Chances are that you read a lot of blogs these days, even if you don’t know it. Hell, you’re reading one right now, so you can’t claim you don’t.
A blog—a truncation of the original phrase web log or weblog (a recorded list of written entries posted online)—provides an online platform for telling a story, usually chronologically (a history, as it were).
The first blogs were essentially online diaries, but since then the platform has been used to host the musings of the average Joe to articles from today’s most influential journalistic organizations. Indeed, newspapers are essentially ink-and-paper blogs.
In its basic form, a blog is a written work that comes with a title or headline, the body or text, an author, a time stamp, some categorization or keywords, and a hosting location. So, a blog is essentially a list of fields, the most important being the body, or the content of a post. It’s basically made to be in SharePoint. Know what I mean?
So why does that matter to you? And why would Microsoft provide not one, but two options for blogging within its SharePoint environment? Funny you should ask.
Why blogs are useful
I know what you’re thinking: “Why would anyone ever read my blog? They don’t want to know what I do.” I thought that originally, too.
But it became all too clear to me over time that blogs are a great way to keep a centralized history (there’s that word again!) of communications, updates, and important messages.* The introduction of a blog in your organization can offer a significant upgrade over whatever you’re currently doing with respect to internal communications, IT status updates, rollout of new business processes, facilities maintenance, changes in HR policies… the list goes on.
Better communications and increased transparency
Blogging has become a great way to communicate internally within an organization. You can blog at the individual level (where employees may describe what they do and how they do it using their personal blog) or the organizational level (where a department may pass on updates and messages to the rest of the company or team using their central blog).
By posting all of this content into one place—or, in separate-but-similar blogs—you’re making information easier to find and more likely to be read. In the end, you’re creating smarter, better-informed employees.
Blogs also provide the opportunity for employees to like and comment on the content, increasing transparency still. These things put together have a major impact on morale. If you feel you’re being communicated to effectively, you are a more satisfied and loyal employee.
You really can blog. Let’s think about this practically: If you send a lot of email, to a lot of people, and the information you’re sending isn’t sensitive, but more informational in nature, SharePoint is probably a better communication tool than Outlook. That said, the email communication can continue (though it doesn’t need to); you just link to the blog in your announcement email rather than include the content there.
Or, better yet, your recipients can subscribe to your blog and automatically receive updates via a SharePoint alert or by subscribing to the blog directly in Outlook. In some cases, it’s beneficial for you to place the onus on them. In others, it’s another method to ensure the greatest readership of your message.
I promise you, the more you start to think of your own communications—and especially those of your department, team, or organization—the more you’ll see a blog as a reasonable upgrade from the ad hoc communication pathways we’ve all used in the past.
This is especially true if you work in a service organization where you provide tools, services, maintenance, or anything that actually affects the ability for others to work or transfer capital.
Anyone working in communications, marketing, human resources, information technology, facilities or property management, payroll, accounting, or research and development should consider using a blog to communicate with stakeholders.
Personal benefits: what’s in it for you
You blogging is equally positive for both your employer and you. As you develop and share content, you build a running history of your work. People start to take notice. If you’re blogging with other members of a team, your team is noticed as a group of individual professionals rather than a faceless organization. With one more click to your My Site, they can read more about you, find out who you are, and figure out what makes this voracious author tick.
Most importantly, you become an authority in what you do. Trust increases. Management eventually notices. You have public proof of your expertise and utility to your employer. And you even have hit counts to prove it. Hit counts, to me, are one of the few reliable data-based resources to include in your annual performance evaluation. Almost nothing else compares.
Your company benefits because you’re implicitly documenting what you do and how you do it. If and when you leave your position, that information is still available for your replacement. You’re organically improving knowledge management within your organization every time you click the publish button.
How SharePoint blogs work
Two blogging options
A blog site is its own SharePoint site template that supports blogging functionality and can be created under any already-existing SharePoint site in your network. Blog sites are available in both SharePoint on premises (as early as SP2007) and SharePoint Online (SPO). A blog site is useful for organizations that want to begin posting updates, regardless of who the author is.
Use permissions that make sense. If you’re running the internal communications blog, all of your communicators should have edit access to the blog so they can post updates when necessary. The blog itself is the source of truth because the communications department is publishing there, but the individuals are being recognized by posting under their own names.
You automatically receive your own personal blog within your My Site in SP2013 and SPO. The personal blog is useful for providing updates on what you are working on, documenting how you do your work, and even ad hoc musings or thoughts on work and life. The personal blog is useful when you want to share your thoughts, but they don’t necessarily represent your department or organization.
How to do it
Follow these directions to post to a blog from your browser. You’re able to draft a blog right in the web browser and save it to publish later, if you’d like. You can sign up for alerts so you’ll know when someone comments. Plus you can go back and edit your post, add or remove categories, etc. after you publish. And the publish date doesn’t change.
Personally, I prefer blogging from Word and publishing my posts through there. I don’t trust the formatting to work correctly in the browser and Word does a much better job in that respect. Instructions are here. You have to do some setup the first time you use it, but after that you can draft, save, post, and everything else straight from Word.
You can even email a post to your blog, but I don’t trust that method. Like, at all.
CEO or management team blog
Every CEO, president, and general manager should have a blog. Or at least s/he and their cabinet of highest management team should have a group blog that they post to. If you’re in the communications area within your organization and your leadership lacks this communication tool, they’re making a mistake. Posting about relevant (and even controversial) subjects provides a view into the thought process of upper management and gives employees the opportunity to comment on the topics du jour. In my experience, transparency is what buys the most loyalty and the greatest increases in employee morale. Blogging is one of the most basic ways to be transparent. If that idea scares you as a leader, then maybe it’s time to reconsider your role in the organization.
Department and team updates
Every information technology, human resources, payroll, accounting, communications, and marketing team out there has a reason to have a blog. It doesn’t matter how small your groups may be. Keep your people updated, and do it regularly. Email gets lost in the shuffle. Your blog is a written history of your team. Frankly, it’s sometimes the proof that you exist. Here’s what you should consider:
- Information technology: Any time you’re introducing new software, post about it. Provide use cases, training, links to videos, etc. If you’re going to be taking the systems down for maintenance for some reason, blog about it. Don’t get complacent. Never assume your readers know what you know.
- Human resources: Any time you issue a new policy, it’s worthy of a post. When benefits election period comes around, have a number of posts ready to publish every Monday for the few weeks before the period starts. Highlight the changes. Prepare a frequently asked questions list.
- Payroll: Any payroll department better be ready to talk W2s between December and April (at least in the United States). Post articles providing tips and best practices for doing your taxes or finding an accountant. Remind them how to access their W2 online (we always forget!) or when it will arrive in the mail. How do I change my withholdings again? Tell me, with a post once in a while reminding me how to update my W4. If you’re not communicating, you’re standing in the way of your employees getting the most out of their tax return. And repeating your message isn’t a bad thing.
- Accounting: You guys always want your invoices in on time. But let’s say I don’t travel often. Or I forget how to submit my invoices. A regular reminder post with training and best practices could save you a phone call or two and make me more self-sufficient. And let me know the Monday before the Friday when invoices are due for the quarter. Sure, you can email me, but I’ll probably lose it. I can’t lose a blog.
- Communications: This is your bread and butter. Rather than publishing press releases to PDF and hosting them in a document library, just post the content directly into a blog. (You can always publish the release as a PDF and link to a “printer friendly” version from your blog.) Don’t take my word for it. The president does it.
The best part about this—for the organization as a whole, maybe not you if you’re the author (says the cynical side of me)—is the opportunity for your readers to ask questions. Maybe you weren’t clear. Maybe you made assumptions. And yes, maybe your readers are ignorant and stupid. But at least you can answer the question publicly and not receive the same phone call twenty times. (And giving the idiot a public wrist-slapping can be rewarding.)
Research and development log
Blogs were originally online diaries. And what are laboratory notebooks other than a professional diary? Add a blog under your research team site (or just create one separately if you don’t have a team site) and start posting the results of your experiments there. Maniacal laughing and unkempt white hair sold separately.
Here are a few ways to make sure your content is the most effective.
- Be engaging. Write in the first person. Be informal. People like to read things that are written the way you speak. Provide your opinion, presuming you feel comfortable doing so.
- Use the right words in your post title. Clickbait is a thing for a reason: it works. Just don’t go all out baiting your readers. Make your headlines interesting, concise, and worthy of that coveted click. Use action verbs. Make use of effective title words. At this point, it’s all about good marketing.
- Include graphics. I can’t stress this enough. Human beings respond to images, even if they’re the most pointless and irrelevant intrusions you can imagine. At worst, a graphic breaks up a wall of text; at best, it provides the thousand words we’ve always been promised. (Basically, do the opposite of what I did in this post.)
- Categorize. Use a sensible set of categories and stick to them. Both you and your readership with thank you for effectively using the category function as time goes on. Related content can be found easily by perusing various categories if you use them correctly. You can even create publishing series that use a unique category that you only use to tie specific posts together, in a chronological history. Also, your categories act as search engine gold!
- Encourage discussion. Blogs are so successful online because most allow for commenting. Ask for feedback. Encourage critique and suggestions. Let people like your posts or, better yet, rate them. (You can change the “like” option to a rating system from one to five stars.) It will help you learn more about what your readers/customers want and help them feel appreciated. It’s pretty common for readers to point out a better or more efficient way to do what you’re proposing, too.
- Time your posts. Good communications come with a communications plan. If you’re in a service group, plan to put out your posts when they’re relevant. And don’t feel bad sending reminders as a special date is approaching. Try to spread your content out ahead of time. Don’t get stuck with a dry spell for a month, then a bunch of posts in one week. You’ll lose your readers’ attention twice (once for lack of content, and once more for a deluge of it).
- Moderate your comments. Be prepared to remove inappropriate or awkward comments on the off chance that someone posts something like that. You can sign up for alerts to be informed when comments are posted. It’s important to allow for comments because a blog without comments isn’t really a blog, in my opinion. It also makes you look close-minded and not open for dialogue or debate.
- Use permissions. If the content of your blog is sensitive and should only be seen by certain people or teams, restrict the permissions to that site accordingly. Let people know that permissions are restricted by indicating so on the blog’s home page. It allows you the benefits of a blog without worrying about information being easily accessible to the wrong people.
- Name your blog. This one’s SharePoint-specific. For the love of all you find holy, rename your personal My Site blog. Its default name is simply “Blog”. It should be “<Your name>’s Blog”. But it isn’t. [sigh] It’s a separate site from your My Site profile, no different than any other SharePoint site. You can change the name easily by following these steps.
Honestly, the best practices relating to blogging aren’t specific to SharePoint. Hit up the Google sometime and see for yourself. There’s a lot of things you can do.
There are a few things you should be aware of when deciding whether to blog. You can read my description of those issues here.
*For the record, the positive implications of blogging mentioned here come about presuming you’re writing about your work and not the latest water cooler gossip. The latter can easily get your reprimanded or fired. Blog atcha own risk!