I enlisted the help of some of the best higher ed blogging experts around for the answers, and if their responses did not convince you of the value of blogging for your institution, then you probably don’t need to read any further. Because today’s post, the final of this series, offers some advice for newbie bloggers.
Once again, we turned to our panel of experts and asked:
What one piece of advice would you offer to someone who is thinking about creating a blog on behalf of his or her institution?
Here are their answers:
Blogging is work. Yes, it’s cool to set up a blog, select the initial photographs and play around with different designs but a blog is only as good as the information posted to it. Creating this content takes work; developing an audience takes time.
Put in the work and the audience will come.
— Patrick Powers, interactive media manager for Webster University.
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Just like any communications or social media project, make sure you know why you’re doing it and how it fits into your bigger communications strategy. Don’t just start a blog because your competitors are doing one or because it sounds trendy (because they aren’t). The time commitment is significant and long-term, so think carefully before jumping in.
— Davina Gould, director of publications and online communications for Stetson University College of Law.
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Before starting a blog, have a plan. Not just a plan for what your blog will look like or “how often” it will be updated. Who do you want to read your blog? What will you say to them? Who will say it? Be sure that you have something valuable to contribute.
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Be fearless, and make sure it is part of the plan from the start that messages should not be filtered through the “institutional voice.” It’s okay to go off topic, and even talk about the bad once in a while. Just be natural, be open, and be you. Blogs are first and foremost a community building tool, not a marketing tool, so don’t let it get colored that way.
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Keep your blog authentic and personal: individual voice(s), not official, institution-speak.
— Michael Stoner, president of mStoner Inc.
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Brainstorm content first and then decide how frequently you want to post updates. New content ideas will inevitably pop into your head as you go, but having a list to fall back on or to work off of will help you immensely. If you start off blogging by posting every other day, because you are enthusiastic about the new project or you have a lot of initial topic ideas, you are setting the bar pretty high. It is better to blog once a week consistently versus anything that is inconsistent. You can always decide in the future to post more frequently once you’ve gotten a good handle on blogging in general.
— Mallory Wood, assistant director of marketing for Saint Michael’s College.
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You don’t pre-approve blog posts, you pre-approve bloggers. Find responsible students doing cool things or from interesting programs, give them directions and expectations and provide tools to help them succeed. Is that more than one piece of advice?
— Tim Nekritz, associate director of public affairs and director of web communication at SUNY Oswego.
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Set goals and be consistent. No one will follow a blog that posts erratically. Stay on message and deliver regular posts. I’ve given my student admission bloggers a topic sheet of about 50 ideas to pull from, and require that posts go up at least 2-3 times a week.
Also, promote your blog! It won’t be a success if it’s sitting buried in a link on your website. Send postcards driving your audience to it. Develop a fun campaign around QR codes – just do something to get people to read your blogs and share the posts to their friends. Once you get the interest started, it will surprise you how quickly it spreads.
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Plan, plan, plan. Think it through. Why do you need a blog? What do you want it to accomplish? Who is it for? Who will maintain it? How often will you publish? What kind of content will you publish? How will you promote your blog posts through other channels and integrate your blog into your broader communication strategy? How do you define success? How will you measure for that?
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Remember to have time and a strategy. Just because there are lots of random blogs cropping up in different departments on campus, doesn’t necessarily mean you need an overarching one. Understand the mission and reasoning by why you’re doing it. Once you’re deciding to do it, make sure that you cultivate the community because if you do it right, there will be a community that develops around it and people will come to rely on it. It then becomes an asset that you have to manage or it can be a liability.
— Ron Bronson, an instructor at Community College of Aurora (Colo.).
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Start small. Track your stats. Don’t expect comments to magically appear. You will need to market your blog initially as folks will not necessarily find it. However, most blogging platforms are exceptionally optimized for search engines which is a huge plus. Seek out your social media champions on campus. Blogging is a skill. Find folks who have experience with writing for the web and/or creating engaging content. Be brave, be bold…blogs are fantastic for content delivery, communications enhancement, and community-building.
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Keep it simple. Often the rules about publishing web content are already covered in the acceptable use of technology policy, having a separate blogging policy may be overkill.
Find a few very interested or active faculty members to “seed” the blogging at your institution. Let them be a model and guide the participation by others before you open it up to the entire campus. Having a lot of junk out there in the beginning will only lead to status quo as junk.
Training, training, training. Make sure you hold regularly scheduled training sessions on not only how to use the blogging platform you choose but also on good blogging techniques. How to link to articles appropriately, how to optimize images, getting the most out of categories and tags and most important of all how to detect and eliminate spam from your entries.
It might scare people a lot but I recommend letting comments go up automatically and then having the blog author take them down if they are not appropriate. This allows for faster pace discussion and doesn’t keep comments in someones inbox for weeks. A few spam may fall through the cracks but having a global rss feed of all comments and the web communications department scanning it daily can help detect hot posts and inappropriate comments.
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Do your homework. Look at other blogs, read about how to blog, read about content strategy, read, read, ask successful bloggers for tips, have a good strategy in place before you start. You may have something to say, but is their an audience for it? Do you have something of value to add? Do you read other people’s blogs? Do you comment regularly? Do your homework and then make a commitment to be present with your audience.
Chris Syme, former director of new media for Montana State University athletics.
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Pick the right platform and link your blog to your other social media platforms.
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That wraps up this three-part series on why blogging for colleges and universities. But if you haven’t gotten enough practical advice from this post, check out Karine Joly’s Blogging Boot Camp presentation.