Creating an Online News Blog

In 2012, I started an online news blog for an organization facing a common problem – how to reliably communicate with their members in the Internet age. After a year or two of experimentation, the blog was reaching the members consistently, and it is still running today. Many of the lessons I learned may be applicable to others wanting to start a blog for their organization, so here they are.

  1. Both push and pull matter. In other words, use a webpage that automatically posts to social media and can be subscribed to via email. Give people as many ways to be in touch with you as possible. We have followers via WordPress, email, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. At the five year point (when I stepped down from running it) our views per month ranged from 3,000 to 5,000, but would spike sometimes to over 30,000. Those extra views were not only content driven, but also driven by social media shares that were easy for people to do.
  2. Relentlessly do outreach initially. We pushed out our articles through every avenue available including one-on-one contact and social media posts on personal accounts for the first year. Do not trust posts on an organization’s social media or emails sent by commercial services to be seen. Social media algorithms and email filters will get in the way.
  3. Community and people make the best content. People feel connected to organizations when they view them as a community, not just as a hobby or a cause. The articles that received the most views had emotional content, especially one in which we celebrated or grieved.
  4. Politics are good if handled carefully. Inter-organization politics involving conflict or rule change were also popular. They’re important issues to address. However, have an editor with experience dealing with controversy take a pass over the posts, even if the writer is a person of note. A good editing job can turn a situation from explosive to understandable.
  5. Photographs are good but… There is a belief that you should have a graphic or photo with every article. It’s a sound belief, but you can spend a lot of time looking for the perfect clip art or a photo that isn’t awful. Don’t let it slow you down. Have a default option that you can always use.
  6. Many people think they aren’t important enough to be seen. The truly interesting people frequently think nothing they’re doing is newsworthy. Watch out for them. They usually make better reading than people interested in promoting themselves.
  7. You need more staff than you think. In reality, I had enough staff because I doubled what I thought I would need from the beginning and we added more later. However, I already knew that consistently getting quality content out of an organization is work. Unless you have a professional in charge who isn’t already overloaded, you’re going to need multiple bodies to produce content, post content, and create new ideas.
  8. A schedule helps. Having some regularly scheduled content – whether on a monthly or weekly basis – provides you with a structure that can be augmented by additional articles.
  9. Plan on people missing deadlines. No matter how easy you make it for people to submit content, they will miss the deadlines. Count on it.
  10. Don’t try to be the fastest. If you are the news blog of an organization, chances are you will never be as fast at publishing content as anyone with a smartphone. In 2012, we were the fastest at posting news, but that isn’t possible anymore. Our purpose is to provide news that everyone can access, is accurate, and provides a complete story. Being clear on how your blog supports your organization and staying true to that purpose is the best way to keep your focus in the constantly changing options of the Internet.

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