog?
Meeting your objectives will be terribly slow if no one knows that your blog exists.  Make sure there is a plan in place to get people to your blog.  Furthermore, make sure that initially those people are the right people.  The right people are your supporters who will respond to critics so you don't have to all the time.  How do you do this?  Your house email list for starters.  Second, if your staff doesn't have a list of friendly (and not-so-friendly) blogs, now is the time to create that list and start paying attention to what those blogs have to say.  You'll want to create relationships with these bloggers over time.  Third, create a strategy for promoting your blog and set readership milestones.

8.  Are we prepared to relinquish a little control?
The last question you need to ask is whether your organization is ready to relinquish control.  If you effectively answered the rest of the questions above, chances are that your organization is ready.  You now have a plan for who you want to reach and how you are going to reach them.  You have a plan for dealing with critics, trolls, and overly zealous supporters.  It's now time to embrace the open web and engage the world in this format.

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