Blogs provide a powerful publishing platform, while social media tools facilitate broad awareness and engagement. Blogs are by no means dead, but the best use of blogging tools has changed. If you've built up an active community around a blogging platform, such as Blogger, I suggest you keep it going. But to understand how - and why - blogs changed, it helps if you know a bit of history.
A history of the social web in fewer than 150 words
Once upon a time (1989 for those of you seeking historical accuracy), Tim Berners-Lee created web pages. People loved web pages and made lots of them. Web pages grew into websites.
Many people wanted to read the newest information first and to comment on what they read. Websites evolved into weblogs by the early 2000s, where people wrote posts and comments. (Blogs were so popular that people transformed a noun into a verb: "a blog" became "to blog".)
By 2013, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ achieved wide adoption and more than half of the adults in the United Stated owned a smartphone. People now share "nuggets" of information (e.g., photos, status updates, short videos, links, and/or location info) to these social networks using smartphones. Social tools also enable private discussions, within companies or among collaborating groups.
Blogger.comLike blogs, Blogger.com has changed over the years, but still retains some fundamental features. The Google tool remains free to use, doesn't require you to display ads, and also lets you remove the Blogger-branded title bar. Blogger offers several themes from which to choose, although you may also customize the site's look by hand - editing HTML or CSS. Some of the themes adapt well to mobile devices. Blogger also supports permanent Pages in addition to blog Posts.
No matter what blogging platform you choose for your organization, there are some basic best practices to keep in mind.
Tips for organizational blogs today
Tip 1: Provide authoritative info
Blogs today are best used by organizations to provide authoritative information about products and services, and their effective use. Social networking tools are best used by organizations to raise awareness, respond to inquiries, and engage in discussion.
For example, Google blog posts typically are one of four categories:
- Product announcements: e.g., the Google Drive blog announced changes to user storage limits
- Usage tips: e.g., the official Google blog provided Android security tips
- Case studies: e.g., the Google official Enterprise blog shared the story of a company deploying Chromeboxes in a retail store
- Company news: e.g., both Google and Waze posted notices of the Google acquisition of Waze
Tip 2: Segment blogs by audience interests
Make sure your posts focus on information relevant to the user: what might be relevant for one audience might only confuse another. For example, the Google Developers blog provides information for a highly technical audience, while the Google Drive blog tends to provide more user-oriented information. Sometimes cross-posting information to multiple blogs is acceptable, as Google did with the post "An improved DevTools editing workflow", which was posted to the Developer and Chromium blogs.
You can map individual Blogger.com blogs to their own unique domain: Project42.yourcompany.net and Project314.yourcompany.net could map to blogs for each project, respectively. Google provides support pages that walk you through the process to map your domains.
Tip 3: Blog posts are the new press release
You shouldn't send press releases anymore: you should publish a blog post, then promote it using social media. (I'll concede that you still need to maintain an opt-in email distribution list.) You can create Blogger posts from the web, or from Android or iOS apps. And, you can provide links to any related files shared publicly, such as photos or PDFs stored on Google Drive.
Tip 4: Comments are optional
Originally, blogs were all about discussion. But with the advent of social networks, more folks are turning comments off. It may sound a bit odd to do that, but the logic is sound: social media tools are for engaging, blogs are more about publishing. Matt Gemmell had a nice write up about this, titled "Comments Off", in which he encourages people to write replies on their own blog or respond via Twitter. (Blogger provides controls that let you disable comments, either for the entire blog, or on individual posts.)
Comments are where the integration of Blogger and Google+ gets interesting. By linking the Blogger account to Google+ Comments, you get the best of both worlds: the post remains authoritative, while the Google+ social network enables discussion. For example, the July 24, 2013, Chromecast announcement was posted to Google's blog, with all the discussion occurring via people's Google+ accounts.
The right tool for publishing? Discussion?
The next time you hear people calling blogs dead, pull out this post and point to Google's use of blogs. Create a blog for a product line at Blogger.com. Use a blog post to share product info or replace an old-fashioned press release.
Tell me how you think the role of blogs has changed by commenting below, or sharing and commenting on this post on Google+ or Twitter.
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.