This morning I gave a presentation about blogging within a government agency to the Kentucky Association of Government Communicators. Although there were a few suggestions specific to government, most of them were just common sense for all bloggers.
It occurred to me that there may be artists and others who might benefit from some of the lessons we’ve learned from hosting Creative Commonwealth for over two years (woohoo!).
Tip 1: Do you even need a blog?
Google (who owns Blogger) defines a blog as, “…a web site, where you write stuff on an ongoing basis. New stuff shows up at the top, so your visitors can read what’s new. Then they comment on it or link to it or e-mail you. Or not.” It’s a silly definition, but no less true. Our blog has been a place to share feature articles about cool events we produce; explain the ways in which our jobs can be fascinating; brag about the artists we work with; and illustrate that we are truly dedicated to promoting the arts in Kentucky. A blog may do something different for you. If you don’t have the time; if you don’t have a list of people who you might share with; and you can’t think of five good blog posts off the top of your head—then a blog may not be for you. Don’t create a blog you can’t sustain and then later have to mercy kill. Not everyone needs a blog.
Tip 2: Create a policy and procedures
Create a general policy with adaptable procedures…by copying off of someone else’s paper. Our policy and procedures are formal. Because we are a state government agency, we need a guiding document that will sustain changes in staff and agency direction. Even if you are an individual artist, it’s good to write down an agreement with yourself about the focus and frequency of posts, as well as the technical information about where your blog is hosted, passwords, when you have to renew your account, etc. If you have never written a policy or procedures for social media then copy off of someone else. We sure did.
Tip 3: Design and name your blog
Blog hosts offer templates for designing your look. I recommend choosing one in between “off-the-shelf” and “do-it-yourself.” Blog designing should not be a time-sucking activity (precious time is better spent on the content), but you do want to make sure your brand is evident in the design to match the rest of your marketing materials (business cards, website, brochures, etc.)
Notice that we did not call our blog “The Kentucky Arts Council’s Blog.” This was deliberate. The blog is not a place for our official message; it’s a place for creative people in Kentucky to talk about what they do. Obviously, how you name your blog will depend on your goal. A good example is architectural artist Karine Maynard, who named her blog “The Stay at Home Welder.” It’s about her artwork, the custom metalwork business she runs with her husband, and techniques and methods for welders and blacksmiths.
Tip 4: Pay for your host
Most blog hosts will give* you a free* account with abbreviated features. If you are a blog beginner, start with this account, play around and make sure blogging is for you. If you are ready for more sophisticated options, space (memory) and better technical support, then purchase a package. What each host offers for free* and what they ask you to pay for will vary, so be sure to shop around for what’s most important to you. The cool thing about blogs is they are often transferable if you change your mind later.
* If you are not paying, make sure your intellectual property and privacy are not the product they are really selling to someone else!
Tip 5: Get a discrete URL
If you can afford it, get a discrete URL. The free version most blog hosts offer will include your own site with a name like “Sarah.blogspot.com” or “Sarah.wordpress.com.” This is fine, but your blog is easier to find if your address is something like “Sarah.com.” You can buy site names through independent vendors, and hosts will allow you to map your blog to them. This may cost extra as well. If this all sounds very complicated and unnecessary, you can always map to a discrete URL if you decide to later. Don’t let not having one stop you. These are tips, not laws.
Tip 6: Use an informal voice but have a formal proofing/editing process
A blog is your opportunity to be more personal with your customers, clients, fans and followers. Use first-person voice, be brief and incorporate engaging photos. However, this is not a chance to beat up the English language and disgrace yourself. Always have another set of eyes look at what you are about to post. If no one is around, let the post sit for a few hours and read it again with renewed eyes. Three different pairs of eyes (other than the author) edit and proof every Creative Commonwealth blog post before it is published. There are people out in the blogosphere who love to point out grammatical errors. Don’t be their victim! If something slips by the grammar goalie, rest assured that you can change it after it’s posted without too many people noticing. Blogs are more forgiving than print media and other social media.
Tip 7: Post regularly
In your procedures, decide on a publication schedule. Will you post once a month, once a week or more frequently? Stick to your schedule as best you can. It’s fine to cheat sometimes and backdate a post. It’s also acceptable to pull things out of the archive and re-post them when they are relevant. If you find yourself skipping two deadlines in a row, perhaps it’s time to reconsider whether or not you need a blog. I should confess that if you look back deeply in our archives, you will find a some gaps. This was before we established a posting schedule. Without it we were quite lost.
Tip 8: Make use of guest bloggers and syndicate
No one cares what I have to say and that’s fine. Our posts get more hits when we feature a guest artist/author than when I write something. If you have friends with great blogs, ask to feature a few of their relevant pieces to increase your readerships. Do likewise for them.
Tip 9: Optimize for search engines
The best way to make sure people can find your posts via Google, Bing or another search engine is to use tags and links. Blog hosts will usually have a place to put tags at the bottom of the post. For example, if you are writing about an outdoor music festival you will be headlining, you can tag the name of the festival, other bands, the location, sponsors, the musical genre and any other words people might use to search for information. You can also include links within the text to the festival site and lineup. Another optimization trick is making “top five/ten” lists. People go crazy for them, because they know exactly how much time and energy they’ll be devoting to reading a post—they know they will only have to deal with five or ten basic concepts during their coffee break.
Tip 10: Encourage subscription
There are a few ways readers can subscribe to your blog so that they are automatically notified when you publish a new post. The first one is easy. To allow people to subscribe by e-mail, you merely need to indicate it as a blog setting and make sure a sign-up area appears on your front page. Allowing people to subscribe by RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed is a little more complicated, but your host will have instructions. It usually involves registering you blog’s website with a tool called Feedburner. Once this is complete, you can include the universal RSS feed button on your front page.
I hope these tips are help. Happy blogging, and watch for a new page on Creative Commonwealth featuring blogs written by artists in our adjudicated programs!
Sarah Schmitt, arts access director