How to Nurture Strong Relationships with E-news and Blog Readers
September, 2009More depth, less often (if necessary due to time constrictions), is the way to go with blogging (or your e-newsletter), asserts online communications expert Jakob Nielsen in his latest guidelines.
Nielsen, who's been researching and advising on the way we tend to use the Web and other online communications channels since 1995, advises bloggers to "avoid commodity status." Translation – prove your value to readers with insightful, pithy commentary rather than superficial patter limited to links to others' insights or comments on other posts. In doing so, says Nielsen, your nonprofit will succeed in building strong relationships with loyal readers, rather fleeting flirtations with "blog dilettantes" who skim 200+ blogs daily.
I think he's got something. How can anyone relate to so much information, especially when a lot of it can be found elsewhere online? And if your nonprofit just reiterates what your readers can get elsewhere, where's the value?
Where I disagree is Nielsen's insistence that blogs don't have value as a channel. He's a contrarian, so I take his claim with many grains of salt. I hold that blogs and e-newsletters do indeed have value: What's critical is that each one is used strategically in the way that fits best.
Let me share my experience... You may have noticed that my posts tend to be longer than those of many other bloggers. That's because rather than having something to say about everything that crosses my lens, I find it more useful (as do my readers, they tell me) to dig into what's really significant, frequently relating communications campaigns I come across in my "regular life" to nonprofit communications, analyzing a nonprofit marketing launch, or a news item that suggests an effective marketing approach.
On the other hand, I sometimes write two-sentence posts pointing you to a valuable article or some eye-opening stats. That's it, and that's enough, and results in a good mix of blog posts.
Again, I do believe in the value of parallel communications channels. A blog and e-newsletter are complementary. Nielsen is right, however, in insisting that the only way to differentiate your organization in this world of TMI (too much information) is to craft content that's valued by your target audiences, and that no other nonprofit can (or will) produce.
Your nonprofit's in-depth content simply can't be recreated by 99.5% of the other nonprofits out there. As Nielsen puts it, "A thousand monkeys writing for 1,000 hours doesn't add up to Shakespeare. They'll actually create a thousand low-to-medium-quality postings that aren't integrated and that don't give readers a comprehensive understanding of the topic – even if those readers suffer through all 1,000 blogs."
Or, as my husband says, "blog posts are like popcorn, dissolving the moment they're in your mouth, but in-depth news articles are like an ear of corn...something to really hold on to."
So when time and budget are short, as they always are, I'd go with a modified Nielsen approach. In-depth articles, published less frequently if necessary, conveyed via blog or e-news (why not both, readers have their own p references in terms of getting info), are more memorable and more engaging.
Use your blog as a complementary tool for short updates and calls to action, or to highlight nuances or insights that you get during your workday, and of course a link. That's the best of both worlds.
Most important to remember – content (perspectives, news, guidance) is your organization's most powerful means of showcasing your expertise and value.
P.S. One issue Nielsen fails to address is how to get your longer articles – delivered most typically via your e-newsletter – through email spam filters. My recommendation is to publish articles via e-newsletter, then add those articles to your Web site.
© 2002 - 2009 Nancy E. Schwartz. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing and communications. As President of Nancy Schwartz & Company (www.nancyschwartz.com), Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to organizations as varied as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Center for Asian American Media, and Wake County (NC) Health Services.
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