Blogs eliminate a lot of the complexity of publishing. For most blog platforms, the sequence is literally this easy: click New Post, type the post, and click Publish. That’s it. And adding hyperlinks, images, and even text formatting is almost as simple – most blogs today support WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editing similar to Microsoft Word. It’s so simple that according to Technorati, more than 130 million blogs have been created (though to be fair the vast majority of these have also been abandoned).
Posts are generally arranged in reverse chronological order, so the most recent content is at the top of the page. The page will automatically display the most recent posts, and as posts age, they will automatically be removed from the home page and stored at the other end of an “archive” link. Some blogging tools allow the user to create categories for a bit easier navigation; many of them also allow authors to “tag” posts with keywords. Readers of the blog can then click on a particular tag and the blog will display all posts that include that tag.
So how are organizations using blogs today? Any communications or publications that are largely one-way or broadcast in nature can be extended or even replaced with blogs. For example, many organizations have projects underway at any given time. Updates, draft deliverables, and meetings are all set up, negotiated, responded to, and generally worked using way too much email. A number of organizations have started setting up project blogs where the project manager and project leads can post updates, links to draft documents, etc. Meeting requests, draft agendas, and meeting notes can all be published to the blog. And users can subscribe to only those updates that interest them, all of the updates for a particular project, or even all of the updates from all of the projects underway.
Blogs are also used as change logs. It has long been a best practice in IT to note any changes introduced to a server or application including hardware changes, service packs or upgrades, or even hot fixes so that if anything goes wrong the changes can be backed out systematically. This is often done in a spreadsheet or even a paper ledger. Now consider that by replacing the log with a blog, those updates are more readily available to other staff, stakeholders, and even end users. Consider also that if IT is making changes to the email system, the system generally has to be taken down; that means that IT has to figure out a way to blast to everyone once it comes back up or suffer an endless line of users stopping by to ask when it will be back up. Point people to the blog – as long as there is network access users will be able to access it.
And the list goes on. All of the benefits-related updates from HR. Company-wide announcements about the summer picnic or a list of client wins. Posts from people selling their old grill or looking for a carpool buddy. All of these take up lots of time and energy in the email box and quickly get lost in the deluge – and all of them could be published in a blog where users could get to them as they find time and interest.
Managing blogging effectively
By now, some of you will be thinking, “Waitaminnit – I can’t put project plans and HR announcements on a public blog! What are you thinking?!” While most blogs are public, a lot of them are not, and most of the uses I just described are arguably things that should NOT be public.
To answer that need, a number of vendors offer enterprise blogging tools. These tools start by allowing more comprehensive customization of the look & feel of the blog but also offer some very enterprise-friendly tools. For example, the blog can be deployed in a more secure fashion, often hosted from within the organization’s firewall. It can also be integrated into the organization’s Active Directory or other identity infrastructure, meaning that there is always a way to track who is posting what, who is commenting on what, and in some cases even who is reading what. These tools also offer the ability to archive posts and comments in a more robust fashion and can ensure that posts and comments cannot be changed once they have been published. This can be important from a records management perspective.
Another issue many of you will want to consider is what information can be published, particularly on public blogs, and how you can control that. My short answer is, “You can’t”. In other words, since most commercial blog services are free, if you block someone’s blog it is trivially easy for them to start up another one. Some organizations allow or even encourage blogging – but require each post to be cleared by 14 levels of bureaucracy prior to posting. Those posts will not be read by anyone because they will sound like they went through 14 levels of bureaucracy. Blogs that are read are authentic, relevant, and written in the author’s voice; Blogs that are full of happy shiny marketspeak, or bland, boring pabulum, will wither and die quickly.
So the better approach here is simply, “Don’t be stupid”. In other words, tell authors in broad strokes what can and cannot be discussed in public. Some are obvious but bear repeating, like forward-looking financial information or confidential information. Others will be specific to an organization, such as keeping the blog purely business-oriented (or purely industry-oriented and NOT business-specific). My employers have never authorized my blog, though they are aware that I blog – instead, they trust me to “not be stupid” and I don’t give them a reason to regret that trust.
Getting started with blogging
The easiest way to start blogging is to start blogging. There are a number of free hosted blogging platforms available including Blogger and WordPress; many of the more popular social networking sites also provide blogging capabilities. You can create your own blog in less than 5 minutes using a hosted provider.
Once you’ve started the blog, start writing! Blog about what interests you and that you are passionate about. Blogs that are written out of a sense that you “should” be blogging, or blogging about a specific topic, will not keep your interest and will wither.
As you start writing, remember to use your own voice. I blog the way I blog – less frequently, generally longer posts, sometimes off-topic and dealing with recipes or my speaking schedule. You should blog the way you should blog – which might be the same but might also be dramatically different
Another key point is that you have to keep at it, particularly if you don’t write a lot in other contexts. If your blog is good, people will find it and read it – as long as you keep posting to it. If you don’t, no matter how good your posts were, people will stop reading it.
Some bloggers get pretty serious about themes, plug-ins, badges, widgets, and all manner of other stuff. And truth be told, my primary blog has some of that there as well. But if the content isn’t there, all of the rest of it will be useless; moreover, a significant majority of users who read blogs don’t read them on the blog website, but through RSS feeds, meaning they won’t see any of the themes or add-ins to begin with. So focus on the writing, both quality and frequency.