This short guide to blog infrastructure outlines some of the basics for how to choose a platform and make best use of basic blog features, so your blog will encourage interactions with your high-priority readers. Most brands and people use blogs for content marketing, but it competes for pocket change and leaves the bills on the table. Here you’ll learn how to organize your blog, so it engages readers more deeply by relating to them in distinctive ways. Before delving into some bits and bytes of blog software and features, I’ll outline a new way to approach engagement that changes the rules, which are themselves a kind of infrastructure.
One: A New Approach to “Engagement”
Content marketing and marketing automation are incrementally better than mass communications because they use digital data and robust software to “micro-target” content to audiences. By analyzing audiences’ digital activities, marketing automation software sends them content that its algorithms determine has a high probability of being relevant to audiences’ buying journeys. Content marketing tries to attract audiences with relevant content, too. These principles underlie the structures, strategies, and tactics of most blogs.
Here’s how to change the rules to make your blog stand out. My client work has consistently shown that people have secondary interests in products, services, and brands. It’s likely that your stakeholders’ primary interest is getting something they want, for rational and emotional reasons—and they are willing to buy your product or service when they think it will help them get something they want.
Digital social interactions are the gold mine for learning the nuances of your stakeholders’ outcomes (goals), and their hopes and frustrations around trying to attain their outcomes. When your blog focuses on your stakeholders’ outcomes, it will be far more attractive and engaging.
Content marketing and marketing automation can be useful adjuncts to this principle, but too often their content is brand- and product/service-focused, so they are less interesting to stakeholders.
In other words, your blog will be far more attractive when its focus is on your readers, not as much on your firm, brand or products. You will be more relevant and stand apart from your competitors who are talking about themselves.
Two: Blog Platforms
If you don’t have a blog, you have an advantage because you can outperform from the beginning. If IT is cumbersome at your firm and you want to get started right away, consider doing a pilot on a free platform. Here are some of the main free platforms, which are hosted in the cloud, so you don’t have to install anything:
- WordPress.com is the free hosted offering from WordPress, the gorilla in the category; it’s superb. WordPress is also available, free, so you can host your blog on your servers; when you do this, you can use its immense ecosystem of plugins. I have extensive experience with WordPress, which also features good export tools, so you can move your blog elsewhere in the future.
- Blogger has fewer features than WordPress, but it’s integrated into Google’s products.
- Typepad is another solid choice, but it costs $9/month. I haven’t used it, but I know people who do.
- If you can self-host, you have a mind-bending choice of CMSes/blog platforms.
Here are some pseudo-blog options that have still fewer features, but they may be useful because they include large networks. They won’t give you a true blog experience, so the rest of this post won’t apply to them. They do offer basic formatting features.
- LinkedIn Posts have no categories and tags, and you’ll have little control over the content; however, LinkedIn broadcasts your posts to your connections, a very good audience if you have built your network with purpose. This effect is greatly magnified when your colleagues/employees also share your posts. LinkedIn Posts can only be authored by individuals, not company pages. Example
- Facebook Notes function similarly to LinkedIn’s Posts; very basic content control and no categories/tags, but Facebook shares your Notes with individuals’ Facebook friends and Pages’ fans/likes. Example
- Tumblr is bloglike but it has very few content management features like categories and tags. Its algos purport to help get members’ posts shared, and it has explicit sharing functions. Its edit functions are rudimentary. Example
- Medium is a newbie launched by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone in 2012. The general concept is enabling people to contribute longer form (than twitter), and it has Twitter-like features, so users can vote up posts and share with their networks. It has in-line commenting, too, and some amazing formatting features. Example
Choosing a Platform
The most important thing is to not let technology get in the way of launching and connecting with the people who matter most to you. I launched my first blog on Serendipity, which is open source and requires more techie patience than the others. I have since migrated all CSRA’s blogs to WordPress because it’s very robust, and its tools and plugins consistently lead the market. As with other platforms like Apple’s mobile devices and Facebook, strong developer ecosystems add tremendous value.
Another advantage of WordPress, both self-hosted and WordPress.com, is that it has good export tools, so you can move your blog fairly easily. I have done this a few times. It exports xml. Here are some references that compare WordPress, Typepad, Blogger, Tumblr, and others:
- WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Which Platform Rules?
- Blog Platform Comparison Chart + commentary
- Typepad vs. WordPress- Pros and Cons
- Still more
I do not recommend one of the pseudo platforms for your main blog because they won’t allow you to use the magic of a full CMS (content management system). As you see, I use them all, but in supportive roles.
Three: Categories and Tags
Categories and tags are a critical part of your blog’s infrastructure, even though this probably won’t be obvious at first—because you don’t have posts, and you can’t see the power. Let’s take CSRA’s website as an example. It’s a WordPress blog that I host myself. CSRA’s clients are global enterprises in numerous industries, and our main business is management consulting in disruptive technology, currently social media and social business. As of writing, we have over 450 posts and dozens of (separate) pages.
- We use categories for industries. Therefore, I can give people in my network a link to review only our posts in healthcare, financial services, or government.
- We use categories for enterprise functions, so people can read about B2B sales, B2B marketing, or human resources.
- Tags are more granular, but the idea is the same; our posts usually have one or two categories, but they have many tags. For example, culture, customer, and CMO. You can combine tags, hence cmo+customer.
- Now, think of your salespeople. They can easily share your thought leadership with individual links. This what a solid taxonomy does for you.
Using Categories and Tags
Develop a taxonomy of categories and tags that leverages the understanding you developed when you did your social business strategy. You want to marry topics that pertain to stakeholders’ workstreams and how you are relevant to workstreams and outcomes. Here are some guidelines for setting up your taxonomy:
- Don’t worry about getting your taxonomy perfect. Expect to distill it over time. WordPress makes it easy to change categories and tags of single posts, or groups of posts.
- Generally, use categories as “main topics” and tags as “mentions.” Categories are the main ideas of posts, where tags map to topics that are mentioned in the post.
- When doing your taxonomy, consult your SEO team because categories and tags rank very highly in search engines. However, remember that most SEO teams don’t understand your stakeholders and workstreams; they usually have an ecommerce perspective. It’s more important to use tags that correspond to keywords that your stakeholders use when they are talking about workstreams.
- CSRA’s main blog can serve as an example; however, it’s best to start with a small taxonomy and build it over time. WordPress also enables nesting of categories, so when you select the category dropdown in CSRA’s left sidebar, you’ll see our category taxonomy (“Themes”). Keep in mind, CSRA has hundreds of posts, so our taxonomy is extensive.
- I recommend starting with 7-10 categories and four times more tags. Don’t force the tags, let them increase over time. Select words for tags that are specific and map to workstreams.
- CSRA’s tags are called “Topics”; you can mouse over each one, and most browsers will show how many posts are tagged with each tag. It is down in tag cloud format, so the size of text indicates which tags are most prevalent.
Plugins are available when you host your own WordPress site. There is such variety that I can’t do it justice here. Plugins are somewhat analogous to Facebook Apps; they change the functionality of the main platform in some way. Most are free, but they appreciate contributions. Here are some of the main ones I use and why:
- AdCodes is a plugin that displays images that change with each page load. For example, the main image on the top left sidebar and the Social Channel App “ads” in the right sidebar.
- WPTouch makes rollyson.net very mobile friendly on major smartphone platforms.
- WordPress SEO is integrates into the blog post creation screen and guides you in maximizing the SEO of each post and page.
- Tagline Rotator changes the tagline in rollyson.net’s header image.
- Posts in Page enables me to syndicate categories and tags into rollyson.net’s pages. For example, the Chief Digital Office page features our last nine posts on digital transformation, right on the page (“CSRA Chief Digital Officer Posts”).
- Akismet is WordPress’s own plugin that’s expert at combatting spam.
- Many plugins for security, firewalls, etc. WordFence, NinjaFirewall, LoginLockdown.
- Buddypress and WP Symposium Pro Social Network enable you to create a social network, right within your blog.
- bbpress enables you to create a forum, right within your blog.
- There are hundreds of plugins that enable automatic sharing via Twitter, Facebook and others. I use Shareaholic because it lets readers share with any platform at a click.
- Even more plugins here.
- When creating your blog’s infrastructure, ground it in your social business strategy, which marries your stakeholders’ workstreams/outcomes with your firm’s core competencies. Your stakeholders/readers will find you very relevant when you orient to their workstreams and outcomes.
- Don’t promote your company and products. Only mention them within the context of your posts to add value to readers.
- If your team has members who are familiar with blogs, self-host if it’s not a hassle with IT. If you don’t, start with WordPress.com or Typepad, so you can migrate later. WordPress.com will enable you to create full categories and tags; Blogger only has tags, and its blogs aren’t exportable to other platforms.
- I listed plugins to show you some of the power of WordPress. Some of them are relevant right away. The security plugins are a must, immediately during installation. If you’re on WordPress.com, Blogger, or Typepad, they police the platform for you.
- I invite your questions in comments.