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Tips for nonprofit blogs

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Whether you have one, or are thinking about starting one, online-marketing expert Michael Hoffman provides 11 tips to help ensure your nonprofit makes the most of its blog.

Drive traffic. We loved “Field of Dreams,” but blogs don’t work that way. You you can build it, but they may not come. Put your blog’s URL in your email signature, put a big link on your website, link to it in your newsletter, get related blogs to put you on their blog roll and spread the word.

Read blogs and comment. They say that reading makes people better writers.  The same is true for blogging, and you’ll get a lot of ideas about what distinguishes a good post from a great one by reading other blogs. Leaving comments on other blogs can be the beginning of a blogging relationship and can put you in front of a larger audience, as can linking to other blogs from your own posts.  

Content is king. Blogs are informal by nature, but every once in a while you should spend time crafting a really thoughtful post. They’re generally known as a “pillar articles,” complete articles with an introduction, body, recommendations and conclusion. They’re original, timeless in nature, and offer value to the reader. These articles get picked up by other blogs and reposted, increasing traffic and readership.    

It’s not all about you. Of course your readers are interested in your organization, but they’re also interested in the issues related to what you do.  Keep your constituents up to date on your good work, but also make your blog the place to gather news and information on your issue.   

Choose your blogger(s) wisely. The primary person responsible for writing your blog doesn’t have to be your executive director (and generally it shouldn’t be). Find the person in your organization who is most enthusiastic about your issue and who is a great communicator.  

Track and test. A lot of blog platforms come with statistics enabled, but there are other options. Check out Google Analytics and ClickTracks for analytics and Technorati for blog mentions and links.  Figure out what gets your readers’ attention and what doesn’t. 

Too much text is a bad thing. Your writing should be engaging, but give your readers something else to look at. You can use sites like Flickr and Creative Commons to find free images – just remember to cite them appropriately. And of course, embed video.   

Borrow material. Here’s a trick that will save you time and can lead to some interesting blog posts: under Fair Use, you’re allowed to repost articles written by other people as long as you make some kind of commentary on it. You can say, “There was an interesting article this morning in The Times about global poverty. I thought the analysis was dead-on, but they missed a few points…”  Then repost a portion of the original article, cite it, and link back to it.  Do this from bloggers who also write about your issue and you will get their attention as well.  

Encourage conversation. Organizations are sometimes wary of opening up their blog to comments, but the best part of blogging is that it facilitates dialogue. If you’re worried people may backlash against your organization through your blog, set up your commenting so that you have to approve comments before they go live.  

Be portable. Allow your readers to subscribe to your RSS feed. RSS stands for “Real Simple Syndication” and it allows users to get content from multiple web sources in one place. So instead of having to go to your blog every day, your blog comes to them. The RSS subscribe button should be at the front and center of your blog. You can use FeedBurner tools to set up your feed.  

Categorize. Archive your posts by topic rather than date. You may not know all the categories until you’ve been blogging a while. Tagging will also help your readers find posts by topic. “Tagging clouds” are great because they let your reader see the topics you’re writing about most – and they look cool.

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