How to start blogging at work - Part 1

So you think you want a work blog, but you don't know how to start. Should it be internal or external? Many authors or one? What will we blog about? Will anyone care? These were the types of questions* that last night's NetSquared Meetup hoped to answer, so I'm going to recap that conversation while adding my own thoughts, and hopefully you'll go away feeling more confident about the whole thing.

Because the Meetup group is composed of a wide range of bloggers, blogger-hopefuls, tech peeps and others who are interested in social web for social good, there were lots of great ideas that came out when Amy Sample Ward, the meetup moderator, asked for ideas on blog strategy. She's outlined the ones that were voted Top 5 in her blog post about the event, but my own views were slightly different, so here's my own interpretation that includes some of the ideas that came out of the group brainstorm.

What to think about first:

 Why do you want a blog in the first place?

Many people say that they want or should have a blog, but when you probe deeper, they haven't a clue why. It's important to start from the communication need rather than the method of delivery. To say you want a blog is like saying "I want to make a phone call." Who are you going to call? What will you talk about? Why do you want to call them rather than emailing or speaking in person? Think about what it is that you are trying to say, to whom, and why - and then think about whether a blog is the right way of getting your message out there.

Make sure you have a clear goal or purpose for your blog. Something like: "I want to connect with my customers so we can both learn from each other" is a good answer; something like: "I want another channel to broadcast my marketing messages" is not. Blogs are about informal dialogue, not carefully-crafted PR statements. If you aren't ready to talk with your audience with the barriers down, maybe a blog isn't right for you.

Does my company/organisation have an internal/corporate culture that supports this type of communication?

On a similar note, there's no sense in starting a blog at all if your company's internal culture is so closed, hierarchical, tyrannical, unresponsive, stilted, or fear-infected that no one will become a 'genuine' blog author because they are constantly afraid of being fired or disciplined for saying the wrong thing. Chances are the blog will either go dead quiet, or the tone will be so un-authentic and contrived that no one from the outside will engage.

That is not to say that blogging cannot be a part of creating a cultural change at an organisation: in fact, quite the opposite. But a blog alone will not work unless it is supported in other ways. If there's already consensus or a push to make the culture more transparent, accountable and open, blogging can be a great way to get the initiative moving or build momentum. If not, maybe you should consider blogging small-scale and/or internally first. Test the waters before diving in - especially if they are shark-infested!

What to do next:

Start reading other people's blogs - and join in the conversations.

Go out there and find where the conversations are happening on the topics you are interested in. Read what others have to say. And once you've read some blogs, start commenting. Many of blogging's real 'nuggets' come in the comments, not the posts themselves. Blog authors love comments, so if you have something to say - even if it's just "thanks for that" - go ahead and say it. Commenting is a great way to start to feel comfortable conversing online,  identifying who your blog peers will be, and finding people to welcome into your own conversations on your blog when you're ready.

Think about the practical requirements of blogging

Blogging isn't rocket science, but it can be time-consuming. Not only do you need to think about whether you will have the time or headspace to keep your blog going, but you also need to think about the time required to read and respond to comments, monitor your spam-filter, perform little tweaks and maintenance, and scan the horizon for other blog postings to read and comment on. If you can't see yourself fitting all this into your already-packed workload, who else might be able to help? Will your IT team be able to support any technical needs? Maybe a team or departmental blog would mean you can share the work and ease the pressure. But bear in mind: not everyone wants to blog, and people who blog out of obligation rather than enjoyment rarely last long. People who are natural informal communicators tend to make great bloggers... but there are also seemingly shy people who find blogging to be a good way of communicating without the awkwardness of face-to-face or verbal communication.

Have realistic expectations

So now that you are reading of blogs, you will probably notice that some of them have lots of comments, and some have none.  You can guarantee the ones with lots of comments didn't start up yesterday, and they haven't become these juicy mines of great dialogue without time, effort and promotion. And you can be certain that for every juicy dialogue, there are dozens more posts that seem to fall on deaf ears. Furthermore, for every great comment, there are dozens of spam comments that never made it to the live blog. Be realistic:

  • Don't expect an instant audience
  • Don't expect every post to get comments (or to get any comments at all in the beginning)
  • Don't expect to get the tone or content perfect from day 1
  • Don't expect to instantly 'gel' with the act of blogging. It might seem unnatural, you might cringe when re-reading posts at first, but over time, with practice and effort, it will all get better.

 And then... ?

These are some pretty big things to think about and do before you even consider signing up to a blogging platform* or requisitioning blog software* from your IT department. Tomorrow I will post Part 2 of How to start blogging at work, when I will cover the next chunk of things to mull over: the nitty gritty of writing, legal issues, best practice, promoting your blog and more.

* At the NetSquared Meetup we also covered which blog platform is the best tool for you; have a look at my summary here.