Key techniques for successful blogging
Over the past few weeks, I've published a number of posts here to help organisations and individuals get started using social media tools and services to inform and engage. This post will discuss blogs, both as a tool and a technique, for pulling it all together.
My previous posts discussed various ways of creating and publishing content of various types, and making it available on services where audiences are pro-actively seeking out and consuming that type of content - so, for example, using the photo-sharing service Flickr for photos and the video-sharing service YouTube for video. Here's an index to those posts:
- Introduction: social media and the whole web as your canvas
- Reaching new audiences with photo-sharing
- Sharing your videos online
- Getting started making google maps
- Taking the internet everywhere
- Live and direct with your mobile
The approach I've suggested, using the whole web as your canvas, is a clever way of getting your ideas in front of new audiences. My view is that it's more important that people consume and interact with my content, wherever that content is, than to put all my eggs in one basket by creating a single destination website that is viewed only by those who are already engaged.
A blog, which is essentially an easy-to-use template-based content management system where posts, sometimes called entries, are typically arranged in reverse chronological order. Because they allow content to be pulled in or embedded from elsewhere, including many of the services I've previously discussed in this series of posts, blogs can be used to pull all your web-based content together in one place so that, once people do find a photo or video or other piece of content out on the web, you have a central place to link them into should they wish to know more.
In my previous role as Head of Blogging at the BBC, I used to run one day workshops to help bloggers and other editorial and production staff learn how to use their blogs. Almost the entire day was taken up with discussion of technique and creating content rather than step-by-step instructions on how to actually create a blog or post an entry. I continue to believe that understanding blogging as a technique, rather than as a tool, is the best way to approach blog training. None of it's hard, but getting the technique right is by far more important.
There are a number of free or low cost tools which can be used to create a blog including WordPress, which is the platform used by this blog, Blogger and Typepad. Once registered, users can very easily create a new blog. All that's normally required is a name for the blog and, once that's been decided, there are usually a number of predefined design templates to choose from. Look and feel is controlled independently of content so, in most instances, the design can be changed at the click of the button at any time without affecting the actual content of the blog.
Once you've set up a blog, you'll probably want to create your ‘about’ page where you tell readers who you are and what you're aiming to achieve. You might also want to add contact details.
Next, you may want to add links to other websites or blogs - your organisation, your pages on other social media services, other people or groups saying interesting things, etc. In WordPress, you do this by going into the dashboard and adding a links widget. In Blogger this functionality is called a blogroll and in Typepad is called a typelist. Linking is one of the most important things a blogger can do. Not only does it introduce your readers to other sites they might be interested in, but it also alerts - because most bloggers look at statistics showing how many visitors they've had and where those visitors have come from - other bloggers to the existence of your blog. I refer to a link tap because it's a bit like tapping someone on the shoulder to let them know you're there.
Once you've added an about page and links, you will probably want to create your first blog post. A lot of people find it difficult to get started, but there is an easy way to do so. Rather than creating an entire post from scratch, you might want to start off by writing ‘link wrap’ posts that describe something you've read elsewhere online, quote a small section of that text, and point out why you think it's interesting. You'll also want to make sure you link to the source. The value you add in doing this is two-fold. Firstly, you're introducing your audience to content you think they might be interested in and, secondly, by summarising or pointing to interesting sections of that content, you're editorialising that link. The person or organisation who created the content originally will also benefit because users will click through to view the source. Also, because the algorithm used by Google and other search sites often gives pages with more links greater authority, your link directly impacts the findability of that page for people who search for it later.
Most blogs allow users to comment on posts. There are pros and cons to the different methods of comment moderation. I'm not a solicitor, but have published a post elsewhere introducing some of the issues. If you do allow comments, you might want to create and publish details of your moderation policy, including your rules, so that users know exactly what's expected of them.
A lot of bloggers talk about the importance of joining the conversation. You can do this by using the comments that come into your blog as points of discussion in subsequent posts. You may also want to post comments on posts on other blogs, particularly if you link to and discuss those posts. There's no reason why you shouldn't include a link to your own post, so long as it's relevant, in your comments elsewhere, but do make sure you're linking to something that genuinely adds to the conversation rather than spamming the blog with irrelevant, and probably unwanted, links in a bid just to get some traffic.
Another way of participating in the conversation is to link prolifically from your own posts as a way of illustrating points and to alert the bloggers who created the content you link to of the existence of your posts. Because you'll want to stay abreast of the conversation - the linking, quoting, and commenting across a number of topical blogs - you'll need to use tools such as an RSS reader, which will be discussed in my next post here, and ‘buzz tracking’ tools such as technorati to find and keep track of what people are saying within your niche and about your posts.
Technorati is a blog search tool. It usually picks up new posts faster than google or other traditional search engines because most blog platforms send technorati a notification, called a ‘ping’, each time an update is made. Technorati is useful for finding, based on keyword searches, blogs and posts about specific topics but the reason it's used by most serious bloggers is because, if you input the URL of your blog, you can instantly see all the blog posts that link to your blog. Armed with this knowledge, you can go out and see what others have posted, and participate in the conversation your blog is part of wherever it's taking place.
When you create a blog post, you'll usually want to give it a title, create the body of the post, and then categorise or tag it so that readers can more easily find what they are looking for. When you name your blog and title your posts, as well as when you use categories and tags, you'll want to think very carefully about the words you use, and ensure that they are terms people are likely to search for. One of my blogs, about St. Albans, where I live, actually appears higher in the Google results for St. Albans than one of the two local newspapers, precisely because I've used St. Albans in the name of the blog, in the title of most posts, and in each of the categories I use. It also helps that I link out to all the other St. Albans-based bloggers I could find and many of them have reciprocated with links back to me, again reinforcing within the Google algorythm the understanding that my blog is not only about St. Albans, but is highly regarded as a source of good information by other websites.
Actually using the blogging tool you choose is the easy part. Find a blogging platform you like and play around a bit, learning to use the various options and tools, before you start heavily promoting it. You're bound to make a few mistakes early on, but get your technique right and you'll be three quarters of the way towards successful blogging.
This post is part of a series of guest post I'm making here to introduce some of the social media tools and techniques people and organisations can use to inform and connect with audiences and stakeholders. In my next post, I'll discuss using RSS to help find and keep track of interesting content that you can quote from, link to, and build upon.