Blogging as the backbone of a social media strategy

Cuyahoga County Planning Blog
Cuyahoga County Planning Commision Weblog

When developing a social media strategy, we start with a measurable goal, such as selling widgets, promoting events, recruiting students, sharing knowledge, collaborating with peers, getting customer feedback, or anything else that furthers our plans. Then we identify our target audience, determine where they are spending time on line, and develop communications tactics meant to reach them—on their terms, in the spaces they use.

This latter step is important because people tend to be more comfortable conversing on their home turf. They may also find it easier to make a comment on the page they're on than to click through to someplace else. But once our audience begins to connect with us, they also need to know where they can go to get more information. Thus we need to provide some sort of home base that centralizes our messages and provides them with a destination where they can learn more about us, buy our widgets, join our project, etc.

Ideally this is a destination worth visiting, a place that gives them useful informative content—not just a sales pitch.

They found you on Facebook, but where are you sending them next?

PIttsfield Township on Facebook
Pittsfield Charter Township 2010 Master Plan

Your home base could come in a variety of forms. For some it's a standard Web site, for others—like Social Media Chat (#smchat) and the Cleveland Social Media Club—it's a Ning Network.

As I discussed in Goal-driven social media strategies & tactics: how are you interacting with your target audience?, my home base is this blog. My blog is only one section of my overall site, but it's the section I link to most often when Tweeting, answering questions on LinkedIn, etc., because it's the place where I can send people to get specific answers. Once visitors arrive here, they can then easily explore other portions of the site.

Whether a blog is right for you depends on your particular goal and the nature of your audience, yet blogs, by their nature, offer certain features that work very well with other social media tools. Today I'll explore some of those features by walking through a potential use scenario.

Blogging for Government Planning

Social Media Outreach Presentation Slides
Social Media Outreach Presentation Slides

This past friday I had the opportunity to meet with government (and other) planners when George Nemeth and I presented Social Media Outreach: Communicating in the Online World to Enhance Planning in the Real World at the APA Cleveland Annual Planning and Zoning Workshop.

Currently planners get a lot of their feedback from community meetings or e-mail. It's sometimes difficult to get community members to come out to an event to discuss the various options for building a new bridge, developing a new park, moving a shipping port, etc. In order to increase community involvement, planners are exploring new ways to share their plans and gather feedback.

As I was researching the ways that planners currently communicate, it occurred to me that blogs would work well for this purpose. They offer an easy way to post news, share documents and gather feedback through online comments.

In speaking with the group I learned that while most planning departments have Web sites, very few are using blogs and social media. This is also true of the general population, but in the past year we've seen Facebook and Twitter become more mainstream. If a planning department starts now, they can get their social media plans in place in order to be ready as more and more of their community members begin to use the tools.

A social media plan for the fictional town of Ohtopia, Ohio

Let's pretend that we're the Planning and Zoning Department for Ohtopia. Our town, somewhere in northeast Ohio, has seen growth as people have been moving out from the city and into our community. As such we're working on a new town plan to enhance the town center, create new public spaces and reduce traffic congestion.

Our goal is to increase community participation in our planning process and gather feedback from as many community members as possible. To accomplish this we've decided to add a blog to our Web site then share news (and drive traffic to the blog) through various social media channels. Here's how that might work.

Ohtopia Blog

We can start the process by reviewing our goals, and assessing the needs of our target audience, to develop an overall content plan and structure for the blog. We can then establish an editorial policy to guide our writers and assign a person (or team) to write and publish the content, respond to reader feedback, and monitor social media mentions of our department and plans.

Using an opensource (free) blogging platform such as Movable Type or WordPress we can install a blog in a subdirectory of our main site, design it to match the look and feel of our main Web site, customize our menus and navigation based on our blog plan, and install Google Analytics to measure results.

Advantages of using blogging software for this project
  • Team members can add content without knowing HTML, so the site can be updated in a timely manner.
  • Entries are archived by date, so visitors can determine what information is most current and review how the process evolved over time. Such archives also form a historical record which may be useful for legal and other reasons.
  • Events can be added to a calendar listing, so they stand out from other posts. Event postings can also link to Facebook event pages, E-vite, or other event sites one may use for attendee registration.
  • Documents, forms and posts can be organized by categories and topics to make it easier for users to navigate and browse.
  • WordPress and other blogging programs provide on-site search mechanisms to make it easier for visitors to seach for specific topics.
  • Blogs produce RSS feeds which can be used to automatically post headlines of recent posts to other parts of the Ohtopia site.
  • Community members and local media can subscribe to the blog's RSS feed via e-mail, or by using a feed reader such as Google Reader, so they are kept up-to-date with the latest news.
  • Entries can be used to embed photographs, .pdf documents, videos and other materials that augment the text.
  • Visitors can leave comments on pages so that their feedback can be documented, archived and viewed by others.
  • Readers can share posts of interest to Delicious, StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter or other social media services to help spread the news. (Plug-ins such as addtoany provide buttons that make it easy for visitors to share our pages.)
  • The site team can share selected posts to other social media services to reach more of their community members.
  • Team members can create a commenting policy, then edit/moderate comments as appropriate for foul language or other inappropriate behavior.
  • Team members can respond to comments and use them to create an online dialog.
  • Blogs enhance search engine optimization (SEO) by letting us easily produce fresh content in an SEO friendly format. By publishing the blog on our own domain we can take advantage of this to gain more traffic for our overall site.
Editorial Policy

Our blog could be used to:

  • Announce town planning meetings/forums open to the public.
  • Publish summaries of these events including meeting minutes.
  • Upload maps, and planning documents.
  • Post plan recommendations with requests for community feedback via comments.
  • Alert the public to changes in planning and zoning regulations.
  • Distribute building, zoning and other forms used by the public.
  • Publish social media press releases complete with photos, video's planning documents and other information that will give media more details about our projects.

By using a blog we'll be able to publish our information in a more timely fashion and provide a forum through which our community members can respond to our plans and converse with us about our projects. Their comments and questions will also let us know what other information we should be publishing on the site.

Expanding our reach through social media.

Our blog will serve as our communications hub, but until we tell people about it, they won't know it's there. Through a combination of traditional and social media marketing strategies we can spread the word and reach out to our community.

The main audience for our blog includes local residents, residents of neighboring communities and local media. Secondary audiences include planners from other locales and others, interested in planning, who may learn from our process. To determine what social media tools to use we'll want to research the more popular social media services, and any niche services (such as a regionally based Ning Network), to see which ones our audience uses most regularly.

If our research shows us that our audience is primarily using Facebook and Twitter, then we can focus on those two services.

  • Create a Facebook fan page.
  • Position ourselves as a resource for news of local interest by posting blog entries AND other news of interest to our community—the core focus can be planning but we may gain more readers by also linking to news items related to economic development, sustainability, public art, etc.
  • Share photos of completed and in-process projects.
  • Make Facebook events for our public meetings.
  • Ask community members for feedback.
  • Link to main blog.
  • Join/fan other Facebook groups and pages that already appeal to our target audience, start conversing with them there (about topics related to those pages, not just about us) to build connections so we may invite them to fan our page.

Cayuga Planning on Twitter
Cayuga County Planning Department on Twitter

  • Create a complete profile with photo (or city logo), brief description of the department and a link to the blog. Also consider creating a special welcome page on the blog that is geared specifically to Twitter users and link to that rather than the main blog page.
  • Position ourselves as a resource for news of local interest by Tweeting blog posts AND other news of interest to our community, as we do on Facebook. As there may be an overlap between these audiences, try to avoid duplicating links shared via Facebook.
  • Use and related sites to find local Twitter users in our target audience.
  • After having made 10-20 Tweets, begin following members of our target audience including individuals and local media. Do this in small increments (25 or so) to build the list gradually. If you follow 500 at once and only have 5 followers, users may not follow back.
  • Follow back those who both follow us and who seem to have an interest in what we do. (But don't follow back spammers, and those who may be following just to build numbers.)
  • Visit the stream daily to respond to followers, reTweet links/posts of interest to our followers, etc.
Blogging and related social media tools work well together.

In our pretend scenario, our blog provides the bulk of our content, but we also use Facebook and Twitter to share additional news and to drive traffic to the blog. This is a fairly simple scenario—a fully developed social media plan might include other elements and details—but it does give us an example of how a planning and zoning department might use a blog as the backbone of their social media plan.

If your organization has different goals, or a different target audience, you may find that something other than a blog is more appropriate for your needs. Blogs are not a one-size-fits-all solution. But, in many cases, a carefully planned blog can provide a good foundation for your social media efforts.

To further explore the pro's and con's of using a blog as the core component of a social media strategy, I'll be a moderating a discussion of the topic on #smchat, a weekly real-time Twitter chat focused on social media. The chat will begin this Wednesday, November 18, 2009, at 1:00 p.m. e.s.t. Please feel free to join the discussion there, or share your thoughts below.

Blogging and Social Media Resources
Recommended Reading for Bloggers

Jeff Hershberger, who writes the blog, My Future Past, recently lent me Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters by Scott Rosenberg. I'm just about halfway through it now. If you want to learn more about the history and power of blogging, I highly recommend it. is also on Facebook

Need more Web tips? Fan the Facebook page. I'm posting 1 tip/link there per day to offer ongoing advice on Web design, marketing and social media—without overwhelming your Facebook stream.

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  1. One of the clearest cases I've ever seen for social media/blogging as part of a good business strategy! This is something I can show a client who is considering using social media, but is unsure of the procedures, staff time commitments, and ultimate benefits. Very effective step-by-step case study method, especially useful for those of us who want to increase our (or our clients') use of social media as a tool, but don't want to drill down deeply into the technology.

    Comment by Amy B — November 17, 2009 @5:45 pm

  2. Thanks Amy!
    Time commitments are the biggest challenge, but we can always tailor our plans to the resources available. Regularly coming up with useful content that serves the goal, listening and responding to our audiences and monitoring our brand/product/service/name takes time, but the tools themselves are easy for non-tech people to manage.

    In a scenario like this it is fairly easy to set-up a system that the client can easily maintain themselves, and they can consult with us for strategic help whenever they need it. One woman at the event said they'd recently started Tweeting and using Facebook and she was quite pleased to see how quickly they started getting feedback.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — November 17, 2009 @6:12 pm

  3. It's intriguing looking at your content and Simon's at and how you both say the same thing but with different contexts.

    Comment by Ari Herzog — November 17, 2009 @8:31 pm

  4. Ari,
    Thanks for sharing that link. I barely touched that aspect of it, but totally agree with Simon. While there is no reason one couldn't add to a regular site as often as a blog, most people don't, so they don't see the increase in indexable content that blogs do. RSS feeds, pingbacks, trackbacks and services like also come into play, in that they automatically alert people, sites and robots to the existence of new content so that it can be indexed more quickly.

    When I wrote SEO and reality: ranking first for ’subaqueous auto racing’ is only impressive if people actually search on that phrase readers and I noticed that the post was indexed within hours, which would probably not have happened with a new static page.

    I just Googled this entries title and saw that it has already been indexed and is currently showing up #1 in the search engine results page for the phrase (which makes sense because it's a very specific phrase and probably not something everyone is Googling).

    And of course when you combine the blog with social media, you spread the word quickly there as well. This entry has already been posted to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Ning, and has been reTweeted. (Oddly those Tweets aren't showing up, I'll have to check to see if something is wrong with ChatCatcher. Usually the ReTweet's show up in the comments.) In any case, a blog entry is often more quickly found than a regular page. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Comment by Heidi Cool — November 17, 2009 @9:04 pm

  5. @Amy, We totally agree with you, This post by Heidi is comprehensive and definitely worth showing it to clients. @Heidi- BLOG = Better Listing On Google, That's the reason why most of the people blog, its rare to find such informative blogs like yours which has so much analysis and content. Kudos!! Keep blogging. I especially love the part where you have spoken about Govt using Blogs to interact better with the community. Here is a link to our (Indian) Prime Ministers facebook page : Great Agenda set for tonight's SMchat and you have already covered most of the topics in this blog.Looking Fwd for #smchat tonight.

    Comment by SMMalerts — November 18, 2009 @1:18 am

  6. [...] Social Media Chat Agenda: #smchat (18th November at 1pm EST) Posted in smchat by smmalerts on the November 18, 2009 Tags: blogging, smchat Agenda: Blogging as the backbone of a social media strategy [...]

    Pingback by Social Media Chat Agenda: #smchat (18th November at 1pm EST) « Social Media Marketing Alerts — November 18, 2009 @1:31 am

  7. [...] Social Media 365 , Day 16 Summary of #smchat on Blogging as the backbone of a social media strategy Posted in Social Media 365, smchat by smmalerts on the November 19, 2009 Tags: blogging, Heidi cool, sm, sm365, smchat, Social Media 365, social media 365 project, social media chat, wordpress Day 16/365 of the Social Media 365 Project : Summary of Social Media Chat #Smchat on Blogging as the backbone of a social media strategy [...]

    Pingback by Social Media 365 , Day 16 Summary of #smchat on Blogging as the backbone of a social media strategy « The Social Media 365 Project — November 19, 2009 @2:32 am

  8. Thanks for the thorough analysis on social media/blogging for businesses. Our company is in the process of setting up a blog, but we still have much to learn and your post will help.

    Comment by Planetwebfoot — December 3, 2009 @1:05 pm

  9. Heidi, Great article and examples. From a marketing perspective Social Media makes so much sense for Communities. Your audience is very clear and it is a great way to "inexpensively" keep in touch with your community and letting them see how their tax dollars are at work. It truly engages them and lets them be a part on a day to day basis.

    Comment by Patty K. — December 4, 2009 @11:22 am

  10. Its highly informative. I would be visiting your blog hereafter regularly to gather valuable information. Web Design Company Chennai

    Comment by feroskhan — December 5, 2009 @4:55 am

  11. Great stuff Heidi. You are a Master at this! So lucky to have found you! Look forward to all your insightful and thoughtful web marketing information. I still feel like I'm staggering in the dark.

    Comment by Colette — December 23, 2009 @9:31 am

  12. Hi Heidi, I also run a small website project a UMTS Flatrate Blog and I am following your background information and your hints very carefully. Thank you very much for your effort! Merry Christmas :-) Daniel

    Comment by Daniel — December 24, 2009 @5:28 pm

  13. Colette,
    Thanks! The Web is both more simple and more complex than it seems. There's a lot to know, but when you feel like you are staggering in the dark, just take small steps. I've been doing this for years, but I still learn more each day.

    You are welcome, glad to be of help, and good luck with your blog. Fröhliche Weihnachten!

    Comment by Heidi Cool — December 24, 2009 @6:59 pm

  14. I agree, blogging and social media go hand in hand. Use your blog as your meeting place for all your social media traffic to visit and hang out.

    Comment by John Paul Aguiar — December 26, 2009 @8:38 pm

  15. This is great information Heidi, this page definitely getting a bookmark so I can refer back to it when trying to explain social media strategies to others. Thanks for taking to time to put this post together for us!

    Comment by Azterik Media — February 19, 2010 @11:10 am

  16. Blogging Is A Great Medium For Reaching The Masses.... Nice Work !! All The Guys Involved Did A Great Job!!

    Comment by Webbi Designte — March 3, 2010 @5:47 pm

  17. Very informative. Before, I thought blogging was just merely a medium where one could place his or her opinion, views and interact with other people in the web. It's only now that I realized that you are into something more because blogging helps generate additional traffic for your website, promotes and increase links for it. I will take time to read the suggested links because I desire to improved my SEO writing skills.

    Comment by Dave Richards — March 5, 2010 @8:07 am

  18. What an eye catchy article! I am very impressed with this article I have just read. A highly underappreciated but heavily trafficked method works just as well: the blog. If you get your product name out among many blogs, eventually, the word gets out. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. In any marketing campaign, the more you see the product, the more likely you are to be influenced by it, even if you don’t want to be. The takeaway: if you talk about something enough, people will listen (even if they don’t want to). Repeated exposure builds recognition. Jaiden

    Comment by Outsourcing Providers Philippines — July 1, 2010 @10:11 pm

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