Blogs

What is it?

A blog (web log) is a website that's organized chronologically. New things appear at the top of the page and older things appear below.

Blogs have two components:

  • the software, which controls where everything goes and how it looks; and
  • the content, which you write.

Because of this separation you do not need to know how to write web pages to write blog posts -- the blog software takes care of all of that for you.

The process of posting something new to a blog is simple and very much like writing an email: after logging in, you type in a box, hit Publish, and it's live!

You decide who can write new blog entries: sometimes blogs are written by one person and sometimes they're a group effort. Most organizations' blogs tend to have more than one author.

There are two things that make blogs part of online conversation: links and comments.

  • You can put links in your blog posts to other online items of interest. If you link to another blog elsewhere, that blog will see your incoming link. Often a snip of your post will then show up on the linked blog, helping people connect the two.
  • Comments allow readers to respond directly to one of your blog posts. They type their thoughts in a comment box, usually found at the bottom of a blog post. Usually anyone can comment, although there are other options (e.g. you could set it so that you see and approve all comments before they are posted to your blog).

Blog posts are usually categorized for easy searching. You can set up categories in advance and change them as necessary. As you're writing a blog post, you can choose relevant categories.

Microblogs (such as Twitter and Tumblr) share only a few words, a link, or a brief idea in each post.

Most blogs have automatic, built-in RSS feeds to which people can subscribe to receive a near-immediate update each time you post something new.

Common Craft's video Blogs in Plain English covers many of these points:

How can you use it in your work?

Use a public blog to:

  • Point to new things on your main website (things you'd particularly like to highlight)
  • Point to events you're holding in the community (or online), plus preparatory and/or follow-up information
  • Tell your story the way you want it told, bypassing mainstream media. By blogging your own views you're acting as "media" yourself and using a medium which is very easy for people to share, pass on, add their commentary, etc.
  • Highlight interesting links (...photos, videos, etc.) you've produced or found that are relevant to your work
  • Share thoughts on the day-to-day happenings within your work that are too small or too short-lived to be on your main website
  • Anything else you feel is worth people's attention!

Set up a private blog -- a blog that's password-protected or that exists only on your office network -- to share information internally. You could also use a private Facebook group or other social networking tool for this purpose.

Commenting and Comment tracking

Even if you do not have your own blog, it can be good for your credibility to make comments on other people's blogs. You're still visible that way; still a valuable part of the conversation.

Comments, like linking to other people, is an act of reciprocity. Give and get. So if you want comments and links, go forth and comment on things that others post - things the inspire, move you, make you want to offer a different perspective or just thank them for something they wrote that matters to you. And link, link, link to the beautiful work of others.

You might also wish to spend time listening to see what other people are saying about you in blog comments. Knowing what's being said about you gives you a chance to respond quickly and appropriately -- again, you are then a part of the conversation. People respect responsiveness.

Examples

  • HC Link's blog on health promotion in Ontario (Health Nexus is a member of HC Link)
  • The Wellesley Institute calls their blog "news and analysis" and uses it to point to their own new materials, to comment on urban health and related issues, and to highlight items of interest from elsewhere.
  • Blog Action Day - one day each year, they get thousands of blogs to post on the same topic. In 2008 it was poverty and over 11,000 blogs participated. In 2012 the topic was The Power of We. Very effective way to draw attention to an idea or issue.
  • The Pump Handle - "a water cooler for the public health crowd". From the US, but still very relevant and interesting.
  • Phil Baumann's Health is Social - a US-based ex-ICU nurse's personal blog about health and social media. A good example of a solo-author blog.
  • Official Google Blog - a good example of a blog showing the personalities of the people in the company. They do of course talk about Google products and interesting issues surrounding their products and philanthropic projects, but they also occasionally talk about things of personal interest. Many Google staff write blog posts.
  • The Belonging Initiative - a blog on the idea and practice of belonging.
  • R. Craig Lefebvre's blog On Social Marketing and Social Change

How to get it - Blogs

Use a service

If you don't want to or can't install a blog on your own website you can use a hosting service. Two popular options:

Advantages

  • No techie needed
  • Nothing installed on your computer or server
  • Someone else maintains it for you

Disadvantages

Install your own

If you have a bit of money, or if you already have a web hosting account, you can install your own blog software. Some popular options:

  • WordPress.org - free software which is fully customizable. You set it up yourself on your own web hosting account (~$10/month and up) and you need to update it regularly (free).
  • TypePad - $4.95-$29.95/month including hosting. They sometimes have issues with reliability.
  • MovableType - free for individuals. A license for Higher Education & Non-profits for 5 authors is US$395, which includes a year of support. As with WordPress, you need to set it up yourself on your own web hosting account (~$10/month and up).

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • You need access to your webserver and possibly a techie if you're not one yourself (once to start and occasionally for updates)
  • You need to do any software updates yourself

Using a Content Management System (CMS) on your website already?

If your website runs on something like Drupal, Mambo, or Joomla, then it likely has built-in blogging capability. Consult your webmaster to see what would be necessary to incorporate a blog or blogs into your existing site.

How to get it - microblogs

  • Twitter - see our Twitter page for more information on Twitter and its many uses
  • Tumblr - free microblogs which make it easy to share things you come across (links, text, photos, videos, etc.). The idea is to use it as a sort of public notepad or random collection of interesting things.

Try it out

Go ahead and set up a blog to experiment with! It takes less than three minutes and you can always delete it.

  • Blogger - if you have a Google account (e.g. Gmail) setting up a Blogger blog is particularly simple.
  • WordPress.com - another very easy option.

Consult the Examples section above to see if any of the blogs listed there give you any ideas about how you might (or might not!) want to use your own blog

Explore further

  • Technorati and Google Blog Search give you an idea of what topics are currently popular on blogs and let you search for blogs in your areas of interest.
  • Intute Social Sciences from the UK has a two-part post: Why blog - part 1 and Why blog - part 2. They focus on academic blogging, but most of their points translate well to Canadian nonprofit and public health sectors.