A friend of mine is getting started with a really cool, and hugely challenging project around mental health. As part of that she wants to start a blog, so I came up with some suggestions and some resources to help her.
1 Choose a subject
Defining the subject gives you a focus, defining what you’ll work on. You should define the topic in a way that gives you plenty to write about and a potential audience, Amylynn Andrews gives some good tips on defining the scope of a blog.
Most importantly pick a subject you care about. You will need to read about it, think about it, write about it pretty much every day. Note, you don’t need to be an expert on day one, your blog can be part of the process of learning, it needs to be something you care about. If it’s not something you care about it will be really hard to sustain the habits necessary to create good blog posts.
2 Define your audience
Who are you writing for? What are their needs? What do you want them to take from your blog?
In my friend’s case she’s trying to help those fortunate enough to have no mental health issues understand what it’s like to live with mental health issues.
3 Name (and domain name)
The naming of things is a difficult matter. Most bloggers struggle with the naming of their blog, and Google gives 49 million suggestions on how to do it.
The perfect blog name should be;
- memorable; use real words and keep it short
- reflect what the blog is about; people seeing the name should have their interest triggered.
- give you room to grow; if you define the name too narrowly sooner or later your blog posts won’t fit. I started writing this blog about new technologies, now I also write about leadership, but it still fits under “Change Meme” whereas it wouldn’t have under a more technology specific name.
- have an available domain name; unless your audience is country specific you will be hunting for a .com domain that works.
For more specifics on choosing a name, there’s a great post on Blog Clarity.
I run three blogs now, and the first two were renamed. It’s not that difficult to rename your blog in the early stages, but once you start building an audience it becomes more difficult.
I use WordPress for all three blogs and I’m a huge fan. I find it easy to use (and it’s getting better), there’s enough variety of templates available in the free option for me, and when I’ve had questions I’ve found the answer on WP for Beginners or they’ve been answered very quickly via the forums.
But there are other tools out there; Blogger (from Google), Tumblr (often used by younger audience), Medium, and Exposure (great for image based blogs). Most give you a free option or a trial option. Play with them, find the one you can use the best.
WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr are more commonly used and may already have a bigger audience for re-sharing content, and of these Tumblr seems to promote sharing the most.
“If you build it they will come” might work in baseball, but it won’t work for your blog. Share your blog across other social media channels. It’s often possible to automate this, this blog gets tweeted automatically for example.
You can re-share your content, either to reach different timezones or in response to a specific event. But don’t be the guy on twitter who shares old content 90% of the time. Mix it up with fresh stuff.
As you develop your content you’ll need also build your audience – you want to reach the right people. Here are four tips to get started;
- follow back, if someone follows your blog or your twitter handle (etc) follow them back
- look for bloggers/tweeters writing on a similar theme – follow them
- respond to questions and comments on your blog
- comment and engage with others
For more sophisticated steps Mashable gives this list of 6 Tips for Building a High Quality Blog Following, and this interview with Syed Balkhi talks about how he built an audience by focusing on helping one user at a time.
6 Content plan
Think about what you will write, what subjects you will address and what format your posts will take. Social Media Examiner lists 12 types of blog posts, some subjects dictate the format, for others you get to choose.
Blogging takes time, so think of a couple of post formats that could be easily created or created ahead of time;
“Listicles”, those posts headed “10 things you didn’t know about…” always attract readers, but a site with only this could become a bit annoying.
Responding to a relevant news subject also works if you can say something interesting on time. This is known as Newsjacking. One of my most shared posts combines listicles and newsjacking; “5 Reasons Facebook Shouldn’t Come to Work“.
Use known events relevant to your field. I like to post something on Community Managers Day for example.
When I started I created a category of “Business Cliches“, which gives definitions for terms I heard used at work. These are also good when I’m a bit low on ideas for what to write, I keep a list of potential cliches for future use.
I create a spreadsheet of my planned content, it’s a permanent draft and I often move things around, or add to it in response to events. But I find it helpful to have a structure to work to, here’s some more advice on creating a structure for your content. Make it as simple or as complex as you need.
Adding images to your posts adds to the appeal. I use either my own images or those from flickr that are available under a creative comments licence.
Make sure your file names and your Alt tags reflect the content, this will help your blog be found more easily. I confess I am a bit lazy at doing this.
8 Plan to write
This is absolutely key to sustaining a good blog.
How much time you need depends on how many posts and what type of posts you need according to your content plan. I usually spend Sunday morning writing, I try to have two posts ready to go, plus work on a few “drafts” that may or may not make it to publication. I currently have 22 posts in draft form, probably a third of those will be published.
Occasionally I’ll write an additional post responding to an event during the week, but that will be shorter and something I can publish quickly.
9 The Legal Stuff
Copyright; I publish under a creative commons licence, meaning I hold the copyright but give people permission to re-use my content as long as they credit me as the source. I try really hard to follow copyright law in terms of anything I do publish, and openly state that I’ll correct anything if I get it wrong.
Your employer’s view; If your blog is close to your professional life you should check with your compliance or media relations teams on publication of your thoughts.
I’ve been blogging for almost a decade now, it’s rewarding, fun, and a reputation builder in my profession. Plus – I like to think I’ve learnt a lot about professional writing.