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Answering Reader's Question: Can you give me a little information about the blogging section of your Web site?

Apr 3, 2007 • blogging, general, wordpress

A reader asked me the following:

Hi Tom -
Can you give me a little information about the blogging section of your Web site?

I'm a member of the [...] chapter of STC - and I'd like to help add blogging to our Web site.

Can you give me some pointers on how you developed your blogging pages?

- Is this a home-grown program?
- Are you using a commercial program?

I'm just starting to learn about this - I'd appreciate any help you can give me!
I haven't discussed this with our chapter council yet - I just wanted to do a little investigation first.

I love getting questions like this. First, I did write an article in Tieline called "Adding a Blog to Your Chapter Website." The article appeared in April 2006, so it's been a year since it was published. You can read that to get a feel for the general advantages and disadvantages of blogging.

A number of other chapters and SIGs now also use blogs. Check out how they're using them.

Getting Started

WordPressTo add a blog to your site, you can choose from a variety of software, such as Drupal, Typepad, WordPress, or Blogger, but I recommend WordPress for its ease of use, flexibility, and popularity. WordPress has a tremendous development community behind it, and new themes (design layouts) and plugins (functionality extensions) appear daily. It is one of the hottest blogging platforms available today, and will allow almost infinite customization. WordPress is what I use for this site and for the Suncoast chapter site.

Challenges Ahead of You

If you use a blog for a chapter site, you'll run into several challenges:

Page Organization. If you have more than 50 static pages with information that rarely changes, it may be tough to organize the information using WordPress's traditional setup. With the Suncoast site, I actually have an Ajax shelf to organize my pages. If you click the Open/Close Menu link in the upper-right corner, you'll see the shelf slide down. Although WordPress is a content management system, if the majority of your content consists of static, unchanging pages, you might consider a more traditional CMS instead. WordPress excels when you have dynamic content -- i.e., frequent new posts. It is, after all, blog software.

Collaborative Publishing. One advantage of using a site like WordPress is its collaborative publishing capability. Do you have several other members willing to post content? Certainly get your employment coordinator on board, as well as your chapter president, newsletter coordinator, and events coordinator. As more people are enabled to publish, the site gains momentum and will take off. Collaborative publishing also eases the burden on the webmaster.

Make sure everyone understands their roles and commits to publishing material. You'd be amazed how many technical communicators, who make a living explaining complicated material, won't spend two minutes to learn how to publish information via a blog. Before I became president, our previous president would often send me info to post on the blog. I always encouraged her to post it herself. About a month before she moved out of state, she finally posted something herself, and then said, Wow, that was really easy! I can't believe I didn't post earlier. So you might want to hold a meeting to familiarize your members with the ease of publishing.

Two Sites or One? Your blog will probably feature announcements, meeting info, job listings, newsletter articles, and other chapter information. What will you do with the old site? Much of the information that would go on a blog might also appear on the traditional site. I think in the long run, the best solution is to ditch the traditional site and use the blog as a content management system to deliver all chapter information. However, you certainly don't have to do that. Many sites include a blog as an addition to their existing site. Both setups work well. It just depends what kind of information you're pushing through your blog. If it's redundant, merge them. If it's extra, keep them separate.

Embracing New Opportunities

Using a blog as a chapter site offers some definite advantages over traditional websites:

Increased Relationships with Members. One of the coolest relationship-building tools is a president's blog. STC Atlanta's Holly Harkness maintains the best president's blogs I've seen. I imagine her chapter members must love it. If you get your chapter president on board with blogging, it can be a powerful tool to connect with your members.

Podcasts your Chapter Meetings. Distributing audio content is easy with a WordPress blog. Just install the PodPress plugin from Mighty Seek, and it embeds the audio player and even syncs with iTunes. Look at this presentation from Susan Burton we just published. Recording and distributing your meetings in audio form is one of the best things you can do for the STC community.

Decentralization of Information. When you allow all members to register and publish, and you've just capitalized on more than a hundred resources for information. You don't have to delegate all information to a one webmaster. Instead, everyone can share and collaborate. At a chapter meeting, take a minute to show everyone how to publish, and encourage them to submit announcements, jobs, and other information.

RSS Feeds for Members. RSS feeds allow members to receive up-to-date information when it's posted. You don't have to send out monthly newsletters via PDF. Members can see content in their newsreaders when new info has been added. You can also use Feedburner to distribute email notification of the new posts.

Virtual Chat Sessions. If you add a live shoutbox like Pierre's Wordspew, you can actually hold virtual chats with your members. This might be helpful for remote administrative meetings or simply for virtual meetings with your members.

Technical First Steps

You will have an initial learning curve as you find your way around WordPress. But learning WordPress is also a lot of fun and can even be addictive.

To set up your chapter blog using WordPress:

  1. Go into your website's cPanel (if you have one).
  2. Click the Fantastico icon (blue smiley face).
  3. Install WordPress. You can see a video on installing WordPress here.

If you don't have Fantastico, you can install WordPress the traditional way. See these instructions on the WordPress Codex.

After you get the blog up and running, start reading the Getting Started section in the WordPress Codex.

You'll also want to find a suitable theme and add some plugins. You add themes and plugins by downloading them, unzipping them, and uploading them into your wp-content/themes or wp-content/plugins directory. Then you just select or activate them from within WordPress's administrative panel.

You will also need at least these two tools: 7-Zip, for unzipping plugins and themes, and Filezilla, for uploading files to your directory. After you install 7-zip, just right-click any zipped file to unzip it.

When you can't figure out how to do something, search the WordPress forums. The best way to search is to use a site-specific search with Google. In Google's search box, type keyword, where keyword is the topic you're searching for.

Note: I included links to a lot of blogs here. If I linked to you, would you consider sharing any advice to this reader? How has adding a chapter blog changed or affected your chapter?

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.