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Blogs: you reaching out to the community

When blogging began, at the dawn of the public Internet, it was named for a journal “web-log.” And while many people still use it in this capacity – long, personal entries about daily reflections – it has evolved into so much more. In my opinion, if you are just beginning your online presence, a blog is where you need to begin.

 


Getting started

A blog is easy to set up and free. Top sites and a few descriptions:

  • www.wordpress.com – top of the line with the most potential for development (this site is a WordPress site). Their .com sites provide thousands of templates and basic features to set up a simple site or a very complex website. If you do not want ads (which usually do not appear on your free .com site until you have a large following), you can pay as little as $30 a month. The backend can feel a bit daunting when you get started, but they have excellent how-to videos. And if you do ever want to add features, it can be developed much further. WordPress also has a .org version, which is also free. These sites offer more options for developers. Unless you plan to build a site yourself, I’d stick with .com.
  • www.blogger.com – blogger is the blogsite of Google – if you use a lot of Google services, you may want to integrate blogger. It is a very simple blog site with extremely easy set up and usability. It’s been around since the beginning so a lot of “loyalists” use blogger still. I have a few (dead) blogs there and if all I was doing was writing, I would be happy with Blogger.
  • www.tumblr.com – people often ask me, what is the network that teenagers are using? From what I can tell, tumblr is it. While it does allow for the traditional journal writing, tumblr is best known for integrating photos and videos easily as well as social share capabilities. I do not personally have an account there, but many of the social media “gurus” swear by tumblr as their top choice.
  • posterous.com – I was introduced to posterous last summer because of its great integration with email – authors can post to their home page from an email address as well as easy mobile entries. It also was one of the first to send a notice to Twitter and Facebook as soon as an update was made. However, now all of the sites do this and WordPress also allows email posting (the others may as well, but I have not researched this). Posterous was bought by Twitter in the spring of 2012, so everyone is watching to see if that changes the site and if Twitter does something with it. My husband uses it and likes it very much. Easy set up and easy to use.
  • There are other sites that others love more. Here’s a handy blogging reference guide I found online. And there are other sites, like storify, that are a cross between a social media site and a blog. Spend some time looking into the different platforms. Even though they are all easy to start up, save yourself some time by finding the one that will be easiest for you to use and serves your ultimate goal.
  • Set up your site with basic details you would include on a website – about you, contact information, links to other sites you follow/partner with, link to social media sites, allow for search, consider comments, etc. The blogsite we use for the Center for Congregational Health may help: http://billwilsoncch.wordpress.com.
  • Consider purchasing a domain name (I use NameCheap but many, many more exist). Then you don’t have to include the blogging platform in the url address.

Purpose

So why are you creating a blog? If we remember that blog posts are YOU reaching out to the community, this platform is a great way for you to share your message with the community. And the time demands are actually less than social media – it doesn’t require constant engagement and can be done at your convenience, rather than when the crowd is around.
  • A blog can exist for you to share your pastoral thoughts:
    • Share your sermons (which could increase your audience and allow for comments and interactions).
    • If you already write a weekly newsletter column for your church newsletter, share it as a blog post too…and if you don’t, maybe there are general thoughts you’d like to share with your church/community that would have been in a weekly newsletter column.
    • Share resources, articles and quotes you find that relate to your pastoral guidance.
  • Or it can be a place for your personal release – a place where you intentionally are NOT the minister:
    • Don’t hear me saying this is a great place for you to act inappropriately – anonymity online doesn’t exist, even when we think it does – but sometimes you need a platform to talk about culture, sports, general readings, family events (i.e. photos of you and the kids), etc.
    • Share photos, videos and quotes you find that make you think or pull out your creativity.
  • Or you can use a blog collectively as a church:
    • Assign the staff and key lay-people regular writing opportunities as either professionals or personally.
    • This will help share the writing load and can mix the topics and interests and attract a larger audience.
    • You will need someone to coordinate this effort and let go of some control of what is said.
  • A final thought is that if the church does not have someone to regularly update your website, thus giving you more of a brochure site, you may want to set up a blog as a place to use for updates, events, notices and news for the members.
    • This could especially be helpful if your current website is not “input-friendly” (i.e. it is difficult to update).
    • Link both back to the site from the blog and to the blog from the site. Don’t worry about it not being as updated as a website, but also write on it regularly enough that members know to check in. They can also subscribe to receive emails when the blog has been updated.
    • You could also set the blog to private and use it as a space to write internal messages to the members – especially helpful during times of transition.

Best Practices

  • Don’t just post words – use photos, videos, short quotes, etc. And when you do post a lot of words, try to break it up as much as possible with short paragraphs, extra spaces, lines in between sections, and headers.
  • Find other blogs on a topic/topics you are discussing (use Google search or Google alerts to find them), and comment regularly. Ask if you can link to their blog from yours and if they will link to yours…build a community in the blogging world.
  • Be narrow on categories. In other words, think of a category like a menu item. You would only choose so many words to put along the top of your site as “parent” words, with other sub-categories underneath. You are grouping your topics in a category.
  • Be generous on tags. Tags are all of the words found in your blog that may be keywords to describe what your entry was about and what others may be searching for that would lead them to your site. They may be words you would list as “sub-categories” in the menu example above. But there should be more than just sub-category words. If you mention people, books, locations, resources, organizations, etc., be sure you list them as a tag, too.
  • Plan to post (a “post” is any entry to you make on the blog – a photo entry, a written entry, a video entry, etc. – also don’t say “blogging” when you mean writing) three times a week. But if you know you won’t be able to maintain that level, start off like you can finish. If once a week is all you have time for, consistently, then be consistent more than frequent.
  • Post to all of your networking sites at once. For example: when you post an entry on your Posterous site, you can designate that it immediately notifies your Twitter followers and your Facebook friends. If your website is developed enough, you could have an RSS feed from the blog that shows up on the website to notify of a new entry. And, as mentioned, if you have a “subscribe” option on your site, followers could also be notified by email.

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