The OSU Libraries WordPress Users Group recently met to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart: multi-author blogs. As you may have gathered from my last post on the topic, I’m a big fan of the group blog format. It allows for a broader perspective on a topic and a range of voices, and good multi-author blogs are truly more than the sum of their parts. You may  have also noticed that I don’t recommend that everyone venture blithely into the group blogging realm, because it comes with a set of built-in challenges that some folks will be happier dealing with than others. Based on the Users Group discussion, here is some advice to help you get the most of of your multi-author blog.

What can a group blog do for you?

The major benefits to working with the group blog format are interest, connections, and efficiency. Having multiple authors can make your blog more interesting by incorporating different perspectives and writing styles, and allowing you to cover a broader range of topics. It may give you an opportunity to connect with people you don’t otherwise have many opportunities to work with – inside of your organization and elsewhere. Finally, if writing time is limited for you, or you find you are more adept at the editing side of things than the authoring one, facilitating other people’s posts may allow you to more efficiently create a great blog.

What won’t it do?

Having multiple authors isn’t a sneaky way to ‘outsource’ your blog, and it won’t necessarily cut down on the total time you need to spend on it. If you have an opportunity to contribute to someone else’s group blog, congratulations! Most of us, if we want to work in that space, need to make it happen ourselves, and will therefore find ourselves in an editorial role. Being an editor means that you will need to articulate a vision for your blog, set it up, do a bit of writing yourself, and then recruit content. And then recruit some more content. And then follow up with the folks you recruited so that they actually turn something in. Depending on your own work habits and the level of investment on the part of your authors, it can be just as time-consuming as writing content yourself.

Getting other people to write for your blog

The specifics of this will depend on your situation, but here are some general rules of thumb for successful content recruitment:

  • Invite lots of people. Invite a whole bunch at once, if you like! They won’t all say yes, and the ones who do won’t all be able to do it right away.
  • Give deadlines and follow up. If there isn’t a ‘natural’ deadline for a post (like an upcoming event), you can always ask your author when they think they can have their post written, and then send a gentle reminder when that date passes. Even if you have to re-set the deadline four times before you actually have a publishable post, it’s helpful to most people to have a due date, and it will make following up easier if you have something concrete to refer to.
  • Make it as easy as possible for your authors. If an author finds the thought of logging into a blog site and creating a post daunting, create the post yourself and make them the author, or let them send you the content over email and post it on their behalf. If they have stage fright about writing something so public without a formal peer review process (this is a common one in academia), offer to read their draft. You would probably do it anyway, but making the offer can allieve stress-related writer’s block.
  • Follow up afterwards. Say thanks. If you get any feedback on their post, or have access to usage statistics, pass them along to the author. If they feel like their writing was appreciated and had an impact, they are more likely to agree the second time.
  • Make use of the interview format: If there is a perspective you really want on your blog, but you just know they aren’t going to write a post, think about alternatives. Maybe they would answer some questions over email, or to talk to you on the phone about the topic. This involves more active writing on your part than just soliciting a guest post, and you will need to be sure they are OK with you posting the results, but it may open up some possibilities. The Copyright Resources Center did a nice job of this recently on their blog with their “Copyright in the Libraries” series.

Maintaining quality and consistency

We had an interesting discussion about how consistent in style and tone a group blog needs to be – some people like to maintain a consistent ‘voice’, no matter who is writing, and some people enjoy the variety of different writing styles. Wherever you fall on that issue, it’s best to figure it out up front and make your expectations clear. (Here’s how I did that for this blog.) You should also give some thought to what you don’t want on your blog. For example, how do you feel about the occasional typo? If you have a mental list, you will be able to quickly review submitted posts and fix anything that’s not up to your standards. At the end of the day, as the editor, you are ultimately responsible for all the content published on your blog, so it’s best to either review everything before it’s live, or make sure your authors are all on board with your agenda. To get you started, here are the things I look for when I review guest posts:

  • Copyediting (typos, mispellings, punctuation errors, etc.)
  • URL (make it short and descriptive)
  • Categories and tags
  • Organization (adding section headings to break it up, etc.)
  • Make it web-friendly (add links, images, the “read more” tag, etc.)

I will sometimes add an editor’s note, as well, if I want to introduce the author or add more context. Your list may be different – the important thing is to figure out what’s important to you.