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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Content Creation

The last post talked about the importance of selected the right tools for your web publishing project. For your organization's main website, a full-featured Content management System is invaluable. For your blog, one of the well known blogging applications should suffice: Blogger, Typepad, and so on. (I'd love to see someone write a comparison of these blogging tools.) For special purpose collaborations, a wiki might be most appropriate.

But selecting the tool is just the beginning. You need content. And for a blog, you need an endless stream of content.

How do you generate a stream of content? This is the question I hear most often about blogging, both from other technology vendors and from non-profit staff: How do you decide what to write about? Doesn't it take an enormous amount of time? It's also the greatest single objection I run into when I talk about the benefits of blogging to non-profits. The generation of actual content of the blog or website seems to be an enormous burden. But it doesn't have to be.

The trick to effective blogging is to put a blogging process - a personal discipline - in place that governs the content creation and posting process. The same is true about updating your organization's main website.

Here's the outline of my blogging process:
1. Have a personal statement about what the blog is and isn't about, and what it's purpose is. My blog is about non-profit technology. It is not about other things that I may care strongly about, such as my family or foreign policy or music. Keeping your blog on topic will allow a community of readers who share a specific interest to find it and value it.

2. Maintain a topic list of upcoming things to write about. The topic list should always be about fifteen items long. This way, when it comes time to write a new piece, you can find something that you are in the mood to write about. Spend some time maintaining the topic list, so ideas are not forgotten. Distill your notes, scribbles, and bookmarks into entries in your topic list. Cull your emails with clients and colleagues to remember what the hot items this week seem to be. When your topic list gets short, its time to really focus on growing it. Keeping the topic list healthy is the key to avoiding writers block.

3. Be clear on the different types of posts you use, and keep a good mix of them. Think about your audience and make sure you offer something to each segment of that audience from time to time. Have a mix of long and short items. Have a mix of how-tos and backgrounders. Have a mix of items that create original content and items that point your readers to useful content created elsewhere. Referring readers to a pithy post in a friend's blog can make for a quick and valuable entry. But beware: blogs that do nothing but link to other sites are quickly seen as vacuous!

4. Keep some posts in the can, but don't let them get stale. It's invaluable to have a few posts written and sitting around. This way when you are already a day late and are staring at a blank screen, you can say, OK - this is the day for the piece of Moore's Law! But you don't want let your gems sit around for so long that they are out of date by the time you use them.

5. Think about your writing when you are not at your desk. I find that being able to outline my next three pieces in my head is a great way to endure a tale of lost luggage at a dinner party. When you do sit down to write, you already have a lot of ideas and your task is that much easier.

For the content on your organization's website, the process will be a bit more complicated. A blog is personal - you do not need approval or buy-in from others in your organizations. When the writing becomes collaborative, the process becomes more convoluted. This is where approval and workflow tools in a full-featured CMS will help you out.

Still, if you use the right tools and define a clear process, keeping your website updated will not be a constant struggle.


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Comments on "Content Creation"

 

Blogger Angela said ... (November 11, 2005 at 7:54 PM) : 

Hi Michael,

Appreciate the info you've shared here.

May I suggest another way to add content? Carry a pocket sized recorder with you. Whenever an interesting topic or subject comes to mind, record whatever is on your mind for posting later.

Have a great weekend!

Angela Betts

 

Blogger Amy said ... (January 7, 2006 at 8:27 PM) : 

Hi, Michael

I agree, there's a surprising amount of unnecessary anxiety about "what will I write?" People (whether in nonprofits or elsewhere) just generally aren't used to looking at their everyday or ongoing activities and finding something worth saying.

Which is one of the beauties of blogging. This medium easily accommodates short postings. So you don't have to have a lot to say about any specific topic. You can just pick something worth noting, make a quick point, and get out.

Also, I think people who are new to blogging assume that they will have to blog daily, or several times daily. Personally, I don't think there's much value to that. I think that in blogging, quality matters more than quantity. If you consistently provide items worth reading, even if it's only weekly, you will build a loyal audience/community over time.

Also, I think it's important not just to post to your own blog, but to comment on other people's blogs. There's more than one way to leverage this medium.

I explore these themes in detail in my blogs:
- http://contentious.com
- http://rightconversation.com

Good luck with getting more nonprofits to blog. I think it's an overlooked opportunity there, so far!

- Amy Gahran

 

Anonymous Marshall Kirkpatrick said ... (January 20, 2006 at 12:10 PM) : 

As a near tireless advocate for RSS adoption, I'll add that if you're subscribed to almost any number of blog, news and search feeds and you spend a little time scanning them, you're inevitably going to find things to write about there when your own org doesn't have news to post (presuming this kind of content is appropriate.) This helps establish your org as an up to date source for important info on the issues.

I know a lot of people think RSS is a step beyond what hesitant bloggers should be asked to think about - but if your own blog's RSS feed isn't optimized then you're really missing out on outreach opportunities and if you're not reading other blogs then your own blogging will suffer. I would contend that RSS is in fact no more, perhaps less difficult than blogging. It just has a scary acronym for a name!

This is a great post, Michael. I'm going to tag it into the Net2 tag stream too, in case no one else has.

 

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