How to make a blog for nonprofits

Choosing what tool to deploy next can feel like this/gsbrown99 under CC

The virtual shopping aisle of digital communication tools is worse than a visit to Best Buy.  Where do you begin when you don’t understand half the features they’re talking about?  Redo your website?  Start with a Facebook page?  Begin with Twitter?  What about that new “plus” thing Google just launched (Google+)?

Each organization is going to have to consider its communications objectives, strategy and resources and then figure out how to begin chipping away.  A blog is a great communications utility to have in the mix (maybe not as fantastic as a universal remote, but worthy of investment).

Why blog?

1.  Blogging is good way to attract traffic to a website. As I’ve mentioned before, websites are still the best place to tell your story and convert the interested into the active.  If you incorporate keywords that people use to search, you have the potential to attract new visitors to your website.  (Click here for SEOmoz’s good beginner’s guide to Search Engine Optimization, the technique for identifying and building on keywords – hat tip Mashable.)  Blogs can be embedded right into a website.  Every time you publish a fresh story, voila!  Your website page is updated, too.  (It doesn’t even have to be your blog you embed if it’s relevant to your cause.  All it takes is an RSS feed.)

2.  Blogging is a great way to capture content, especially stories.  It’s best, of course, if community members share their stories directly, but that doesn’t usually happen right off the bat.  So you’re going to need to listen for and then relate stories.  And content is what you need to feed the every growing appetite of social media.

3.  Shortened blog links make great attachments to Facebook and Twitter posts.  If your message is interesting enough, you’ll get new people to look at what you have to say.  The “sharing” norm of Facebook and Twitter rapidly multiplies the people who are exposed to what you have to say.

How to get started blogging

A blog is dead easy to start, and free if you don’t count staff time.  You can set up a blog in 2-4 hours.  (It’s maintaining the habit that’s hard.)

1.  Choose your platform.  The biggies are WordPress and Blogspot.  Here’s one of the many debates out there about which is better.  Philanthrophile runs on WordPress, as do two other blogs I write.  In the fashionista community, there’s a general belief that Blogspot, because it’s a Google product, is preferred in Google searches.  I recently helped my son set up a blog on Blogspot (not published yet) and found that I preferred WordPress.  But maybe that’s because I’m used to it.

2.  Choose keywords.  In your Internet search bar, type “Google Adwords Tool.”  You may have to create a Google account if you don’t already have one, but this is a free tool you can use without signing up for Adwords.  Think of some phrases you might consider and input them, one per line.  Do NOT click the box “only show ideas closely related to my search terms.”  (The good stuff is the stuff you don’t think of.)  The tool will serve  up 100 results.  Pay attention to the “local monthly searches” column if you’re locally focused.  P.S. the original title of this post was “How – and why – to start a blog.”  I took my own medicine, did a quick Adwords search, and used the phrase “make a blog,” which would not be natural phrasing for me.  See the top 10 results from my Adwords search at the bottom.  P.S. key words are now critical for ANY form of communication that is shared digitally – from tweets, to website posts, to press releases.

3.  Set it up with one of the dozens of handy template options.  It’s easy.  Really.  It’s time for me to update the style of this one – maybe I’ll take my own medicine on that soon (the photo is one I took of clovers in Ireland – kind of a luck o’ the Irish talisman).  Take the time to enable widgets with a click – especially those that relate to sharing and subscribing.  In WordPress, they’re under the menu item “Appearance.”   I enabled the tools for email subscription (which almost no one does these days), RSS feed and social sharing.  It’s now easy to set up your blog to auto-publish to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Also take a minute to look at the tools for ipad and mobile.  I love the way my blog about my Dad looks on ipad (http://thehenrychronicles.com/)!

4.  Choose an idea, write a strong lead, and develop it.  Keep it short – less than 500 words.  (This one’s over 1,000 because it’s a tutorial.) Think what journalists do: give people a reason for continuing in the first 2-3 sentences.  Everyone has A.D.D. these days.  I chose to get into today’s topics with questions, for the same reasons that questions tend to provoke more engagement on Facebook.

5.  Add a photo at the top, which adds interest.  The photo does not have to be yours.  You can search for photos on flickr that are licensed for general use under a Creative Commons license (used the advance search feature to see only these).  They’ve made it a little trickier to find and use the URL, but it’s there under the “share” buttons (grab the link… you may have to fiddle a little.)

6.  Tag it.  Take full advantage of features like the ability to customize your own excerpt and tag your post with key words so that others may find it through organic search.  (I use categories, too, which are like file drawers, whereas tags are like file folder labels or cross-referencing labels.)

7.  Preview it, seriously.  If you don’t have someone to read your posts, then use the gift of time.  Save the draft and come back to it in an hour or two.  Review it with the preview feature before you press “publish.”

8.  Keep blogging.  Don’t think that you have to write the Constitution.  Some of my posts have been very short – literally 5-6 sentences introducing something I found interesting.  Just get in the habit.  Try it, maybe you’ll like it.

If you lose interest for a while, don’t drop it. It’s amazing to me that I haven’t killed my blog when I’ve ignored it for up to six months at a time.  If you’re writing good stuff, people will start to find it and link to it.  External links bring you followers even when you’re ignoring them.  Not that I recommend the practice… I’m just saying don’t give up!

And links to your own earlier blog posts can help your page ranking a little, meaning that you’ll come up higher when someone searches for topics you’ve tagged.

WordPress apparently understands that the interest of new bloggers may flag (even old bloggers like me).  When I published a post about my Dad this morning, up popped the screen below. Thanks, WordPress, but I don’t think I’ll be writing a post about what I’d do with a magic wand anytime soon… but then again…

Keyword Local Monthly Searches
blogging 368,000
free blog 301,000
how to make a blog 246,000
make a blog 246,000
make blog 246,000
how to do a blog 201,000
how to design a blog 135,000
how to get a blog 135,000
start blog 110,000
how do i start a blog 110,000
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