Guest Post by Shanan Sorochynski
Okay, you’ve had nearly half a month to sink into 2011.
You’ve steadied your nerves.
You may have decided that this is the year you finally run that marathon, visit Paris… or get your boss to listen to your idea about launching a blog.
Good for you!
Image: Heather Phillips via Flickr, CC 2.0
If you landed on the latter hopefully the following helps you out.
I manage the University of Regina’s blog. When I built a case for creating it, I focused on showing how the site would be a greater asset to our institution than the internal print publication I managed.
With budgets the way they are, I don’t need to tell you that the option to have both is becoming rarer and rarer. It’s either/or.
Side note: In the beginning I didn’t refer to the site as a “blog” to anyone. I always referred to it as something like “a website with dynamic content and social media capabilities.”
I found that when people heard the word “blog” their heads seemed to immediately fill with images of dancing cartoon babies and funny cat photos.
It was a lot easier to present a new idea than try and get the listener to un-learn an old one. Anyway, onward…
Here are a few key points:
Will your project help your department’s bottom line? By switching to a blog we saved printing and distribution costs.
Yes, a blog still costs us in terms of time. Sure. But that was the case even with the internal print publication… unearthly, jaw-dropping amounts of it.
The switch from print also meant that we didn’t need to hire outside writers and other professionals to deal with the overflow of work. Our community was now creating the bulk of our content.
Meets the organization’s goals
Your project needs to fall in line with your organization’s goals.
Environmental sustainability is one of the pillars of the University’s strategic plan. So pitching the merits of going paperless was a no-brainer.
If you aren’t measuring your progress, how do you know if you are successfully meeting your goals?
With Google Analytics I can see if people are engaging with our blog’s content and then use that information to adapt to the preferences of site visitors.
Efficiency. It’s a good thing.
New audiences mean new opportunities.
The blog gave us a chance to connect with people based on their subject interests, not just their relationship to the organization. Someone sitting in Brazil, for example, likely won’t randomly search out our institution.
Image: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr, CC 2.0
But, they might find us if they are searching for information about climate change, cancer research, computer science, etc.
My favorite thing to do in the morning is check Google Analytics to see where our site visitors are coming from.
It’s nice to know there are people from across Canada, US, and the UK who read us.
But, Brazil? Tanzania? Those are readers I know weren’t on our print distribution list and I can see that they are engaging with our content.
Another benefit is that our blog content providers and their networks take the content right to people they feel will be interested in it.
That wasn’t necessarily the case with our print publication. We mailed out copies, put them in drop boxes and hoped people would read them.
Guidelines and comment moderation can keep your blog from descending into chaos.
Fears about the types of comments that could appear on our blog seemed to be quelled by the fact that I was going to moderate the site and post a set of participation guidelines.
There would be recourse if a discussion went off the rails.
As of this posting the University’s blog has only been live for less than four months. But I’m happy to report that so far *knock on wood* I’ve yet to have any problems.
Even with contentious issues, commenters have been respectful with each other.
These are only few of the things I used in my argument.
What would you add? What did (or does) your boss need to hear in order to give you the green light?
Shanan Sorochynski manages the University of Regina’s first official blog: YOURblog. Previous to this she was the managing editor of U of R Report, the University’s faculty and staff internal publication, and a print journalist in Manitoba.
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“Side note: In the beginning I didn’t refer to the site as a “blog” to anyone. I always referred to it as something like “a website with dynamic content and social media capabilities.”
I like that quote for two reasons:
1) Many people don’t consider how people unfamiliar with blogs (or the internet in general) will interpret the word “blog.” You have to consider you audience and present it in the most effective way possible. Perfect example of that.
2) I was watching “The Big Bang Theory” last night with my wife and we got a kick out of one of Sheldon’s quotes came to mind after reading that: “I can’t say that all senior citizens who can’t master technology should be publicly flogged, but if we made a public example out of a few of them, it would give the others incentive to try harder.”
Of course that quote was said and used in jest, and I’m not insinuating that Shanan’s co-workers/company leadership are a bunch of “old people”, but I think it’s a relevant insight to the chasm younger generations often have to navigate to successfully communicate with generations who didn’t grow up immersed in the tech world like we did.
Great blog post, blacks for sharing!
@JMattHicks shanan_s “Many people don’t consider how people unfamiliar with blogs (or the internet in general) will interpret the word ‘blog.'”
SO true. I contacted a small biz owner whose products I really liked, and had come across unexpectedly, to see if she’d be willing to do an interview with me for either WUL, wgbiz or ownersonly. Initially she declined, thinking I wanted to sell her advertising (side note: you just KNOW how good I’d be at that. ;P) – and then when I clarified, she was so pleasantly surprised and all for it.
And this is someone who’s been running an e-commerce store for at least three years and, I think, a very smart person. As immersed in SM as we are, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is.
As an English major I felt a bit dirty lingo-ing it up “dynamic content” “social media capabilities” *shudder* But, the language was . . . . and forgive me for nerding out . . . . like Frodo’s cloak of invisibility. . . . it got the blog safely through Mordor.
PS I laughed a little too loudly at that Big Bang Theory line when I heard it too.
@Shanan As a PR major, I can understand why you’d feel that way about the “lingo,” it’s sort of like spinning, but it’s not really spinning it all. What it IS is effective communication. It’s simply knowing your audience and tell them what they need to hear how they need to hear. No shame/guilt in that.
@Shanan @JMattHicks “Frodo’s cloak of invisibility.” LOVE it! I might have to borrow that, Shanan!
@JMattHicks Well that’s good to hear. But, I’m going to miss all the chocolate cake that went with that guilt. :)
@Shanan Go for it anyways, it’s okay to spin reasons for eating chocolate cake ;)
Really interesting read, Shanan. In the four months that the blog has been live and replaced the print publication, how do you think it’s doing in terms of an audience, when compared to the “dead tree” version? I know there is obviously much more interactivity, but I’m just curious.
Also, did you have any pushback on dropping the print version, or did you try to do it in phases, e.g. cut back on the frequency and prepare your audiences (both internal and external) for the transition, or anything like that? I imagine it must have been frightening for some people – at least on the internal side – to realize that this wouldn’t be there one day.
How long did it take you to convince your boss and make your case? And congrats for succeeding… as you can tell, you’ve whet my appetite for more!
AUDIENCE The greatest success has been with the external audience. Reaching new eyeballs is nice. But, hearing from people, having them engage with us has been wonderful. Universities are funded by tax dollars, donations and tuition, so making that connection with people is really important. We need to show them the value of the institution (and post-secondary institutions in general). It’d be great if they all wanted to take classes here and write donation cheques. But, I’d be just as happy if they made education and research an election priority. I’m still working to properly engage our internal audience. Which leads me too . . . . .
PUSHBACK No one was outraged with the print publication disappearing. I heard a few comments along the lines of “Awww. But, I really liked reading that.” (which was nice to hear) But, once the internal community knew that they were still going to have access to similar content they were fine.
When the fall semester started we notified campus that we were shifting gears. There were emails to campus, letters to donors and alumni . . . . then promotion for the site ie. an ad in our alumni magazine, a note in our alumni e-newsletter, posters around campus (my experimentation with QR codes), print ads, Facebook ads, etc. etc.
One criticism I have, however, heard consistently from members of the internal community is that they sometimes forget to check the blog. We have an email subscription. But, people need to sign up for it. I’m researching the idea of possibly producing a quarterly “Best of the blog” type e-newsletter that would go to campus. I think it might be an effective way to both remind people of the site and connect with new faculty, staff and students.
TIME I’ve been advocating for approximately three years for a blog. It took maybe a year or so before my boss, at the time, saw the project as more than simply an interesting idea we should eventually pursue to something that we needed to accomplish. We are a very busy office. I think it’s difficult to stop and reassess the gears of the machine when the gears of that machine are spinning as hard as they are day-in and day-out.
@Shanan Wow, this is a really great case study, Shanan. I’d love to see the QR code posters.
@Shonali I’m always happy to share. :)