Note: This is a piece I contributed to a social media guide published by the Texas Hospital Association. It’s really very well done (the overall guide, I mean. You’ll need to be the judge on this particular article.) If you’d like to get a copy of the complete guide, which includes contributions from @EdBennett, @ChrisBoyer, @Billfer, @DaphneLeigh and @JennTex, @reedsmith of the THA has them available for sale. You can order one or see the table of contents here. But meanwhile, here’s my contribution:
Many people are intimidated by the thought of starting a blog. Some of this angst results from misunderstandings: they think a blog is some mysterious creation, when in reality it is an easy-to-publish Web site that allows comments. But some of the trepidation results from a true understanding: starting a blog means you need to regularly update it to keep the content fresh.
The purpose of this article is to provide tips for developing a sustainable blog, not in the ecological sense (though the so-called “carbon footprint” of a blog is toddler-sized), but from the “How can I start small and give the blog a strong path to growth?” perspective. Here are a few tips:
- Start with a hosted blogging platform. I used http://wordpress.com and highly recommend it. You can get started for free, and for less than $80 a year you can have a blog with the same look as your main Web site that can host a podcast and that is mapped to a subdomain of your main site. But that’s the next step.
- Choose your URL and map to it. I mapped my personal blog to http://social-media-university-global.org/ and with my work we have blogs at http://sharing.mayoclinic.org/ and http://newsblog.mayoclinic.org/ and http://podcasts.mayoclinic.org/, for instance. By doing this, instead of the default yourname.wordpress.com URL, you preserve your blog’s ability to grow and move later to a self-hosted WordPress installation without having your incoming links break. That preserves your precious Google juice.
- Use video. I use and like the Flip video camera, which costs about $150 for standard definition and $230 or so for HD. Other cameras are available at similar prices. Particularly if you have busy subject experts you want to include in the blog, you’ll have much more success if you can embed video instead of asking them to write. And if they ask you to write for them, that will make your blog inauthentic. Being able to upload video quickly via a built-in USB connector makes it easier for everyone.
- Use lots of “tags.” Tags are labels you apply to your posts, which are your way of telling search engines what the post is about. This makes it easier for people looking for your information to find it.
- Use descriptive titles or headlines. In WordPress, your headline becomes part of the URL, which has search engine implications. So a cute, human-oriented headline may be less helpful from an SEO perspective. A way around this is to edit the URL for search, but still have the clever play on words in the title.
- Schedule posts in advance. You can take a vacation from blogging by using this feature in WordPress, which enables you to set a day and time when you want the post to be published. So you can work ahead and then take off on vacation, knowing that the content will stay fresh even while you personally refresh.
- Decide whether comment moderation is necessary. Akismet does a great job in WordPress of weeding out spam comments. If you don’t require comment moderation, your readers will have more immediate gratification for sharing their thoughts, and it will be less work for you.
- Use multiple contributors. WordPress and some other blog publishing platforms offer hierarchies and workflows, so you can share the publishing load among many users. Contributors can write, but posts must be edited and approved by, well…an editor. Authors can write and publish on their own. Administrators can add other users. Multiple contributors also helps with that vacation we talked about in #6.