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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ready to Start Blogging?

How to set up and run your nonprofit's own digital soapbox

You've researched, read articles, visited countless blogs, and now you've decided to take the plunge and start blogging. So what are your next steps?

The first consideration when creating a blog is which tool to use. There are countless options with a variety of different features. Some tools are free, others are open source, some require no IT help, while others require quite a bit of programming and configuration to get up and running.

Which tool you pick to build your blog depends largely on your commitment to this blogging thing. Before doing anything, ask yourself if you're unsure, kinda sure, or whether you feel strongly about a blog for your organization.

If you're unsure if blogging will work for your organization and you're deciding whether to move forward with it, then Blogger is the tool for you. It costs nothing, it's stable, easy to use, and even the hosting is free. To use the free service, simply sign up, and you're on your way to becoming a bonafide blogger.

Do you feel more sure? You know that you want to do this and you've assigned someone to update the blog, but you don't want to invest heavily in a technology infrastructure. Enter Typepad. Typepad provides a few more options than Blogger -- notably trackbacks and categories -- that add to the managability of your blog. It costs more than Blogger, but the extra options could be worth the investment.

Do you feel strongly that you want to host a blog on your own servers? Do you want to be able to build and customize as you see fit? If so, there are three good options for you: WordPress or Drupal (specifically the CivicSpace fork) are both open source. And there's also Six Apart's Movable Type, which offers not-for-profit pricing.

In addition to their blogging capabilities, WordPress and Movable Type can act as good, lightweight content management systems. Drupal, on the other hand, is like a big box of legos, but it offers powerful tools for organizing your Web site. That said, I don't recommend trying these options if you don't have good, confident technology assistance.

Name That Blog
Don't spend too much time on a name, but do take this into consideration. Give your blog a name you like, one that fits somehow with your organization and its mission. This is also a good opportunity to provide a description. Think of this as a title and a subtitle. Don't call it "My Blog" or something else similarly vague.

The name you choose for your weblog can help your position in Google. Including a word or phrase that you'd like to own -- something that, when plugged into Google, returns your site as a result -- can be a good idea. Finally, don't make the name too artificial or too long.

Turn on RSS
Don't worry about what RSS stands for. Don't even worry about what it is. Okay, worry a little bit. The acronym stands for Really Simple Syndication. And you will need to use it. To find out more about RSS, read this TechSoup article "RSS for Nonprofits ".

While I won't burden you with technical details, just be sure to select the RSS option to set up a Web feed when you're configuring your blog. (This may also be referred to as a subscription option.) All you need to do is check the box to make it available and -- automagically! -- the weblog software will generate an additional page of code based on your weblog that will allow people to use third-party aggregators to subscribe to your site and receive regular updates when you post new entries.

When you set up RSS, you'll be presented with some options for your subscription. The wording will vary, but typically the options are: headlines, headlines plus a few words, or the full posting. (This refers to the content that people will receive in their aggregators.)

If you only want your readers to see just the titles of your posts, then choose headline. (Be sure to brush up on your headline writing to encourage them to click.) Want them to get a teaser or a few descriptive sentences that you provide? Choose the second option. If you want your dedicated followers to have all of your posted goodness delivered straight into their aggregators, then choose the third.

I recommend the third option. Yes, I know. The first two force people to click through to your site. Once there, not only will they get your posted words of wisdom, they will also have the chance to prowl around. Heck, they may even decide to give you some money.

But if your readers are using RSS to read weblogs while offline, you'll want to make sure you've given them enough information so that they return to your headline when they fire up their computers and go online later.

Permalinks, Permalinks, Permalinks
Permalinks are built into the weblog software that I recommended above. In fact, you'd have to make a bigger effort to turn them off than to use them. Essentially, these provide an individual URL for each post. They keep people from having to say, when forwarding your weblog URL, "OK, go to this page and then scroll down. Under the picture of the yak. It's the third headline." Folks can forward this and link to it as they desire.

Make It Easy to Share Content
This is really just reinforcing the last two points. Both full-feed RSS and permalinks make it very easy to share content. People can e-mail links, link to your site, save them in their bookmarks folders, and even reprint parts of your blog. None of this is bad. It simply harnesses the power of the Web to work in your favor.

Don't be afraid of links. Include them -- link to other organizations, weblogs, news articles -- in your weblog posts. Sure, some people will click the first link and never come back to your site. For other readers, though, you are providing a valuable service by pointing them to important information in your area of expertise. They may leave your site, but they'll come back. And they will come back because you will become a source of information.

But linking isn't just about providing a clipping service for your readers. It's also about sharing your wealth -- information and Web real estate -- with others. This sharing can increase readership and some of those folks will share right back.

Read your Referrer Logs
Web site metrics are a tricky business (even more so for weblogs where, I'd argue, some of the traditional notions of stickiness don't apply and where RSS can obscure the number of viewers). I'm not talking about knowing how many people hit your site today, though that number can be seductive. I'm talking about knowing who is linking to you. If you can't access a referrer log easily, add a counter to the bottom of your site.

I recommend Site Meter and STAT COUNTER. Both are free. Both can be displayed in various ways and are very easy to add to a page. And both will provide information about where your Web traffic is coming from.

Comment on Other Weblogs
You can comment on other weblogs in two ways: on their site and on yours. Both have value. Comment on other's sites when you are really just adding a little bit to their post. When you want to say, "Hey, I found this interesting and here's a little tidbit that I can add to that." Using this method, you bring value to someone else's site, but you also show them that you're paying attention and that you're willing to contribute to the Web-wide conversation -- not just to the conversation happening on your own blog.

Comment on your own site if you have something really substantial to say and you think that it would be of benefit to your audience. If someone else's posts or thoughts are really just a jumping-off place for you, post on your own site and link to the site that served as the catalyst. Not only does this give your readers a fuller sense of where you are coming from, it creates the links necessary for a wider conversation.

Use Trackback If Your Software Supports It
Trackback provides a mechanism for others to automatically alert and update you when users create a post based on one of yours. This will show up in your referrer logs.

On the downside, trackbacks are sometimes targeted by spammers. (Spammers will sometimes insert links into comments, hoping that they'll rank higher in search engines.) To combat this, Google ranks links in weblog comments lower in searches to deter spammers.

That said, this isn't always a problem. Just be sure to check your trackbacks and, if they are polluted by spammers, turn them off.

Yours Truly Note: Too bad we at Blogger don't have trackbacks. The nearest to trackback, we can use is backlinks. If you stil want to use trackback on Blogger, install Haloscan. HaloScan provides a free, easy to use commenting and trackback service for weblogs and websites, allowing visitors to leave feedback, share their opinion, or comment on the subject at hand.

Turn on Your Own Comments
Let the comments be anonymous or not. You should set them so that they are moderated. This will help prevent spammers from polluting the comments section. Just be sure to give people a chance to chime in. Just like your comments add value to other Web sites, their comments add value to yours. And be prepared for people to disagree with you, to ask you for things, to express their opinions. That means you've hit a chord, and it's not bad.

Delete the profane and spam posts, but leave everything else. If someone is harsh or rude, others will recognize it and they will recognize you for allowing conversations to take place rather than just accepting me-too comments.

This implies that you are posting over time. Obvious? Maybe. But you've got to do it. Don't wait until you've perfected and polished that 1,000-word treatise. Archives, by month, provide a history. As such, they develop your credibility and show your investment.

Finally, post early and often; a little link will do you. Be sure to show up on your weblog every day, ask for thoughts from your readers, and then respond. Pay attention, both to your corner and to the weblog world in general.

About the Author:
Marnie Webb is Vice President of Knowledge Services at CompuMentor and author of the blog ext337.

Copied and pasted from TechSoupDotOrg

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1 Response to "Ready to Start Blogging?"

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I loves to receive comments from everybody and I tried to make everything easier for my readers to comments. So please, be nice even though you totally disagree with me. No comment moderation and whatnot here. So, please respect the privileges given.

God's willing, all comments will be followed and replied.

p/s Please leave your URL so that I can follow it and leave comments on yours. No URL = No Comments. It is as simple as that. Thank you in advance.

~ ArahMan7

PS - Word verification has been enable. Sorry about that [Sept 3rd, 2013].

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