Plan your blog

Screenshot of the blog of Abahali baseMjondolo - a grassroots movement of shack dwellers.

A blog is a type of website that is very easy to publish and to update. The name comes from 'web-log', the idea being that it is regularly updated with new ideas and events. Here you will learn how to set up and run your blog, and more about why this can be a dynamic and interactive way to build up your campaign and get your message across. 

One of the reasons that blogging is so popular is that setting up a blog and adding content can be as easy as setting up a web-based email account and sending an email message. One of the easiest blogging tools to use is WordPress (Read more). You could also look at Tumblr, which is even quicker to set up and use, but not quite as flexible. There is no harm in experimenting as you can always delete a blog you don't want to keep.

You can have a blog on its own, accessed through a URL like a stand-alone website, or you can incorporate a blog into your organisation’s website; this is especially easy if you are using a Content Management System.

A blog can include text, images, audio or video, along with links to other webpages and related media. You can use it frequently or occasionally. It is easy to create and maintain.

If you are running a small campaign and want to update your target community and peers about your activities on a regular basis, or if you are looking for a way to publish small pieces of information frequently, a blog could be ideal: much easier to set up and keep running than a website but similar for the user.

What's the difference between a blog & a website?

A blog is a website of a particular kind; the distinction between the two can be blurred. A blogging section can be integrated into a website, or you can create your website from scratch around a blogging template and Content Management System

Blogs usually contain regular entries, published like an online journal. The most recent entry is at the top.

Blogs are a dynamic option for your website; they give it personality and high search engine rankings. There are many benefits to be gained and you do not have to do it all yourself.

Some characteristics that differentiate a blog from a website:

  • Minimal technical skills are required – a blog can be easily maintained and set up. Wordpress allows people to set up a blog in 15 minutes at no cost. However, if you have never used the internet before you may need some help with setting up your blogand some help maintaining it at first.
  • Posts are published chronologically – a blog automatically arranges everything you post in date order, with the latest addition appearing at the top. It allows you to organise your posts by using categories and keywords that make it easy for you and your readers to find material on your blog. You can use as many categories and keywords for each post as you wish.
  • Posts are automatically archived – every post you make is automatically stored as an archived entry by date, and, if you choose, by category. Again this makes finding material simpler for you and foryour readers.
  • A blog can be interactive – readers can engage with you, the writer. This can be done in many different ways. For example,readers can leave comments on your blog and you can leave comments on other people’s blogs. You can make links in your blog posts to other blogs. Other blogs can also link to yours.
  • Content is easy to publicise – because of the way it is designed, a blog allows you to distribute and publicise your content throughout the internet.
  • Posts are searchable – because individual blog posts are easily distributed and publicised via the internet, searching for individual blogs and posts is much easier than searching for a website.
  • You can update them remotely – blogs are created and stored online. This means posts can be made from anywhere that has an internet connection. Everyone in an organisation can contribute; all they need is a username and a password. 

Why blogs?

Blogs make it easy to update a site regularly, to report local news and to conduct a local campaign on a global platform. They are also a great way to allow your audience to add their own comments, thoughts, experiences and resources, via the comments section.

Blogs help document campaigns and share information within a constituency. They can also be used as part of a focussed strategy for changing perceptions and myths about people and issues.

One of the reasons blogs are so popular is to do with the way Google and other search engines rank pages. Content that changes regularly, like a blog, is ranked more highly. The fact that blog entries often include many outgoing and incoming links between other websites also gives a higher ranking.

Blogs & the social web

Vast numbers of people are using blogs, social networking sites and photo and video sharing sites, and these are important marketing and engagement tools. Building your buzz in these spaces is a good way to recruit advocates to your cause.

Getting the right bloggers to write about your campaigns (blog outreach) is a good way to reach interested people. If you're working in human rights, you could start by contacting human rights-focussed bloggers.

You can also integrate your own and your stakeholders' social networking media feeds into your blog or website to keep it vibrant.

Build traffic and search rankings by exchanging links with relevant blogs and other sites, and remember that a personal request works best. A good way to start is by commenting on other blogs that are writing about the same topics as you. It's also a good idea to have a blog as part of your website; it's an easy way to keep the content fresh.

Learn what kinds of blog posts will attract traffic – sometimes it's as simple as using the right headline. Try to develop an authentic voice, and monitor your website statistics to learn what your audience likes.

Your blog can be a tool for getting your audience to focus on specific points and perspectives. To accomplish this, it is important to develop your content carefully. As with any media intervention, carefully define your audiences and message.

To make your blog more effective:

  • Identify your allies – identify those organisations and groups which are likely to support and work with you. You can link to them on the front page of your blog in what is called a 'blogroll'. You can also link to their content in your posts, and collaborate with them to produce content.
  • Use categories & tags – blogs allow you and your readers to assign topic codes to each post. Categories are managed by the blog authors, and are used to index or organise your posts into subject headings. You can select any number of headings for your blog; for example, EnvironmentHealthEducation. Although you can use many categories for each post, too many can be confusing. Tags are keywords that you can add which are not fixed, as categories are. Instead of working like headings, they are used to help searches and inform people about the content of your post. Tags are used extensively in blogging and on content-sharing sites such as Flickr and YouTube.
  • Choose your language carefully – choosing which language you wish to use on your blog is an important decision. Consider using appropriate local languages, although this must be weighed against using languages that may reach a wider audience, such as English, Spanish or French. In an ideal world bloggers could translate their blogs into a number of languages, for example a local language and a more 'international' language, but this creates more work and requires a higher level of technical skill and sometimes additional software.

Blogs are a way for rights advocates to 'think locally while acting globally'. They allow you to build visible relationships with other organisations throughout the world that are working on similar issues, and together to try and make the global conversation more inclusive.

Flexible usage & collaboration

A blog can be maintained by just one person, or it can be run collaboratively by as many people as you wish. Different organisations in a network or coalition can contribute to the same blog. Because of this, a blog can help to strengthen organisational cohesion and working relationships. This is true even if your organisation has a wide geographical reach. Because a blog can be updated remotely, and even simultaneously from different locations, you can be very creative and use it strategically.

Building a community through blogging

In many countries independent journalists and activists are creating an alternative form of mediain the 'blogosphere', using it to organise and to build communities. This is particularly important in countries where there is a lot of censorship.

In Egypt, the blogging community gives the opposition movement a key space in which to organise and tackle political and human rights issues that mainstream media do not cover. The Omraneya website serves as a central hub for the Egyptian blogosphere and citizen journalism community.

The Mzalendo blog in Kenya, was co-founded by the blogger Ory Okolloh. Its mission is to 'keep an eye on the Kenyan Parliament'.

In the Malaysian blogosphere recent developments have shown how influential bloggers can be in the political sphere. Jeff Ooi is a Malaysian IT consultant and activist who writes a popular blog known as Screenshots. Jeff was recently elected to parliament, partly because his popularity was enhanced by his successful blog.

The role of blogs and the popularity of blogging may change over time as social network sites and micro-blogging tools like Twitter become more widely used as tools for enabling conversations. 

Checklist – best practice for effective blogging

  • Choose your blog name carefully. If you use a name other than your organisation’s name, make sure it fits in with your organisation in some way. Changing your blog’s name is like starting all over, so be sure to get the right one.
  • Create an 'About' page with information about your organisation, the purpose of the blog, a list of contributors and any other key organisational information.
  • Keep your design simple; do not clutter your blog. You want to focus on content. Don’t add flashing icons or music, and choose two or three colours and a simple layout that is easy to follow.
  • Post often. It will take time for your blog to become known in the blogosphere. The more you post, and the more comments you make on the blogs of other people or organisations, the more your blog will become known. If posting often is not possible try at least to be consistent and organise a posting schedule so that your readers will know to expect new posts every couple of weeks or once a month according to the schedule you decide. Erratic posting loses readers.
  • Write good quality texts that readers can benefit from.
  • Try not to make your posts too long. Remember people are reading on a computer and not on paper. If you need to publish a long document you can set up a separate page on your blog for downloadable documents, which you can link to, and users can print out.
  • Revisit old posts. If you are writing about a particular issue, return to previous posts and build on them.
  • Get to know your readers. Treat them like friends, even those who do not necessarily agree with you. If they return it's because you are reaching them in some way.
  • Do not force people to register on your blog in order to comment. Most people won’t bother and will just go away. Keep your blog open and use comment moderation instead.
  • Read other people’s /organisations’ blogs and make comments. This will help to publicise your blog. By building relationships with other bloggers, whether locally or internationally, you create a community that will support you in your advocacy and campaigns, and you in turn can support them.
  • Publicity is important, which means you need to register your blog on a blog directory and contact sympathetic bloggers to inform them of your blog or even of particularly important posts. Bloggers are generally helpful, so do not be afraid to ask for support.
  • Change your blog in response to changing needs, audiences, political climates – or just because sometimes it’s nice, like changing the layout and colours in your home.
  • Do not use technology just for the sake of it. Use appropriate technologies. If your bandwidth, or that of your audience, is low, then do not use video. Use a podcast only if you believe audio is the best way to communicate a particular piece of information.
  • Support other blogs by adding badges and banners or by cross-linking to relevant posts.
  • Include a 'Contact Me' form in your blog or give your email address in your 'About' page so that readers can contact you. Always write out your email address in order to avoid spammers; for example, should be written: me at yahoo dot com.