One of the most effective ways to highlight the benefits of your city or town is to create a blog on your community website. A few possible purposes include:
- Creating a welcoming and positive culture
- Showcasing local businesses and services
- Highlighting popular or yet to be discovered local attractions
- Keeping the community informed and engaged
- Increasing tourism and regional development
- Getting your town found in the search engines
- Creating a respected brand for your town or city
Your city or town website will undoubtedly include all the information for a long-time resident or a first-time visitor to find what they need, from how to pay the water bill to the locations of the Independence Day fireworks. This is one of your website’s objectives. But, to add a more personal touch, a one-to-one conversation that will make your hometown stand out, regardless of its size, consider adding a blog.
Your town or city blog, in conjunction with an active and informative website, turns you into an online publisher. You are now your own media channel, no longer fighting for publication or begging for attention, but done right you can control the message, improve your reach without spending marketing dollars on advertising, and become the resource that everyone relies on for relevant information. If you do it right, you’ll also become the resource that your constituents look forward to reading.
What should you write about?
That will depend on your primary goal. You might end up with multiple goals, but for starters, pick one. Using the example bullet list of possible purposes above, let’s say we decide our purpose is to begin by showcasing local business services, and you think you can also include some of those popular local attractions at the same time. Great. Now what?
- Brainstorm for ideas. Gather your staff, order a pizza, and let the ideas roll. No judgment. Record all the possible ideas. Depending on the size of your town or city, you could end up with hundreds of possibilities. That is great. Now you have a list from which to choose for months, possibly years, to come. It also gets your staff engaged; they can help you with research, photos, and stories to go along with your blog post, which each is essential. For a list of possible blogging ideas, check out our 51 content ideas for your municipal blog.
- Survey your audience. Sometimes we think we know what is important, valued, or worrisome to others. Often we would be wrong. Our perspective might be far different from those in other cultural or age groups. What is on the mind of a mother of small children is likely to be far different from that of a retired baby boomer. Conducting surveys can provide tremendous insight into the types of topics that will be important, interesting, and engaging for your readers. Your website is just one way to gather the kind of information that will help you understand the best way to communicate with your constituents. Your blog will also become a great resource for valuable feedback from your readers by occasionally including a brief survey (possibly related to your blog topic) or just by inviting comments on your blog.
- Narrow your ambitions. At least regarding the number of topics you will write about in your blog. If you try to cover everything, you will dilute your message, your brand, and your reader engagement. Pick three to five categories that would be interesting to a broader swath of your town’s residents, and spend the first year or two focusing on those categories. This will help with your content planning, grow your expertise in those areas, and even improve your search engine optimization (SEO).
- Create a content calendar. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll do this when you have time, or you’ll never do it. You will want to decide how often to post and then develop a plan for how to get it done. For example, if you decide to post a blog once a month or once a week, go to your calendar and schedule a deadline for when you will have that month’s blog completed and ready for posting. Then add the day the post will go live. If you need to block out writing time, do that as well. But do it! Consistency matters here.
- Encourage staff engagement. Sometimes the folks who really know what is going on are those on the front lines. That is why we recommend including your staff in your brainstorming session of possible blog topics. Once you have your list of topics for the next year or quarter, post it where your staff can see it. Ask for their help on the research, photos, history, stories, anecdotes, and even testimonials. Done in advance, when your deadline approaches, hopefully, you’ll have stories, background, and photos to include.
Blogging best practices
We’ll keep it simple here, but there are some areas you need to do correctly from the very beginning if you want to have a blog that serves its intended purpose (and you get to select that purpose). So begin by striving for the following:
- Quality over quantity. Make your blog worth the click through. The more successful blog articles, regardless of traffic and reader engagement, are those in-depth, engaging, and informative posts. It may mean posting less frequently but producing the highest quality article you can is the smarter choice. High quality, long-form (2,000 or more words) that is comprehensive of your topic will earn you more inbound links and shares than shorter, more frequent posts.
- Be natural and conversational. Consider your audience and envision having a conversation with one of them. Avoid jargon and terms that people outside of your work environment wouldn’t understand, and that includes acronyms. Don’t be afraid to use contractions for its more informal tone. Remember your blog goal. And, it shouldn’t be to impress the community with how erudite you are. Avoid passive voice, please!
- Be consistent. As we mentioned above, create a content calendar, make a plan, and stick to it. Writing one blog post and then not adding another for months (or years, which we’ve seen) does more harm than good. It indicates that you are not paying attention, your website is out of date, or you stopped caring. And we know those are not the impressions you want to give. Consistency will not only highlight your thought leadership but will also build your reader base and those social shares.
- Audience first. Write about what matters to your targeted audience, not just about what matters to you or your municipality. For example, if your primary audience for a blog topic is to encourage tourism or promote buying locally, don’t talk about the need for the tax revenue for your city’s budget, but talk about the benefits to the local farmers and the fact that fruits and vegetables are more nutritious (because they are fresher when not shipped cross-country). Talk about how much profit is circulated within your town when shoppers visit your excellent Mom and Pop retailers or restaurants and how your community members benefit. If you aren’t sure what your targeted audience wants or needs, use surveys to provide their perspective.
- Proof your work. While your blog is likely going to be one person’s thoughts, it should still be accurate. Your blog is part of your town/city/municipality brand. You won’t want to dilute your Stirling brand with errors, typos, or other careless mistakes. If necessary, hire a copy editor to proof your work before posting. It won’t cost much and will be well worth the effort since we often fail to see our own mistakes because our brain already knows our intention.
- Integrate your blog with your website. Your blog will likely become the primary source of traffic from search engines and social media. Some of your blog articles may be the first online visit someone makes and their initial introduction to your town. So, make sure your blog is part of your website. Tie in your town’s website domain as in yourtownwebsite.com/blog or blog.yourtownwebsite.com rather than a stand-alone blog site. It gives visitors a chance to learn more about your town or city after reading your blog post. You should also be sure your blog is easy to find within the navigation of your town’s website.
- Use a variety of mediums. A blog is typically all about the words (text), but think about your blog’s purpose and your audience, and see how adding some variety can enhance your message. Are you talking about the unique, quaint bed and breakfasts available to visitors? What about inserting a slideshow of images for those picturesque locations to engage your readers? Are you using local residents’ words to let outsiders know how awesome your local schools are? Try converting it into a video for a much more convincing approach.
- Be generous. Because your blog is online, be generous with links to other resources and informative articles or videos. Be sure those links open in a new browser window so you don’t lose your visitor who may not be able to find their way back to you. You will not only be considerate of your readers (by sharing lots of great information on your topic), but you will earn much more SEO clout by the generous use of outbound links. Of course, when you can link to great information on one of your previous blogs or your website news page, it’s even better!
- Refresh older blogs. Some of your blog posts are considered “evergreen” in that they are not related to a time-stamp or a season or event. These blogs can provide you with excellent traffic and engagement if you keep them current. So, every so often, spend some time refreshing the content on these popular blog posts to keep them working for you. If it is a good blog, go back through it and update any information that might have become outdated. For example, if it references a statistic that is now four years old, get the new data and update the blog. If the information you share has changed, correct it. Then, if your blogs are posted with a date and your refresh has brought your blog back from the dead, post the more current date. That way no one will ignore it as outdated information.
- Monitor engagement. Your blog posts will become exciting to you when you begin to see comments and when your audience engages in conversations (often among themselves). This is great, but you need to monitor your blogs, or assign that task to someone with very clearly defined expectations so you are well represented. If left unattended, it is an invitation to spammers looking for a way to drop links into your site. You can either use an approval process (so you see the comment before you allow it to post) or you will need to monitor the comments. It is also great PR to interact with the comments (which will be a lot of work if your blog becomes popular and generates lots of comments). When you engage, as in all social media responses, be prompt, honest, and respectful. Don’t be afraid to show a bit of personality (assuming that personality is civil and courteous, of course).
Some blogging benefits
A consistent blog (that people learn to rely on for information or entertainment) will provide invaluable benefits to your community. The return on investment (ROI) can be significant. For example:
- Establishes expertise. For your municipal leaders, you will show that you are invested in your communities and care about what goes on. For those elected officials, this matters year round and not just during election cycles.
- Extends your audience reach. Everyone has a social media reach today, and when you write a blog article that they enjoy or it covers something they are proud of or a topic near and dear to their hearts, they will share it on their own social media channels. Now you’ve gone from an unknown to a respected and shared audience.
- Humanizes your brand. While your website should carry the bulk of the weight for straight-up information, your blog can show the personal side of your city government. It can also increase your town’s likeability quotient.
- Drives traffic to support inbound marketing. If you are utilizing the marketing approaches for the digital age in which we live, you’ll be implementing inbound marketing (sometimes called content marketing or digital marketing). Your blog can be a major driver for the success of your inbound marketing efforts. (Our sister site, School Webmasters, provides details about inbound marketing in Part I and Part II for more detail. The strategies are the same for schools as for municipalities.)
Like nearly everything else in the world, it takes hard work to be successful. Blogging is no different. It takes time and effort to create a respected, successful blog. Blogging can establish authority through the content you generate and earn respect and trust from your constituents. It drives many long-term results in establishing thought leadership, building trust with your community members, and building marketing success.
Give it a try!
Posted by Bonnie Leedy, CEO