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February 18, 2010

4 Pillars of Excellent Blogging: Pillar 2 Content

Content is the second of four pillars of excellent blogging (the first is consistency).   “Content” is a broad term that encompasses many different things that a blog post may contain from videos to photos to actual words and sentences.  However,  it is far more useful to think about content as the following:

Subject matter of value to your audience that advances your organization’s mission.

Let’s break down the components (Hammer-style, if you want):

"SUBJECT MATTER"

Identify your blog’s purpose:  You should be able to articulate the purpose of your blog in a 1-2 sentences.  There must be editorial continuity to your blog so that people who read it know what to expect from post to post.  Of course, this does not mean that variation is verboten.  It just means that it needs to make sense for your organization and your audience.  For example, this blog is for non-profits seeking to improve their online operations.   Within that framework, individual posts may cover everything from using Facebook to writing blogs to online/email fundraising to using Google Adwords. 

Write Good English: 
The sad truth is that you don’t need to be an English major to be a successful blogger.  I know quite a few grammar hounds out there that routinely cringe at what they see out there (and here, for that matter).   Blogs are typically written in a more familiar or conversational tone.  However, some bloggers confuse conversational writing with a free pass to skip the spell check button.   Although your organization’s blog will survive with the grammatical snafus, what you don’t want is for people to remember how poorly written it is.  It doesn’t need to be perfect, but make sure someone is spell checking and proofreading.  If you do find a mistake, don’t panic, even the best writers let some mistakes slip once you sprinkle a few deadlines into the mix.  The great thing about blogs is that you can always fix them on the fly.  Don’t bog yourself down in editorial review longer than absolutely necessary because you also need to be mindful of the first (and equally as important) pillar of excellent blogging – consistency.    The writing should be acceptable to your audience.  (If you are targeting educators, you may want to step up your grammar game a bit.)

Switch it up:  Variety is the spice of life, right?  A blog doesn’t need to be one person waxing poetic each day on the exact same thing.  Get a subject matter expert at your organization to post occasionally.  You could also get an advocate or service recipient if it’s appropriate on the blog.  Or maybe you post an occasional video that you found interesting.  As long as it fits in the editorial calendar and content guidelines, you’re golden.  You also have my permission to switch up the length of the post.  If it’s of value to your audience and contributes to your organization’s mission, the length of the post is irrelevant.


“OF VALUE TO YOUR AUDIENCE”   

Focus on your audience:  Your audience is the most important thing to remember when evaluating the type of content on your blog. It makes intuitive sense – if you don’t write something of interest to your target audience, they will lose interest quickly.  So will other bloggers who play a crucial role in the dissemination of content around the web (more on this in my upcoming post on Pillar 4).  This may seem obvious, but in practice many organizations have a hard time delivering engaging content.  So before anything gets posted to your blog, make sure you answer the question – will they care?  If you can’t answer yes, then it’s back to the drawing board.

Establish a unique value proposition for your audience:   One of the first questions you need to answer when developing your blog is “what makes this blog uniquely valuable to our target audience that they cannot find elsewhere?”   Your answer must be stapled to your bloggers’ foreheads and guarded fiercely or else your blog will just blend in to the cacophonous noise of the blogosphere.  “OnTrack” utilizes the Sierra Club's substantial hiking know-how to provide interesting content to people who love to hike.  In the political world, Huffington Post and DailyKos are obvious examples of finding a niche (albeit large niches) and routinely developing compelling content for their audiences.  Their web traffic corroborates this assertion.

Always answer the question “who cares?”:  I know I mentioned it already, I just wanted to re-emphasize it! 


“THAT ADVANCES YOUR ORGANIZATION'S MISSION”

Your Mission:  Your audience may be front and center when writing blog posts, but the subject matter must be anchored by the mission of your organization.  Sierra Club’s blog “On Track” is an excellent example a creative blog that speaks to an audience of people who love to hike while promoting a core Sierra Club objective of connecting people with parks and the outdoors.

Caution!  Don’t treat your blog like a press release or event notification system:   There are better tools to handle press releases and event notifications.  Posting them without any sort of narrative will undoubtedly turn off your audience.  Always stays focused on the audience and presenting the information that is interesting to them, NOT what is convenient to your organization.  Seriously, the quickest way to send people away from your blog is to post press releases – avoid the temptation.  Did I mention how serious I was?  It’s worth noting that it doesn’t mean that you can’t refer to events or press releases, but you should deliver them in an engaging way.


Stay tuned for next week’s post on Pillar 3:  Tone.

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