Your charity has a blog with a particular audience in mind. You write articles which you think will interest them, in a style and format you think they’ll love. But it’s not enough. You can’t expect people to read your blog as soon as you hit ‘publish’.
In this article, we’ll be looking at how your charity’s blog posts will reach your audience. We’ll discuss different ways to make this happen, and techniques to make the most of opportunities. Finally, we’ll look at how consistency and flexibility are both important to your blog’s success.
Like the previous blog in this series, this article benefits from insights from the people in charge of blogs at three of the UK’s best-known medical research charities. They are:
- Beckie Port, Research Communications Manager at Parkinson’s UK, who runs the Parkinson’s Research Blog;
- Katie Roberts, Senior News and Content Manager at Cancer Research UK, who runs their Science Blog; and
- Lauren Tedaldi, who has managed the British Heart Foundation’s research blog as Senior Research Communications Officer.
Different channels for getting blogs read
There are three main ‘channels’ for your readers to reach your charity’s blogs – Social media, Email, and Search. Below, we’ll look at each of these in turn, and then explore two bonus options.
As more people get their news via social media, it makes sense for your charity to be sharing your blogs there. Here are a few important things to consider.
Firstly, tailor the blogs you share to your followers on that social media network. We’ve already looked at blog audiences in the first part of this series. But be aware of what different ‘subgroups’ enjoy (or don’t enjoy) reading.
Beckie explains how it works at Parkinson’s UK. “We don’t promote every blog on social – our social team knows exactly what their audience wants, and often it isn’t a science blog. We’ll share a blog post on social media if it’s going to be engaging for a ‘general’ audience. This is typically topics which aren’t too sciencey, or which are in the public eye. For example, blogs about cannabis and Parkinson’s, or the GDNF clinical trial which was the subject of a BBC documentary”.
Katie from Cancer Research UK knows how different topics will be received on different social networks. “How we share it on social will depend on the story. Twitter is our main channel for blog posts, but we also do post some stories on Facebook. Results from clinical trials and science news tend to do well on LinkedIn. And if it has really strong imagery, we’ll post it on Instagram too”.
The way to find out what works for your charity is to test it. As Beckie recommended, speaking to the person(s) responsible for social media is a great start. Work together to figure out where and how to promote a blog on social media.
Use the opportunity
The second thing to consider is how to tailor the blogs to the social media network. Of course, you could copy the link to the blog and post it. But it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity when there are so many other opportunities to grab people’s attention – videos, images, and GIFs, or network-specific formats like Instagram stories or Twitter threads. And remember that occasions like awareness days or live-tweeting during TV shows can open up your blogs to a whole new audience.
As I see it, there’s two options when it comes to sharing your blogs via email newsletters.
Firstly, you could ask people to opt-in to receive blog posts directly (for example, by directing them to a page like this one *ahem*).
Most charity blogs have ways for people to get new posts sent straight to their inbox – including Parkinson’s UK, as Beckie explains. “One of the main ways we get readers is through our Research Support Network emails, where people opt-in to receive updates about research into Parkinson’s. We often sign-post people to sign-up at the bottom of our blogs – if they’ve reached this blog from Google, chances are they might want more.”
Secondly, you could ‘piggy-back’ on existing newsletters which are already going out to your charity’s contacts and audiences. British Heart Foundation has a range of e-newsletters going to different groups – supporters, volunteers, and researchers, – on which Lauren and her team can share a blog. This often means working around other teams’ schedules and tailoring the content to suit the audience of that e-newsletter.
One such e-newsletter is for the people who receive the BHF’s award-winning Heart Matters magazine.
“The people who receive the magazine are a super loyal audience”, Lauren says. “The newsletter that goes out to this audience has a slot once a month for ‘non-magazine’ content, so that’s where we might sneak a blog. The magazine team really knows who their audience is, so we have to work really closely with them to give them what they want”.
As before, the best way to do this is to speak to the person or team responsible for email newsletters. Work out whether there’s room for a blog on an existing newsletter, or space to create a new one for sharing blogs and updates.
In the previous part of this series, we discussed coming up with ideas for blog posts based upon what people search on Google. If you’re answering a question that people ask, chances are you’ll get some traffic from Google (and other search engines) to your blogs and the rest of your website.
Making sure that your blogs are optimised to appear high up the rankings of search results is known as search engine optimisation or SEO. It’s a science/art form that is beyond the scope of this particular article.
But as a long-term strategy, it can pay off in terms of attracting a readership to your blog, as Katie from Cancer Research UK explains. “The majority of our traffic to our blog comes from search. A big area for us is to optimise how our blog posts appear on search. We’re really lucky to have experts in the charity who help us with that, and to help us improve and do the best we can”.
If you’re doing regular blogging, it is worth learning the basics of SEO. One tip Lauren shares are to make headings as clear as possible, resisting the temptation to make ‘clever’ or ‘funny’ titles. “I love a good pun in a title”, Lauren says, “but it’s not helpful for the reader if they’re coming to you for the first time – and it’s not good for search engines either. If you want to put that ‘funny’ title in, put it halfway down the page when your reader is engaged.”
Again, it is worth speaking to the person/team in charge of your website, or an experienced digital copywriter, to pick up some SEO tips and how you can apply them to your blogs.
Share with colleagues in the organisation
An audience that is often overlooked – but crucial – is your internal audience. Much like your supporters, your colleagues and volunteers may also want to learn about your charity’s work, and read stories for people connected to the organisation. Sharing your blogs on your intranet (or even via email) can be a great way to help your colleagues learn more about research, in addition to other training opportunities you might provide.
This is one of the approaches that British Heart Foundation takes, as Lauren explains: “We did a staff survey a while back, and it showed that our colleagues felt happy to talk about our charity shops and CPR work we do, but not so confident talking about research. Sharing blogs through our intranet and staff training platform is a way to help BHF staff and volunteers feel more empowered.”
Responding to queries
You may have written blogs to answer questions that keep on coming up – so, by all means, use them as answers when people ask again. It can be a big time-saver, as Beckie explains: “People ask the same kinds of queries all the time, so when that question comes up again, we can say ‘Yes, here’s a blog about that’. It saves us having to redevelop the response every time”.
Consistency and flexibility – the key to building an audience
Advice you consistently hear about writing blogs is, well, to be consistent. But regularly putting out blogs on a strict schedule has its downsides as well as its advantages. It pays to be flexible too.
1. Consistency helps build an audience
If you post regularly, people come to expect your blog posts, and that there’ll be more to come in the future. “A schedule is important for your reader to know you are a consistent source of new information, and not to forget about you”, says Lauren.
2. Having a schedule helps with planning, and with working with others
Knowing you need to put a blog out every week means the process becomes more streamlined. It allows other teams who you’re depending on (e.g. colleagues working in social media) to know it’s coming, and so are in a better place to assist. This is helpful for working with external people too, as Beckie from Parkinson’s UK explains: “When co-creating or gathering content from experts, scientists, those with the condition and case studies we can say when we would like to publish a story. I find this helps with deadlines and prevents ideas from sitting on the shelf for a long time”.
3. Don’t blog for the sake of it
Quality is often more important than quantity. You set the schedule, but it’s not the end of the world if you miss it every now and then. “You always want to be able to stand by the content you are putting out”, Lauren says. “If it’s something you’ve cobbled together to meet an arbitrary quota, your reader will be able to tell!” Katie from Cancer Research UK agrees: “I would never publish for the sake of publishing. My personal opinion is that publishing fewer, high-quality pieces is worth way more than churning out stories.”
4. Make sure the frequency is workable.
Writing a blog and sticking to a schedule is hard work, especially with all the other demands on your time. It’s better to start off with a realistic schedule and increase the frequency than to start off too ambitious and end up having to reduce it. Also, think about how you’re going to gather ideas. “Thinking about what pieces you would publish if you were to start a blog could be a good litmus test”, says Katie. “If you don’t have that many ideas going in, it’s going to be hard to gain momentum and perhaps a blog isn’t the best thing to start”.
5. Be flexible when the situation demands it
Make sure you’ve got a steady flow of ideas coming into your charity’s blog. Sometimes, something will come along that you can’t control or predict – a big news story, for example. Reacting to these is a great way to get your views out into the world (or set the record straight, if necessary). In these times, you might need to ignore the schedule and focus on getting the message out quickly. “We have a schedule of planned blogs and then supplement with reactive or newsworthy content”, Beckie says. “And we are flexible, often moving things to make way for a breaking story.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on charity blogs. If you want to go back and read previous parts of this series, part one asks why your charity should have a blog, and part two shares where you can find ideas for blog posts.
If you want to share your ideas or ask any question, send me an email! I’d love to hear from you.
A big thank you to Beckie Port, Katie Roberts, and Lauren Tedaldi for giving me their time to chat about the blogs at their respective charities, for this and previous parts of this series.