Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of posts dedicated to helping Libraries’ faculty and staff use blogs as an effective publishing tool. The first, a post by Beth Snapp on the IT blog, Carousels, Drop-Down Menus, and Forms: Little Known Features of OSUL Blogs, is about the mechanics of working with WordPress. The second, Beyond the Nuts and Bolts: Blogs as Publishing, presents strategies for developing and maintaining an effective blog. In this installment, blogger extraordinaire Caitlin McGurk shares tips for writing in the blog environment.
Caitlin McGurk here, Associate Curator for Outreach & Engagement at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICLM). I was honored when Melanie asked me to be a guest blogger for Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries to share some helpful tips on how to create a successful library blog. Thanks, Melanie! And thank you, for reading.
First, some background-
I have been working for BICLM for about 4 years, and at the very start of my time here I noticed what seemed like a big problem with a simple solution. As all Special Collections libraries find, the very essence of our “specialness” unfortunately puts us in a position of limited visibility and access by the nature of our restrictions on material use. In an era where libraries–and archives in particular–must deal with the gradual decline of use and necessity to students due to the digital world, it’s more important than ever that we find a way to speak our users’ language and show them our ability to remain relevant and engaging. At BICLM, I immediately addressed this issue by launching a blog, a Facebook page, and twitter feed – all of which have grown to have mass impact and success. Within the first 3 years, we had over 119,516 “unique” blog visitors (which does not count individuals who have continued to visit the blog multiple times), with an average of 35,789 visits per month. For one particularly successful blog post, we have had over 28,788 views! Clearly, we were onto something. Since then, we have launched Instagram, Tumblr, and Vine feeds as well.
But beyond simple statistics, we were finding that these social media and blog interactions were not only raising awareness of our library, but helping to build and support the collection and research use. On multiple occasions, we have had someone find a blog post of ours about a cartoonist relative of theirs, or a general interest of theirs, and it has led to them making a donation. We’ve also had researchers from around the globe tell us that they came here to look at something they found out about through our social media or blog posts, which is incredibly rewarding. But perhaps the biggest reward that we’ve seen from our digital outreach is the intellectual discussion that it stimulates, the sharing of ideas and new discoveries among seasoned scholars and newly minted comics fans. It has become our way of remaining engaged with the community, despite having to keep the collection behind closed doors.
Below, I’ll share some basic tips for leveraging the success of your blog:
- Be consistent: While it isn’t at all necessary to update your blog every day (or every week), I would highly recommend that new content be added at least once a month. We’ve all had the experience of looking up information on the web, and discovering that the site had not been updated since the previous year – and I know that for me, that is always an immediate warning sign that the organization I’m looking into is either defunct or not willing to invest the time in engaging with remote audiences online. With this monthly schedule in mind, remember that not every post has to be an exhaustive one – even an image or two with a brief summary of why you’re sharing them is enough to suffice.
- Find your voice: When writing for a blog, always keep in mind that your readers are not the scholarly audience that you may be used to, nor would you want it to be limited to them. I like to use what I call an “informed-casual voice” when writing online, which exudes a certain familiarity and lightheartedness while also asserting my expertise in the field, in a way that is not alienating to the reader. This may take some practice, and I believe that there is no better audience to rehearse it on than willing student employees, who have grown up on internet reading and can view it from their peers’ perspective. Have fun with what you’re posting – and remember that if you don’t sound excited and interested in it, your readers certainly won’t be either.
- Always use images: We are living in a very visual culture, especially as more and more of our communication, writing, and reading takes place through screens. There is nothing better and simpler to use to grab someone’s attention than an interesting image. We can instantly know whether or not a blog post will be of interest to us if there is an image representing something that strikes our fancy, or at least intrigues us to want to know more. Beyond that, it’s also a mark of professionalism and effort. If you are posting about an item in the collection, or an event, don’t be afraid to have someone in the picture as well – statistics have shown that internet posts with images garner nearly 90% more engagement (ie. likes, views, favorites) than those without, and even more so if there is a person in the photo. But most importantly, try to take the best photo you can – nothing says unprofessional like a blurry image.
- Stick to the (fun)facts: While it’s easy to get wordy when we’re excited about a post we’re making online, remember that many readers will be engaging with your posts while they have a few spare minutes at work, on breaks, or viewing from their phone. Meaning, get to the point as quickly as you can, use concise and lively language to pull the reader in, and don’t weigh the post down with academic jargon or long-winded details. While some posts (such as conference/event schedule listings) will by nature need to be longer, try not to write anything that takes longer than 5-10 minutes to absorb at the very most. The best part about blogging is that you’re in control of your own publishing platform, so if you have more to say, save it for another post! When deciding on a title, also remember to not be too wordy, and to think of it as “clickbait”, a headline whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to particular content.
Hope you found these tools helpful for making the best posts that you can – happy blogging!
Associate Curator for Outreach & Engagement
The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum