Blogs are a common feature on the websites of many charities, including medical charities. They’re a fantastic tool for sharing news, stories and information, directly with your audiences. But blogs can be a lot of work to maintain. Coming up with ideas of things to blog about is one thing – getting people to read them is another.
Should your charity be investing its time in a blog?
Perhaps you’ve thought about starting a blog, but are unsure whether it would benefit your charity. Or maybe you already have one, but you have a hard time convincing your colleagues to take it seriously. This blog post is for you.
In fact, this is the first part of a three-part series about blogs at medical research charities. During the research for the series, I was lucky enough to speak to the people responsible for blogs at three of the UK’s best-known medical research charities, to get their insight and tips.
- 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.
Why have a blog?
There’s a few reasons why having a blog can help medical research charities, all of which are interlinked.
- Providing an expert voice – a blog is where charities can show they are the experts in their area. Help your audience by commenting on the latest news, or explain difficult concepts in an easy-to-understand way. Blogs help your charity become the ‘place to go’ for people seeking information about your cause. “More people are getting their news online, and are more interested in where that news comes from and the accuracy of that news”, says Katie Roberts, from Cancer Research UK. “It’s really important for the charity to position itself as a place where people can get accurate information.”
- Building trust – related to the point above, blogs can help raise awareness of your organisation and the work it does. They help demonstrate that you are an organisation to take seriously. In the long-run, building trust with your ideal audience keeps your charity at ‘top of mind’. If they feel like supporting a charity, yours is a natural choice.
- Strengthening community – blogging can strengthen the relationship with your different audiences, such as patients, supporters, researchers, policymakers, volunteers, and so on. Answering their questions and keeping them up to date on issues which affect them is a great way to keep them engaged with your charity.
- Generating traffic to your website – blogging is great for search engine optimisation (SEO). Answering the questions that people are searching for online will bring people to your website, and in turn, increase your charity’s audience.
What role does it fulfil?
Of course, there are a lot of ways to achieve the points above. Where does your blog fit into the rest of your charity’s communications?
The one-word answer is ‘content’. As Kirsty Marrins explains in her article for Lightful, “You know how you’re constantly looking for interesting and relevant content to share on social media with your audience? Well, hello! Introducing ‘the blog’.”.
Katie also summed this up well. “I see our blog at Cancer Research UK as an opportunity to talk directly to our audiences about the things that matter to us and them – be that someone affected by cancer, our supporters, or more specialist audiences.”
Here are a few ways this can be done:
- Tell people what you’re doing. Your blog can be a place to tell your supporters what you’re doing with their money. Or explain your latest campaign in depth. You can announce changes to services. Many charities use their blogs to explain how they’re adapting during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example.
- Explain things in more detail – Your blog can be a place to provide more detail than is possible elsewhere. For example, you might have written a short comment on a news story. You can use your blog to expand on what it means (or doesn’t) for patients. Or help people to understand their condition better, as Beckie Port from Parkison’s UK explains. “One of the things our members have told us they need is up-to-date information about what’s going on. They want to understand more about what they hear news and put it into context. But also so that they know that there is hope, that research has a momentum.”
- Answer questions – the public and patients might have questions about the disease or condition, that your charity is in a great place to answer. Perhaps the questions are too niche for your general health information pages. Or not really ‘newsy’ enough for your news pages. Your blog could be the place to answer them.
- Share personal stories – one of the classic reasons why anyone might start a blog. You could invite supporters, patients, volunteers, or staff to tell their story. It provides a diversity of opinions and voices which might not otherwise be possible in the rest of your communications. It’s a great way to build a community, and show that you listen to and care about your audience. It’s also a place to tell people what you really think about the latest government announcement, for example.
- Encourage further steps – if someone’s prepared to spend the time reading a blog about a topic, they’re more likely to be willing to take action. If there’s something you want your audience to do, then a blog post could help to encourage them, with an appropriate call-to-action. “People read our blog because they want to learn about research into Parkinson’s,” says Beckie. “They might end up taking that knowledge on a journey, and end up getting involved in research themselves or shaping decisions about what research we fund.”
- A place for things that might not otherwise have a natural home. Other parts of your website might have more defined roles, but a blog can be anything you like. Perhaps you can put articles online from your charity’s supporter magazine. Maybe it’s a place for those stories that aren’t right for a press release, but which deserve a wider audience. Lauren Tedaldi from British Heart Foundation gives an example of a story about a man who was filmed having a cardiac arrest during a karate session. “It was very dramatic footage, and thankfully the man survived. When he wanted to share the story, we wanted to have a place for it on our channels at BHF. However, it wasn’t really ‘news’, so we put the story on our blog, and added some information about campaigns to teach CPR in schools, and some related research. It’s a very engaging and popular story that gets some important messages across”. However, be aware that there is a chance the blog could become a ‘dumping ground’ for stuff which your colleagues think is important but won’t excite anyone else.
Who are you writing for?
If you’re keen on setting up a blog, one of the most important things to consider is the audience – who is it for?
There’s no right or wrong answer. You could make the whole blog for a specific audience, or a post-by-post approach, where different posts are designed to satisfy different audiences.
one audience in mind
Beckie explains that the Parkinson’s UK blog is written for the charity’s Research Support Network. This is a subgroup of the charity’s membership who’ve specifically opted in for information about research into Parkinson’s disease, and how they can get involved.
They’re often personally affected by Parkinson’s disease, who have questions about treatments. Including treatments ones they already have and ones they might see in the news. The blog content often reflects this.
“We write the blog for the Research Support Network. In fact, it’s them who told us they wanted one”, says Beckie. “And because they have a desire to learn, it means we can go into a little bit more detail than we would in say our magazine, which is for our main general audience. But we are still explaining the science as simply as possible”.
Blogging for a broad audience
Katie explains that Cancer Research UK try to cater for as broad an audience as possible while tweaking it to tailor for different interest groups. There’s diversity, not only in the topics covered, but also in the various formats – personal stories, opinion pieces, analysis of recent discoveries, and in-depth features-style pieces which tackle broad issues.
For her, it’s crucial to write with an audience in mind, not just ‘anyone’.
“I think if there’s one key bit of advice for anyone thinking of starting a blog, it’s to really think about who you’re speaking to”, says Katie. “With any story, you can write it in multiple ways. It’s important to think about who might be most interested, and make small tweaks to really appeal to them”.
“I want to make sure that all of our posts on the Cancer Research UK science blog can be understood by anyone’s who’s interested. It is possible to talk about science to a broad audience without being patronising. And while giving the level of detail that more specialist audiences will benefit from”.
consider how people will read
A key test for Lauren when editing the British Heart Foundation blogs is to make sure that it’s engaging enough for a casual reader. “When it comes to deciding the level at which we write, I tell the team to write for someone who’s tired on the bus, flicking through a magazine”, Lauren says.
“If they get to a sticking point, where they think ‘oh I can’t be bothered’, then they’ll just move on. They won’t give us the benefit of the doubt, they’ll read something else, frankly. I even tend to edit blogs when I’m tired, to get into that mindset.”.
That’s not to say that blogs can only tailor for the general public. Plenty of news websites have dedicated blogs for people who like to keep up to speed on politics, business, fashion, or environmental issues. If your charity has a specialist audience that you want to reach with a blog, then you can tailor the content and language to suit them.
Oxfam, for example, has a ‘Policy & Practice’ blog which is tailored towards informing policymakers and assisting other organisations in the international development sphere, rather than their supporters.
So now you’ve decided to create a blog for your charity – how do you decide what to write about? I’ll be answering that question in the next part of this series on charity blogs.
A huge thank you to Beckie Port, Katie Roberts, and Lauren Tedaldi for their time and insight into the blogs at their respective charities.