5 NGO blogging myths, debunked

Photo By: funnykatz.com

When it comes to web content, NGOs are competing with cat videos. So when staff are already strapped for time, fundraising inhibits risk-taking and authenticity, and immediate returns on investment in communications are hard to come by, it’s hard for NGOs to fully realize that blogging can be a central part of building brand identity and achieving an organization’s mission.

These sentiments were shared by the over 65 NGO communications staff in attendance at our session at the 2014 InterAction Forum, “Why are most NGOs’ blogs so bad?”

To kick off each of our session components, we aimed to debunk some blogging myths that often stump NGOs. We share them below, as well as the learning shared:

NGO Blogging Myth #1: You have to start with your audience.

NGOs’ communications departments are often more adept at old models of pushing information out, rather than drawing people in, which is what new media requires. In traditional product development, every communications professional knows that identifying the audience is the first step.

In this new world, however, producing blog content that is engaging and attractive means first finding the “energy” for blogging within an organization. Ideas for blog content are found in many places – with people, stories, or events. When was the last time you talked about your organization’s work without a report or a work task guiding you? Was it at the water cooler, after a meeting in the hallway, an intranet comment thread?

Because running a publication – the blog – is much different from creating a once-off product, NGO blog editors have to be content strategists and spin doctors, connecting this energy within their internal blogging “community” to where your audience is.

NGO Blogging Myth #2: A blog is a multi-purpose communications tool.

Now that a blog editor has begun identifying where the “literary life” of an organization lies, NGOs often need to be much more specific about the purpose of blogging and relate this to differing key audiences. Why do you want people to read your blog? And then, which people do you want to read your blog?

Is the blog primarily serving fundraising and marketing, eliciting calls to action, sharing best practices, or influencing policy makers? These purposes may have clearly different key audiences, from grassroots supporters to Congressional staff, but most NGOs still only have one blog to serve all of them, which makes for blog editors’ spinning heads and a wildly inconsistent tone.

A successful blog has built a readership of people who come back again and again. So that NGOs don’t turn people off, blogging requires a much more keen consciousness of audience segmentation. If you think blogging can be a way to reach more than one audience for your organization, assess whether your organization can tap into enough energy and community to support more than one blog. (See Myth #1.)

NGO Blogging Myth #3: Blogs should have one post per day.

The quality of content can be more important to a blog’s success than the volume of posts. It’s important therefore to consider if an NGO’s bloggers are equipped with what they need to produce successful content for your NGOs’ audiences. Setting clear guidelines and realistic expectations, and clarifying the relationship between the content creators and audiences can be a key aspect of ensuring the regularity (and yet encouraging the serendipity) for people to blog.

Guidelines should include: topics to pursue (and also avoid), frequency expectations, style guide items specific to blogging, the approval process (streamline!), and writing tips. Consider guidelines a permission slip for bloggers. Help them know what they have to do, while finding their individual voice amidst organizational tone.

NGO Blogging Myth #4: A blog is 700 words of text.

Quick, an alien has just arrived on earth. How do you describe to them what a blog is?

If an NGO is using their blog to its full capacity, this can be a hard question to answer. Beyond the usual everyday blog post with 3-7 paragraphs, blogs can be some of the most “creative” space on an organization’s various channels. In a blog, authors can share brief snippets of text, quick thoughts or anecdotes, photographs, infographics, video/audio, chat/conversations, interviews, Q&As, article/movie/book reviews, “how-to”s, or round-ups of articles, links, or quotes you find interesting from the week.

Expanding your notion of what a “blog” is helps to vary the content that will keep readers (and your community of bloggers!) engaged. Doing so can also help demonstrate your organization’s relevance to and perspective on the “news of the day,” all while helping to drive people to where you want them to go on your website.

NGO Blogging Myth #5: You have to pay for helpful analytics.

New google and twitter analytics are helpful (and free!) tools to help measure your blog’s reach to its audience and fulfillment of its purpose. It’s helpful for blog editors to think of three levels of interaction with blog readers - attract, engage, convert – which will help explain what we can/cannot know about blogs’ success to organizational leadership. When building a blog readership, sometimes more important than the number of hits or pageviews, is the percentage of returning visitors or comments and pingbacks.

Most importantly, using analytics data can ensure that NGOs are listening to its readers and always discovering what kinds of content strike their fancy.

After all, we are competing against adorable fur balls. 

By Jennifer Lentfer and Oscar Abello.