For nonprofits, blogging is a way to deepen your relationship with your supporters while expanding your influence in the community. Consultant Dennis Fischman, author of the Communicate! blog, recently joined us for a webinar in which he shows where to begin and how to succeed.
In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:
Steven: Well, Dennis, my watch just struck 1:00. Are you okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?
Dennis: Please do.
Steven: All right. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on the East Coast, or good morning if you’re on the West Coast, or somewhere in between. Thanks so much for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “The No-Nonsense Nonprofit Guide to Blogging.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.
And just before we get started, just want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation, and I’ll be sending out the recording, as well as the slides, later on this afternoon. So if you didn’t get those slides, and if you really want to see the recording, or if you have to perhaps leave early before we get finished today, no worries. You’ll be able to review all the content later on, and you can even share it with your friends and colleagues if you’re so inclined.
And as you’re listening today, please feel welcome to chat in any questions or comments right there on the chat screen, right there on the webinar box. Please don’t hesitate to send in any questions or comments our way. We’re going to save some time at the end for some Q&A, and we’d love to hear your thoughts and see if we can answer some of your questions.
Please feel free to follow along on Twitter. You can tweet us. You can tweet me @StevenShattuck. You can tweet Dennis. We’ll put up his information here a little bit later on. Tweet Bloomerang. We’d love to keep the conversation going over there, as well.
If you’re listening today via your computer, and if you for some reason have any problems, go ahead and call in using the phone number on the email from ReadyTalk. It’s usually a little bit better quality if you call in by phone. So if you have any problems, that might be something that you want to try. But we’ll kind of keep on trucking through ReadyTalk just as best as we can.
Just in case this is your first webinar with us, I just want to say welcome. We’re so glad for you to be here. I know December is always a very busy time of year for nonprofits, so we appreciate you taking an hour or so out of your day. Bloomerang, we do do these webinars just about every Thursday. This is our last webinar of the year. This is a really fun way to kind of close out the season.
But just in case you’re not familiar with us, we do do way more than just webinars. We have a great donor management software product that Dennis alluded to earlier. So if you’re interested in that and you want to check us out even more, you can visit our website. You can even download a short video demo. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson. So we invite you to do that if we are new to you. We’d love to talk to you again sometime in the future.
So I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guest. He is Dennis Fischman. Dennis, how’s it going? I’m so glad for you to finally be here. It seems like we’ve been talking about this webinar for a while.
Dennis: Yeah, it’s been a while, but I’ve been looking forward to it for all that time.
Steven: Me too. And I just want to brag on you for just a minute. In case you guys don’t know Dennis, he is the chief communicator over at Communicate! Consulting. He’s also the author of “The No-Nonsense Nonprofit Guide to Social Media.” He’s a blogger. He’s a tweeter. He’s someone that I like to follow online. And I’m super excited for him to tell us all about nonprofit blogging.
So Dennis, I’m going to pipe down. I’m going to turn things over to you to get us started, my friend.
Dennis: Thank you very much, Steven, and thanks to everybody who’s spending an hour with us today to talk about the No-Nonsense Nonprofit Guide to Blogging. By “No-Nonsense Nonprofit,” what I mean is somebody that wants to know what really works, doesn’t mind spending the time or the money to make something happen, but doesn’t want to waste their time or their money on something that is irrelevant to them. So if that’s you, you’re in the right place.
So here’s a quick overview of what we’ll be talking about today. We’ll discuss what is a blog, anyway, and what blogging can do for your nonprofit. Once we have that general picture in mind, we’ll talk about how you can get started. The people that you want on your team. Picking the topics that you want to touch on in your blog. Creating an editorial calendar. And I’ll discuss why I think that’s probably the most important thing you can do as a blogger. And choosing software to host your blog on.
Then the piece that we all try to make sure we accomplish each time out: making sure your blog gets read, right? If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If a blog falls onto the internet and nobody reads it, I don’t need to finish the sentence. You understand what I’m saying.
So that’s what we’ll be talking about today. But first I want to ask you a question, and please feel free to answer this over in the chat box. I’d like to know, of the over 100 people who are here today, how many of you already blog, how many are thinking about it, would like to, how many have not done it, and how many are still at the “What’s a blog?” stage. And I’m seeing the answers coming in. A lot of As and Bs, a couple of Cs. A couple of Ds, too. So don’t feel bad if you’re still at the “What’s a blog?” stage, because blogging has changed a little bit over time.
The term “blog” originally came from the idea of a “web log.” You went on the internet, or the world wide web, and you created a log, or another way of saying that might be a diary or a journal, of what you were doing that day. That was the original blogging concept.
And then probably some of you have seen this happen. Reporters, economists, experts of various sorts, wanted a quicker and less formal way of getting their opinions out to people, started their own blogs. I read Paul Krugman, for instance, to get his economic opinion. And I think he started it to get wider exposure than he would get in print. A lot of commercial enterprises blog in order to keep their customers happy and make more money.
And because we’re all in the nonprofit sector, we’re different, right? You have a different mission than Paul Krugman or Toys-R-Us, right? Your blog is how your supporters can get to know, like, and trust your organization better online. And why do you want them to do that? Because before they’ll take any actions, they have to know who you are, like what you do, and trust your advice, or trust what you’ll do with their money.
If they want to take an action for the cause that you promote, volunteer for your organization, or give money, chances are they’ll be following you for a while first. And a blog is a really good way for them to get to know you even before you know that they’re out there.
So blogging in particular can do some things for your nonprofit that other media have a harder time doing. With a blog, you can touch your readers’ emotions. You can excite them, you can outrage them, you can make them angry about the injustices in the world, you can create hope that change is about to happen. It’s easier to do that in a little longer format like a blog.
You can fascinate your supporters. You can give them ideas that they hadn’t considered before. Or you can share expertise on the topic that you work on and that they’re interested in. You can involve them more in those issues.
It’s not all a one-way thing, either. You can give your readers a forum for their stories, their expressions, their activism, and you can share the stories that they want to hear, the stories of how your organization does its work, the stories of the people that you’re helping, the stories of the changes that you’re making in the world.
If you do blogging, and you do it well, here’s what it all adds up to. It adds up to loyal supporters. The most important reason you’re going to blog. Here’s man’s best friend up here, right? Every organization has some supporters like this, who are totally loyal supporters. You want more of them. The most important reason to write a blog is that loyal readers of your blog will become loyal supporters of your nonprofit.
That tells you that your blog is not really about your organization. It’s really about your readers. And I like to quote Brian Clark from Copyblogger, who says, “Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.” That’s what makes a blog great.
So now that we’ve talked a little bit about what a blog is and what it can do for your nonprofit, let’s talk about what you need to do if you’re getting started, or if you’ve been blogging for a while, and you want to restart things, because it seems like you might need a new approach.
The first thing you should think about is creating your team. There are a lot of places where one person is the voice of the blog, but very rarely does one person do all the various jobs that are required to make a good blog, because those different positions require different skills. And like a team, you have to come together to make the end result stronger.
So the people that you want on your team include people with stories to tell, and that could be your direct service staff who work with clients. It could be the clients themselves. It could be volunteers and board members talking about what led them to be involved in the organization. If you’re a school or an educational program, you might have alumni. You might have donors that have stories to tell. Those folks are all on your team. That way you don’t have to come up with the stories out of your own head. They’ll be real, and they’ll be valuable.
Now, for your blog, you also want people who have skill with a camera, photographers, skill with graphics, artists, because you’ve probably seen this. The web is becoming more and more visual, and the more storytelling that we can do through photos and graphics and artwork, the better off we are.
But we still need writers. Good words are really the currency of blogging. You need people who can take an idea and put it into those words. Then you need technical people who can make sure that your internet connection stays up, that your website is online, that your software continues to work. And you need an editor. You need somebody who brings this all together, makes sure that it sounds like your organization, makes sure that things get out on time.
People sometimes ask me, should our blog . . . should it be written by just one person? Should it be the team all contribute to it? And I think there are advantages and disadvantages each way, and I’ll go through that very quickly. If you have one blogger, you . . . it’s going to be easier to have a consistent voice. If you have more than one blogger, and you have a range of voices, it can lead to a little bit more lively discussion from time to time.
When you have the same blogger writing, it can be more personal. People who are reading can get to know them, and that helps them feel more connected to your organization. But one blogger is just one person. And with more than one blogger, you can show a diverse range of people, male, female, ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic diversity, class diversity, of the people that are connected to your organization.
When you have one blogger, it’s easy to hold that person responsible for the content that comes out, and accountable for the smooth production of the blog. If you have more than one blogger, you are going to require a little bit more coordination to make it all happen.
If you have one blogger, that person over time is more likely to get stale after writing about your organization over and over again. And there are ways to freshen that person up. But if you have more than one person, it’s less likely to happen. If you have more than one blogger, if any one of them leaves, the blog goes on. It’s not, “Ugh, our blogger left, now what do we do? Do we have to shut down until we find another one?” It’s, “Okay, we just need somebody else to fill in that slot in the rotation.”
So when you are blogging, remember what we said. Your blog is not about your organization. Your blog is about your readers. It is for the readers. They have a million other ways they can spend their time, even online, besides looking at your blog. So it’s incumbent on you to find out what your readers are interested in and then give that to them.
Now, how do you find that out? Here are four ways. You could ask them. They come into your office, you speak to them on the phone. Oh, by the way, we’re writing this online journal about our organization, we’re blogging about our organization, and we want to answer questions that people are interested in. What would you like to know?
And you can do it in a little bit more systematic way, secondly. You could do a survey. You could do that, again, in person. You could do it by mail. You could do it with a tool like SurveyMonkey online. Whatever is going to reach your particular audience best.
Third, look at your donor database, whether that’s Bloomerang or some other tool that you’re using, and see if you have some hints there about what your donors are interested in. Right? If you’re an animal organization, and you find that most of your supporters are dog people, you’re going to write more about dogs and less about cats. And very little about parakeets. Right? So look for clues, and if you don’t have the information, start taking the chance to collect it.
There’s also, and this is the fourth way I would say you can find out what your readers are interested in, if you are already on Facebook, there’s a way of searching Facebook to find out what other pages your Facebook followers like besides your page. Now, that used to be easier. Facebook has made it a little bit harder. But there’s still an algorithm that you can use. And if anybody particularly wants to find out about that, you can get in touch with me, and I’ll let you know.
So do the detective work. Find out what your readers are interested in. That will help you know what you should be blogging about.
Often questions that come up in your work are really good topics to talk about in your blog. Probably your, again, your direct line staff, the receptionist at your front desk, may hear about this, or you, in your travels in the community, if you’re the executive director, the development director, the communications person. People may ask you questions about your organization. Your ears should perk up when they do, and your notepad or your notes on your phone should come out so that you can remember it later.
For example, let’s say you’re an organization that works on fair housing. You’re working to prevent housing discrimination. The questions that you hear . . . and I’m picking that because I am a fair housing commissioner in the city of Summerville, Massachusetts. So from personal experience, I know questions that come up include, “This happened to me. Am I being discriminating against? Is that against the law? Am I protected? What are my rights in this situation? How do I file a complaint if I think I’ve been discriminated against?” Or, from the landlord’s side, “How do I do the right thing and avoid breaking the fair housing laws?”
When I hear those questions come up, I know these are things to write about in the blog. So do your investigations. Answer questions that come up naturally in your work.
You can also search online. You can look for topics that are trending currently, and think, how does this relate to what we’re doing? How can we talk about something that people are interested in anyway that connects with our work?
You can also search for topics related to the field that you work in, or keywords that come up in your work all the time. Google Alerts are very good for this. You can set up a Google Alert so that you get emailed every time a topic, a keyword comes up, and you can look at that, and it may spur your thoughts for your blog.
There’s also a tool Hubspot here in Boston, has come up with called an idea generator. And if you go to their website, you’ll be able to find a page where you can plug in a topic, and it will come up with a bunch of different titles for blog topics, including the one that you mentioned. It will help you frame your topic in ways that give you 6 or 8 or 10 different ideas that you can write about this.
Now, I want to say use this with caution, because what it’s giving you basically are tried and true formulas. And the problem with formulas is that you can end up sounding formulaic, right? So I would say you can start with the idea generator. I would hope that you would be able to add your own flavor and make it a little bit your own.
Dan wants me to say again the name of the firm. It’s called Hubspot, as in Boston, the hub of the universe. And if you look on the Hubspot website, you’ll be able to find the page for the idea generator.
And once you have figured out who your audience is, what they care about, what they want. You’ve assembled your team. You’ve listed topics that your audience would be good to, would be interested in. That it would be good to expose them to.
The next thing that you should think about is put these topics into an editorial calendar. Now, you might say, “Why do I need to do that? I’ll just go down the list and write about it when I feel like it.” Well, I think an editorial calendar helps you in at least three different ways.
One is to avoid having to scramble at the last minute. There’s nothing harder than staring at a blank screen or a blank piece of paper and saying, “Huh, what am I going to write about that has to go out in an hour from now?” Much better if you’ve scheduled yourself ahead of time, so you know what you’re going to be writing about.
A second reason to do this is that if you use an editorial calendar, you can post about things that people are interested in right now, and that means you’re more likely to be read, right? If you’re posting about Thanksgiving this week, you’re less likely to be read than if you’re posting about Hanukkah or Christmas, right? That’s just one example.
The other reason I would say to create an editorial calendar is that you and your organization have a kind of a rhythm to your work. There are things that you do at different times of the year, or there are things that you start doing at a certain time. Rather than blogging about topics randomly, you could actually put out there the things that relate to the work that you’re doing right now, and you’re more likely, again, to build support for that.
So let’s talk a little bit about the things that could go on your editorial calendar. When I say campaign-related posts, I mean right now, your organization is working to make something happen. That’s your campaign. Let’s say you’re a health and nutrition organization, and your campaign right now is that you want to help people eat healthily and avoid overeating during the holiday season. It makes good sense to schedule a lot of posts about that right now.
By knowing ahead of time that that’s what you’re going to be writing about, you can brainstorm topics that relate to that overall theme. You can come up with recipes that people can use. You can talk to members of your staff, your clients, your volunteers about their tips or their stories about what they do to eat well. You can put up menus. You can create shopping lists. You get the idea. You’re not necessarily doing healthy eating, but whatever you’re working on, you can do campaign-related posts.
You can do event-related posts for your next fundraising event, when you’re enrolling kids in your school, your after-school program, your summer camp. When you’re going to the state house to do an advocacy day, lobbying your legislators. You can do a lot of posts that help people focus in on that and make them more excited about doing what it is that you’re doing right now.
As we mentioned, there are seasonal topics. If you’re an organization working with, let’s say, low-income families, during the winter, it’s a great time to post about heating and how to pay for heating. During the summer, you might want to post about tuition and scholarships for summer camps. During the fall, it might be back to school topics.
So the idea is to create a calendar. And you can use whatever tool works best for you, whether that’s a Google calendar, a paper calendar, a specific tool that you’re using to integrate your posts with your print materials. Whatever it is that fits the way you think. But fill in the posts that are time-sensitive in the times of the year when you want to do them.
Then there are what we call evergreen topics, topics that will always be on the list. You can use those at times when you don’t have something that is time-sensitive.
Now, I’m often asked the question, “How often should I post?” “How frequently do I have to do this in order to make a difference?” This does vary from organization to organization, but my advice would be that you should plan on posting at least once a week. At least once a week, because if you do less than that, the chances are that people are going to lose track of you and forget about you from one time to the next.
I’m in the communications business, so I post blogs three times a week. Now, not all of them are brand-new blogs. Some of them are reposting from previous times. That’s fine, too. When they’re most related to what’s going on, or when people haven’t heard about that topic for a while, it’s okay to reuse and recycle your topics.
But, like I said, this varies with each organization, so you should test this with your audience when you’re blogging. You should try posting once a week, see if you can make it a little bit more. If you have to skip, see what happens.
But the most important thing, and Rick has asked this question, “Should I post the same time and day each week?” You should be consistent. You should make it easy for people to know where to find you, when to find you, what to expect. Because your blog is creating . . . there’s this word that nonprofits often shy away from. It’s creating your brand.
But by “brand,” I don’t mean your logo, I don’t mean your selling points. I mean the things that people already know about you every time that they open up a communications from you, or even when they’re talking to their friends about you. You want to be consistent so that people know who you are and what you’re all about, and posting consistently is part of that.
Now, there are various kinds of software that you can use for your blog. I use WordPress. The advantages that it gives me are that it’s very powerful. It lets me customize a lot of things on my website. It lets me track the response to my blogs, figure out which ones are doing the best this week, or this month, or this year, or all time. And it integrates well with other tools like MailChimp or Constant Contact.
A lot of people use Blogger, which is the Google blogging platform, and that existed before WordPress. And it’s similar, but I find it’s not as intuitive to use. The nice thing about it is that it’s free. There is a free version of WordPress, too, but I would encourage you to invest in the self-hosted version, which means that you pay for your own domain, and then you have more control. With Blogger, you can do it for free, but it’s pretty limited. There’s not as much that you can do about that.
So people also sometimes will go to their web designer and say, “Can you please custom design a blog page for my website?” And if you have specific needs for your organization, you might need that, okay? But the most important thing that all of us want, the reason to do this is not this platform or that platform or a particular number of times a week. The most important thing is to get read. You want followers to be loyal. You want them to get to know and like and trust you through what you point out.
So I’d like to share with you just a few ways that you can increase your chance that people will read what you actually post. Write great headlines. People will take a look at your blog post, and they’ll spend just a few seconds to decide, am I going to read this, or am I going to go on to the next thing? And your relationship with them, of course, will make them more likely to read it, but let’s face it, sometimes I get emails from my sister that I put off for later. We just get so much information. How do you make sure that somebody will look at you right now? Write a great headline.
By a great headline, I mean something that’s specific, that has emotional hook to it. Let’s say, for example, you’re an international aid organization. If your blog post says, “I’ll work in Africa,” a certain number of people may open that and read it. But if you say, “The cheapest way to save a life,” okay, I guarantee you that many, many more people are going to open and read that blog post because of the headline.
Aside from the headline, you can start building the readership for your blog. Start at the center. Start with the people who are closest to you. Invite your staff, your board, the people who volunteer for your organization, to follow your blog. That’s partly because they will then be able to share it with their friends and invite their friends to follow it, too.
But partly, there’s also just a huge amount of stuff that you do, or that it relates to the work that you’re involved in, that they don’t know about. They can’t possibly. They’re so busy doing their own stuff, they don’t know about other aspects of your organization, your issue, your cause. If they read good stuff in your blog about it, they will be more informed, they will feel smarter, they will feel proud to belong to the organization.
Now, of course you want to expand the magic circle a little bit and bring more people in, and email is a great way to do that. If you can set things up so that every time you write a blog, you send out an email to your list, that will get a lot more readers. But there are five letters here that you have to remember anytime you email your list, and especially when you send them something a little bit longer, and those initials are WIIFM? It stands for “what’s in it for me?” And by “me,” I mean the reader.
The person who’s getting that email, again, needs to know from the subject line and the first sentence of the email, they need to know not why you want them to read this, but why they want to spend their time. What good it will do. How it will make them feel. How it will make their life better. If you can’t tell them that about this blog post, maybe you’d better go back and rewrite it, because that’s the reason that you’re blogging in the first place, right?
So to get read, write blog posts that matter to your readers. Write great headlines. Start with the people close to you, email your list and invite them to read it. Distribute your blog posts as links through social media. If you’re on Facebook, if I can help it, I wouldn’t automate this. I would post a link to the blog post with a description of it that fits the Facebook format, and that makes people want to click that link and open it.
Or I might post a photo from that blog, and put the description and the link into that Facebook post. And there are different methods that you’d use if you were distributing through Twitter or LinkedIn or Instagram or whatever. But you get the idea that this is another way of attracting more people to read your blog.
This, again, should not be just a one-way street. If you want people to read you, you should read them. If you’re on social media, you should be following the people that you want to follow you. You want to get social with them. You want to spend some time listening to what their concerns are, chatting with them. Again, making them feel like they know your organization, they like who you are, they can trust you, and when you put a message out there, it’s worth their time to pay attention, right?
Now, you can get a lot of mileage out of your blog content, and people are not going to have to read it only on your blog. You can use blog content as articles in your newsletters. You can use it as op-ed pieces in your local newspapers. You can use some of the stories that you post on your blog, you can use those stories in your fundraising appeals. You can use some of the content in your Twitter feed.
You’re probably saying to yourself, won’t people get bored if I use this over and over again? The answer is not if you do it right. Remember that people on Facebook, for example, there’s only about 6% of the people that follow you who are actually seeing any particular post. And that’s miserably small. So posting it in different ways over and over again will increase that. Not everybody will see the first time. Even if they do, studies have found that people need to be exposed to the same thought or language about seven times before they really and truly recognize it.
So don’t worry so much about overexposing people. I know that’s what nonprofits typically worry about. But the bigger worry should be not giving them enough. Again, the assumption is this is something that they want to hear. If they want to hear what you have to say, then they’ll be happy to hear more from you.
How do you tell if your blog is succeeding? Some people use these metrics like likes and comments and shares, and those are worth something, but only a very limited amount, because those don’t really tell you what’s happening in people’s minds, right?
Remember, what you’re trying to do is not to become the most followed nonprofit online. You’re trying to build loyalty among your supporters and your organization. So what are some signs of success? Word of mouth. If people are coming up to you and saying, “I saw that article that you posted on your blog,” that’s huge. That’s a great sign of success. If they’re commenting and sharing, that tells you something about it, especially that they’re sharing. If they’re giving you feedback about it.
If you hear in your community, if you hear that people are starting to talk about your issue, and they’re starting to talk about it the way that you want them to talk about it, that’s a pretty good sign that your blog and the communications that you’re using to spread it are changing the conversation. That’s what you want to do.
Now, if you want to measure your success, there are tools that you can use on the WordPress dashboard, for instance, there are places that you can click on to find how many people saw this post, what was your most seen post, when did they see it. You can use different metrics. But please make sure that any metrics, any measuring tools that you use, anything that you aim at, make sure that’s related to what you actually want to do, right?
So likes, comments, and shares, if they’re not related to what you went online to do, they’re what we call vanity metrics. They make you feel good, but they’re not helping you move your mission ahead. Think about what it is you want to accomplish, and then you set up your metrics so that that’s what you’re actually measuring.
It’s been thousands of years since Aristotle told us that the measures we use cannot be more precise than the phenomena we’re trying to measure. So let’s remember that we’re dealing with human beings here, and the numbers are useful, but they’re not the be-all and the end-all. What really matters is the relationships that we’re building.
So we’re coming to the end of my presentation, and we’re going to have a chance for question and answer in just a minute. I want to thank you all for having come and participated and posted a bunch of questions in the chat box that I can see we’re going to answer. I want to give you who have been here today a special offer.
I have an eBook. It’s very short. It’s like seven or eight pages. It’s my quick guide to blogging. It contains some of the tips that we’ve talked about here, and it links to a whole bunch of more useful information. If you would like “Quick Guide to Blogging” completely free, just because you attended today’s webinar, please email me, Dennis, with two Ns, at T-W-O-F-I-S-C-H dot C-O-M, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be happy to send that to you.
So I also will be happy to stay in touch with you after this webinar is over. You can always email me at that address. If you go to my website at dennisfischman.com, you’ll see my blog on the front page of the website, and you can either go there to read the blog entries, or sign up there to get it by email or by RSS feed. I’m also on Facebook under my business name Communicate Consulting. You can follow me on Twitter @DennisFischman.
Or if you’d like to talk about the possibility of doing some work together, please feel free to call me at 617-776-4701. Mention that you heard about me on the Bloomerang webinar. That way I’ll know how we already are acquainted.
All right, so that’s my presentation, and now it’s time for your questions.
Steven: Well, great, Dennis. That was awesome. Thanks very much for sharing all that knowledge with us. Really enjoyed listening along, and I know that a lot of the other folks did, because we’ve got some questions here. So probably got about 10 minutes for questions. Don’t want to keep people too long in case they haven’t eaten lunch. But if you are thinking about a question, don’t be shy. Now is the time. Don’t be shy at all. Send them our way.
So Dennis, I’m just going to kind of roll through some things that pop out at me. Question from Cheryl. She’s saying, “If you have an older donor and patron base” older age-wise, I assume, and you’re using, you know, social media and email, do you think a blog could fit into that? Do you have any sense of how a blog would work in terms of the age of your donor database? If perhaps you have an older community, do you think a blog would be able to reach them? Are they reading blogs? What’s your sense on maybe, like, some demographic information there?
Dennis: That’s a great question. And I think it’s good that Cheryl is reaching her older donor database with Facebook and with Twitter, because a lot of people assume that older people are not using social media. More and more, that’s mistaken. People are going onto social media for information, and to see photos of their grandchildren, and for a variety of reasons.
I always think of the blog as the spinal cord of my communications efforts. And I actually have a blog post which I’ll be happy to share with anybody who wants to email me. It’s called “10 Ways to Get . . . ” Well, I think it’s actually, “How to Get 10 Posts Out of One Idea.” And the fact is that you can write a blog post, and then you can cannibalize that, in a sense, for your Twitter account. Not just links to the post, but post ideas, post facts, post links that are included in your blog post. You can use it on Facebook, as I mentioned. You can also use it in your newsletter.
So I find that writing regularly for a blog reduces the amount of time that I have to spend coming up with material for all my other channels. The people who are on the receiving end, I think, and I don’t want to stereotype here, but a lot of the older readers are used to a little bit more of a long form format, and a blog is sometimes better for them than a tweet.
Steven: Yeah. That seems to me if you do all the things that you said through the presentation, if it’s good content and it’s engaging, I think you can overcome really any of those age barriers. So I completely agree.
Here’s a question from Susan, and I know you kind of covered a little bit of it, Dennis, already. But she’s interested in distributing the content. How do you distribute the blog, other than just posting it? You hit publish, and it just kind of lives on your site. But should you email it to people, use social media to drive traffic? What’s kind of your thoughts on driving people either to the blog post, or actually sending it directly their way?
Dennis: Well, we probably have all heard the joke about the bank robber who was hauled up in front of the judge, and the judge says, “Why do you do this? Why do you keep robbing banks?” He says, “Because that’s where they keep the money.”
The same thing is true with reaching your donors. You need to find them where they are. So you need to have a really good sense of your audience. And if you don’t know this well enough, you can survey them and find out. But how do they prefer? Do they like getting your blog post through email? Then by all means, offer them that option, because there are people who will read it in their email who will never go online and say, “Hmm, what was that address for that website again?”
There are people who are on Facebook every day. And, yeah, they’re mostly there for personal reasons, but if they see a title, and a photo, and a topic that sounds like it’s addressed right to them, they’ll take the time, and they’ll click on it.
So yes, I would use email, for sure, and I would use the social media that your followers have already shown you that they prefer.
Steven: Yeah, I love the idea of surveying them, finding out what do they want? You know, you don’t have to kind of guess for yourself or try to invent the wheel. You can ask your donors or website visitors what they want to do. I think that’s a great thing to do.
Just looking through some more of the questions here, Dennis, what about posts from other bloggers? Benjamin here is wondering, “Can posts from other bloggers that are relevant to my organization’s cause be shared on our blog?” So maybe republishing content, or kind of syndicating content, I guess would be a way to describe that? I know a lot of people syndicate the Bloomerang blog, and maybe even your blog too Dennis. Any sense of maybe republishing content or sharing other people’s content right on your blog?
Dennis: Well, there’s a few ways you can do this. One is that you can invite somebody to write specifically for your blog. That would be called guest posting, like, on your blog. People will sometimes do that for the exposure, to reach your audience, if it’s not an audience that they’ve reached before, or they’ll do it because they like you. But that’s one approach.
Another would be, yes, ask them if you can repost their material on your blog. If you’re going to do that, I would say add value. Give it a little introduction that tells people who are in your audience why you thought it would be of interest to them, and kind of call their attention to the things that matter the most.
Sometimes I repost material that’s written originally for a business audience, and my main audience is nonprofit organizations. So what I’ll do is basically add a little translation to them, instead of thinking about the CEO, think about your executive director, or instead of thinking about making sales, thinking about acquiring and renewing donors. That’s a good way to use that kind of material.
Steven: What about guidelines? Have you seen any or maybe written some yourself, Dennis, maybe some standard operating procedures or guidelines for word count and paragraph size and, you know, headers and subtitles, and things like that? Have you seen any standards or guides that seem to work best? Or is that something that maybe you should just kind of experiment on your own and see what works for your audience?
Dennis: Well, I have seen things that look very different from each other that work very well. If you look at, there’s a blogger, Seth Godin, G-O-D-I-N. Very widely known, has a huge following. He always posts very short blogs, because he works hard at figuring out exactly what he wants to say and what people will want to hear, puts that up there, and gets out.
On the whole, though, people prefer a little bit longer post that has a little bit more substance to it. On my blog, I usually post between 350 and 800 words, generally speaking. But I’ve done shorter, and I’ve done even longer if the topic really required it.
As far as the format of the actual post, this is on a screen. You do want to make it easy on people’s eyes. So make sure that your font is large enough. Leave plenty of white space. And short paragraphs are good. I write much shorter paragraphs online than I do when I’m writing for print. A one-sentence paragraph for emphasis is perfectly okay online.
If it’s more than three sentences, even if my English teacher would have said, “This is all the same thought. Keep it to the same paragraph.” If it’s more than three sentences, I say, well, maybe there’s a way I can break this up so that it will be easier on my reader and still not confuse them.
Could I also mention images, photos, to enliven your site? People are going to read it much more often if they see a photo or a graphic to give them a clue what the blog is going to be about. Just like the screen that we have up here right now, bullet points help a lot. Numbered lists help. Sometimes you create an indented quote that will jump out at people.
Definitely I think subheadings, except for the shortest blog posts, are very helpful to people. They’re also helpful if anybody is searching on your topic who isn’t already a follower of your organization, and they’re using Google or some other search engine to find about your topic. The words that are in the subheadings are easily recognizable to Google, whereas it has a harder time figuring out what your blog is about just from the body, or the content. So that would be my suggestion, to use subheadings.
Steven: Yeah, and everything that you’ve said is what I’ve found to be true on the Bloomerang blog, as well. We post something every day, every business day, without fail, and we’ve had a lot of success with bulleted lists and numbered lists, especially in the blog title. We usually stay between 350 and 700 words is our sweet spot, as well. So yeah, just definitely want to encourage everything Dennis said. That’s what we’ve found to be true, as well.
Dennis, we’ve got just a couple minutes left. I think we should probably leave time for one more question. I thought a fun way to end would be to look at Trisha’s question here. She’s asking, “How can a startup blog identify and solicit subscribers among diverse stakeholders not yet engaged with the org?” So what advice would you have for someone who has listened to this presentation, they’re going to go out and create a blog today for their first time. What’s the number one or a couple things that they should do to get it in front of people for a brand-new blog?
Dennis: I think the first thing . . . did you say Trish?
Steven: Trisha, yeah.
Dennis: Trisha. Trisha, the first thing that I would do if I were you is to picture the people I’m trying to reach. I mean, in as much detail as I can possibly imagine, so that I would recognize them walking down the street. I would think about, what does that person want to hear about? What can I tell them about in the first week, the first month of the blog that will make them say, “Huh, this is something I need to keep an eye on”? So content is king. Start with that.
As far as people who are not already engaged with your organization, I think the best way to reach them is through people who are. So if you can get, again, your staff, your board members, your volunteers, maybe some of your loyal donors, bring them into the inner circle, and have them become ambassadors for your organization, and have them forward your emails of your blogs to some folks, or repost your blog, or put it on their social media with the recommendation from them, that will help a lot.
But I will say you have to be patient. Blogging is a process. You usually start out small, and over a period of time, you start getting critical mass and taking off. So you do need to be patient with it, be persistent and consistent with it. Whenever you do get feedback from people that says, “That was great,” take note of that and write some more of that. Don’t be worried about being repetitive. You can say a very similar thing in a different way, and people will still want to hear it.
Steven: I love it, Dennis. I think we’ll end it there, on that great piece of advice. Dennis, this was awesome for you to be here. Thanks so much for taking an hour or so out of your day to share all this good advice with us. It was a lot of fun.
Dennis: Oh, for me, too.
Steven: And I just want to say thank you to all of you for hanging out with us for an hour or so. I know it’s a busy time of year. I really appreciate it. We’d love to talk to you again. We’ve got lots of great resources on the Bloomerang website. Of course we have our weekly webinars, which you already know about. We’ve got our blog, our video podcast, we’ve got lots of downloadables, lots of cool things that you can take advantage of to help you out, and lots of facets of fundraising.
Like I said before, this is our last webinar of the year. It was a fun way to close out the calendar year. But we are back on January 7th. We’ve got a webinar per week, every week, in 2016. They’re already actually scheduled, which I’m really excited about. Our first one’s going to be a great one. Don’t miss it. We’ve got Amy Eisenstein. She’s going to be talking about her new research into major gift fundraising. She’s got brand-new research, brand-new data to share with us. So don’t miss it.
Check out our webinar page. You’ll see about four other presentations there that you can register for. They’re all free. They’re all educational. We’d love to see you again. So thanks so much. Have a great holiday season. Have a great year end campaign, if you’re doing that. We’d love to see you again in 2016. So have a good rest of your day and a great weekend.