So you want to start a blog?

February 11, 2011

7 Questions to ask yourself before starting a new blog

Recently, I was asked to help consult on starting up a blog for a non-profit company I help with. I know that it's extremely important to figure out a few details before starting up a blog. However, I'd never really thought about it myself, since in my day job I am a developer, and don't do much planning & analysis of the "why" side of websites. So, I started thinking, and I came up with a list of questions to ask the client about the strategy of the blog.

1: Why do you want to start a blog?

The most important question is, "why"? If you're thinking that starting a blog will get you instant traffic and notoriety, you're wrong. Like any site, a blog requires a lot of care and attention to make it successful. There is no panacea to instant success on the internet. Success comes through hard work and dedication.

Don't justify it to yourself, because that's easy. You have to justify your blog to your readers first. Why do they want to come back again and again and read what you have written. Some good answers to this question would be, "I'm an expert in my field, and I want to share what I have learned" or "I would like to make announcements about my product in a way that is quick and easy to maintain and grok". "I want to be able to engage with my users/customers" is also a good answer, as most blogs are informal, and have functionality to allow readers to comment on what you write.

This site would fail this question miserably, since when I started it the answer was "Because I want a website."

2: What is going on it?

The second most important question is, "what are you going to write?" The best blogs and websites tend to have a solid focus. Blogs without focus break down because readers wonder why they should keep coming back. Or you posted one thing they really liked, and haven't written anything about subject for a few years. If that happens with every single post you make, that's a bad thing. Pick one area to focus on.

My site would also fail this miserably, because the answer is "Whatever".

3: Who is posting?

This is pretty straightforward. You need to figure out who is posting. Is it you? Who else will post entries? Whatever the answer is, it needs to be made clear to all contributors, and what will happen if they don't meet the schedule. If it's just you, the site fails. If it's a company effort, maybe failure is getting replaced as a contributor.

4: How often are you going to post?

How often you post isn't as important as having a real schedule. A List Apart publishes two entries at the same time, each month. Blogs like MakeUseOf or BoingBoing post several entries each day. All are highly successful blogs. Their secret is simple: Post excellent content on a regular schedule that your readers can count on.

5: Who are the core commenters? and 6: How will you get them engaged?

Comments are a core feature of good blogs. They allow regular people to respond to and interact with your message, in a way that normal websites don't allow. Readers can't engage with a press release, but they can with a blog. And this kind of power can make your users more loyal to you and your company/brand.

Commenters are different from readers, because not all readers will comment. You want to give people a good reason to respond to you, to get them engaged in your blog. This will likely lead to them being more engaged in other areas. For example, some sites hold contests where they pick a random commenter and give them something cool. If done properly, it can even draw in new readers who haven't seen your site before.

7: What are you going to do about the crazy commenters?

There's always one. That crazy person who isn't a robot that keeps coming back and doing weird stuff. How are you going to deal with that situation? Are you going to swing the ban-hammer at them? Are you going to try to reason with them? Have a plan for dealing with the crazy commenters, because if you don't, their weirdness or negativity can affect the rest of your readers, and turn them away.

However, if someone has a legitimate complaint, don't silence them, ban them, or ignore them. That will only backfire and make you and your blog look bad. Honesty, transparency, and a thick skin are extremely important.