« September 2009 | Main | March 2010 »

4 posts from February 2010

February 24, 2010

4 Pillars of Excellent Blogging: Pillar 3 Tone

Snshot Today you will learn about the third pillar of excellent blogging:  Tone.   If you’ve read my posts on pillars one and two of excellent blogging (consistency and content), you’re probably thinking to yourself right now, in just 3-5 minutes I will be three quarters of the way to becoming a total blogging ninja.  Yes, these are exciting times we live in and it’s a little known fact that learning and doing are instantaneous in the blogging world.  So let me get right to it.

As far as non-profits go, I have three primary rules when it comes to blogging:  Be human, be authentic, be something…just don’t be lame.

Be Human
First things first, a quick test:

  • Do a quick check in the mirror and double check that you mostly pass as a member of the human race.  Check. 
  • Next, find someone in your office and kick them in the shins.  They will probably yelp in pain.  Check. 
  • Next give a co-worker a compliment (without being creepy or getting yourself fired).  They will probably smile.   Check.  
  • Now send a friend a funny video you find on the web (if you are at work, make sure it’s nothing that will, again, get you fired).   They’ll probably laugh.  Check. 
  • Finally, find a friend and read them the latest press release that came out of your organization.  Before you get half way through, double check to see if s/he has tuned out and started checking email, fallen asleep, or is about to kick you in the shins to get you to stop.  Check. 

This little social experiment was designed to prove that you and the people around you are humans with interests and emotions, who more often prefer to engage with other people than organizations and org-speak.    

So when you write your next blog post, try using the occasional adjective or exclamation point (just don’t get overzealous).  Include a picture of the person who is blogging.  Make sure the blog is written by a person, not “Organization X Communications.” Celebrate accomplishments, display empathy for members who are having a rough go, and show grit when things aren’t going your way.   Always remember that people prefer connecting with people, so it’s best to sound like a person.

Be Authentic
Nothing makes an organization’s legal (or executive) teams twitch like the concept of authenticity.   Before you even get the chance to explain the concept, the laundry list of worries and “red flags” come pouring out.  I’m not going to address them here, but at the end of the day, authenticity is about saying what you mean, being able to back up what you say, communicating a sense that you truly believe what you are saying, and not misleading people about your intentions.  In the blogging world, there is an enormous ethical debate over advertisers paying bloggers with significant readership to promote their products without disclosing that they are getting paid to do so.  Does that rub you the wrong way?  Probably.  And the reason it rubs you the wrong way is rooted in authenticity. 

Also remember that information is very easily accessible.  Savvy readers will validate what you are saying in real time and will absolutely call you out on what they perceive to be BS.  So don’t BS.

So what does this mean more practically?  Organizational bloggers should provide links to support claims that may seem counter intuitive.  Actually it’s best to back up as much as possible with links if you can.  Second, acknowledge your biases or world view.  Third, avoid overt spin of information.  Qualify or quantify what you are suggesting.  Here’s an example.

Too much spin
Joel:  It’s 3 pm.  It’s day time.
Spinner Jack:  No it’s night time.  
Joel:  You’re an idiot, I’m not going to talk to you any more

Authentic approach
Joel:  It's 3 pm, its day time.
Jack:  For you maybe, but it's nighttime here in London
Joel:  That’s deep, dude. 

This is a very simple example and I do recognize that authenticity is more complex from an organizational perspective.  However, you would be shocked at how ingrained spin is in our communications culture.  Authenticity is expected and demanded in the blogosphere, so it’s important that your organization finds a way to make it work its particular needs.

Be Something…just don’t be lame (at least as it relates to your target audience)
You want your blog to be memorable, so give it some personality.  If you can swing it, include more than one blogger so there are different personalities to give the blog some color, variation, and perspective.  The reason tone is its own pillar is because people will tune into a person as much as they will to the content, so it pays off to make the person engaging to your target audience.   Not every blogger needs to be a comedic genius.  In fact, funny is not a requirement at all, nor appropriate for some organizations.  The tone should be appropriate to your audience and the subject matter of the blog.  So before you start blogging, give some real thought to how you want your blog to be perceived and then find the tone to match it.

The Issue of Snark
Snarky bloggers are a dime a dozen on the web (is that saying even relevant anymore?).  Although snarky bloggers are frequently funny bloggers, proceed with caution when thinking about establishing a snarky tone.   Unlike independent bloggers, you actually have constituents, partnering organizations, and fundraising to worry about.  If snark is not part of your brand, this may not be the time to embrace it.  That doesn’t mean you need to be boring, not at all.  It just means that your bloggers may want to dial down the sarcasm volume or turn it off completely when writing their posts.   There are other ways to be engaging (ahem!).

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):


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.


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! 


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.

February 10, 2010

4 Pillars of Excellent Blogging: Pillar 1 Consistency

There are four pillars to successful blogging – Consistency, Content, Tone, and Community.  Each one is as important as the other.  Over the next few weeks, on this very blog, I will provide my take on the role of each of these in crafting an engaging blog.  Today, I’ll start with my personal nemesis…Consistency.

Consistent blogging is as important as the content you write about (and the tone you use and the community you write for).  It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  First, a regularly updated blog gives something for other bloggers to pay attention to and comment on which is crucial for increasing the exposure to your site.  Other bloggers will not pay attention to a site if they do not perceive any commitment to keeping it up to date.  There are other sources that are updated regularly that can give them what they need.   And, as we will learn in "Pillar 4 - Community," your fellow bloggers will play an important part in driving traffic to your site.  Same goes for your intended audience.  Believe it or not, they aren’t sitting around waiting for your organization’s latest missive.  Crazy, I know.  If there isn’t regular communication of interest to them, they will forget about you and are less likely to check back in.  Regularly updated blogs are particularly helpful when it comes to SEO, creating content for other online activities (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.), and developing relationships with your supporters or service recipients.  An neglected blog doesn't do any of these things in the best case.  In the worst case, it may hurt your relationship with your users because you do not really seem interested or because spammers take over your comments wall.

Of course, no one starts a blog with the expectation that they’ll stop blogging after three weeks.  But statistics show that this is what happens in the vast vast number of blogs.  So only start, if ready to keep at it for the long haul.

The same is true if you are like me and many others and write a post sporadically every month or so.   (This is definitely a “do as I say, not as I do” scenario, by the way.) 
Here are some ways to ensure your blog gets the attention it deserves:

  • Determine frequency of posts:  Whether it is daily, or 2-3 times a week, know exactly how many posts need to be posted each week and then work backward to sort out the staffing required (or staffing that is realistic).
  • Create an editorial calendar:  Plan it out three months in advance – know what you are going to write about, when it’s going to get written, and (very important) who is going to write it.  Don’t miss those dates!
  • Make time:  Blogging well takes time.  Make sure sufficient time is allocated to crafting the blog (including any research needed) and review.
  • Commitment:  You or your blogger probably has competing duties.  If your organization wants to blog effectively, you need to commit to the process and the time it takes to keep the blog up to date.  This typically requires buy-in from the blogger’s direct supervisor.  In a previous job, one of our bloggers posted a picture on his desk that said a kitten would die for each hour he was late on this blog.  Now, no kittens actually died, but do what you need to do to get some motivation to get it done.
  • Plan and mix:  Depending on the type of blog you have, you can probably mix “evergreen” posts with current-events posts.  Current-events posts are written about something happening now, whether it’s an organizational victory or a response to a news story.  The turnaround time for this type of blog is quick and typically goes up the day of the current event.  Evergreen posts are not specific to the current date.  These types of posts can be written in advance and don’t have the same time constraints.  Have a few evergreen posts in your pocket for a slow news week or a week when you get stuck working on other stuff – this will help you meet your schedule and take some of the pressure writing posts and getting approval in a short time period.

February 05, 2010

Time to Stop Dabbling in Social Media

Is your non-profit a "dabbler" in social media?  If you work for one of the 70+%* of non-profits out there, the chances are very good that your non-profit is a dabbler.  Well, I'm here to report that it's time to stop dabbling.  In case Facebook's 400 million members who spend an average of 55 minutes a day on the site still suggests nothing but a passing fad, a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project drives home the message big time that the social web has arrived with a big fat bow around his (or her) neck.   Here are some recent statistics from the report:

•    73% of online** 12-17 year-olds use social networking websites, up from 55% in November 2008
•    72% of online young adults (18-29) use social networking websites (yup, that's 72%)
•    39% of online adults (30+) use social networking sites
•    Of those adults who have profiles, 52% have two or more of them and 73% are on Facebook
•    Online 12 - 17 year-olds also think Twitter is lame with only 8% of them using it (sorry Twitter)

And the nature of their social networking is changing too.  Whereas online adults 30 and up are blogging more now than two years ago, young adults and teens are blogging significantly less.  For the whipper snappers out there, it's more about sharing photos, links, and short updates.

Oh, and everyone is buying stuff too.  48% of online teens have bought things online - up from 31% in 2000 (that was a lot more than I expected, by the way).  Meanwhile, adults are all about buying things online with 75% of online adults having bought a product online.  Unlike their younger counterparts, adults are less likely to buy totally off the recommendation of a friend.

So what do we take from all of this?  It's time for organizations to dive in and start developing relationships with advocates, donors, and service recipients where they are already talking.

(Check out the report to see even more striking data on usage across various demographics and mediums.)

* Common Knowledge, NTEN, and The Port did a benchmark of study late 2008/early 2009 to better understand how non-profits are using social media.  The results are here.  (Sorry that you have to register...but you know how it is.)

** Yeah, but how many people are actually online?  A lot.  93% of 12-17 year olds; 93% of 18-29 year olds; 81% of 30-49 year olds; 70% of 50-64 year olds; and 38% of 65+ year olds.  You can check out the data here.