Five steps to encourage readers to blog on your website

How can you encourage readers to blog on your news website?

Anyone can start a blog, for free and in minutes, using established and popular services such as Blogger and What would entice a reader to avoid those options in favor of maintaining their blog on your website?

The answer is one word: community.

Most readers, like professional writers, want an audience for their work. Putting a blog online isn’t like putting a magazine on the rack at Borders. Starting a blog on Blogger, while technically simple, does little to put a writer’s word in front of a potential audience. Promoting the new blog remains the writer’s responsibility, and many fall short of the challenge.

Launching a new blog within an established website community, however, gives a new blogger a head start on promoting his or her work. Within the community, bloggers become the audience for their fellow bloggers’ work. And if the blogging community is part of a larger content-driven website, such as an online newspaper, non-writing readers can more easily find and become fans of a new blog.

Newspapers are embracing reader blogging as a way to both attract user-generated content (and increased page views) for a website, as well as to build loyalty among readers. USA Today has built ambitious social media initiative within its website, and other Gannett papers now are inviting their readers to blog with them.

But… if you are launching a new blog community, how do you get the bloggers you need to make that community an alluring place for would-be bloggers to launch?

Chicken, meet egg.

Here are five steps that your news website can take to avoid that classic dilemma, and to build an active and engaging online blogging community among your readers.

1. Make it easy

I don’t want to make this article an analysis of individual software tools that could power your blogging service, but it is important that whatever tool you choose, it be easy for readers to set-up and to use. You will find it difficult to build a critical mass of bloggers if readers must wait for your staff to manually approve each new account, for example.

Registration and initial set-up must be as swift and automatic as setting up an account on one of the other free services, such as Blogger and (If you are worried about abuse, make sure your tools includes a way for staff to close accounts and delete improper content easily.)

Readers should have an easy-to-remember, search-engine friendly URL for the home pages of their blogs, too. No one wants to tell their friends about their new blog at when they could opt for instead.

Your tool ought to support automated services to promote your readers’ blogs, as well, including automatic RSS feeds, as well as pings to Technorati and Google Blogs when readers post.

2. Don’t hide your bloggers

Readers’ blogs should be easy to find on the website, and not hidden deep within a subsection of some subsection. Follow a basic search engine optimization rule and link your reader blog home page from your site’s home page. Link individual reader bloggers (or, at least the best ones – see point below) from that page, so that they will not be more than two links from your home page. That will provide them a powerful PageRank boost in Google, as well as the ability to be found and indexed quickly in other search engines.

3. Reward readers for blogging well

Reward them with prominence. Create a process through which either your staff or readers themselves can designate outstanding posts for the blog front page, or even the front page of the parent website. Once you get to the point where you have too many bloggers to link individually on your blog front page, reward your best bloggers with those links (and their search engine value).

4. Establish topic-driven communities

With the first three steps taken, you have established a strong framework for your blogging community. But you still need readers to move in. For that, you need to inspire their muse by asking them to write about something that animates their daily lives.

The problem with inviting readers to “blog here” is the same one that confronts diners opening a 20-page menu. What to choose? Too many choices can inspire mental gridlock.

And if you want high-quality content, you need bloggers who are writing uninformed opinion, but about the rich detail of something interesting in their personal lives. Certain topics, therefore, better lend themselves to robust blogging communities.

A personal example: The blogging section on my wife’s violin website has attracted several dozen regular bloggers, while blogs on my theme park website drew few writers. (We used the same publishing tool on both sites.) Playing the violin is a daily activity, one that becomes a significant part of people’s identity. Most people visit a theme park just once or twice a year. It isn’t something that defines most people interested in the topic. So it wasn’t as attractive a topic for personal blogging as the violin site provided. That’s why we shuttered the blogs on the theme park site and the violin blogs continue to prosper.

There’s nothing keeping a general interest site, such as an online newspaper, from creating multiple blog communities around several different topics. Just because your site covers multiple beats does not mean that you must stick with a single, generic reader blog community.

5. Provide an example

We’ve written this many times before on OJR, but we’ll say it again: You cannot just build a user-generated content tool, and expect that people will come and provide great content. You must provide leadership. You must provide an example that readers can model. So you must have someone on staff blogging, using the same tool as readers, in the same content community.

Staff bloggers using a separate platform won’t have the same leadership effect on their site’s reader blogs as they would if they used the same tool as readers. That’ll just send readers the message that they are second-class citizens, and even being disrespected somewhat.

Of course staff writers ought to be producing better quality content, and ought to be given more prominence within the blogging community as a result. (One suggestion: Staffers get automatic promotion to the higher prominence slots described in step 2.) If a community is to prosper, readers need to a see connection between themselves and their community’s leaders. Writing on the same platform can do that simply and effectively.

Leadership also should include clear and consistent posted guidelines that can help prevent misunderstandings about what is fair game in the blogs, including rules about appropriate language and conduct. Don’t make all the guidelines negative, either. Guidelines can also suggest tips and tricks to help readers improve their observation skills, enable basic reporting and enliven their writing.

Reader bloggers can help deepen a publication’s coverage, with additional personal vignettes and original perspectives that staff writers wouldn’t be able to collect using traditional reporting methods and the same number of hours in the day. But a few moments of advance thought can help determine whether a new blogging tool will enable a vibrant community, or open yet another empty forum.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


  1. One problem: my website — — is 100% mine. I can (and do) post anything I please there, and if I ever decide to sell advertising on it, I am free to do so. I may not profit from it now, but that might change. Meanwhile, I’m building a valuable online “brand.”

    Now tell me why I should contribute free content to McClatchy, the publisher of my local paper. Sure, I posted some videos to their site (and won supposedly $500 in prize money, of which they’ve only paid $250), and other videos I’ve posted there linked to my side business, but now they don’t seem to post videos I send them at all, and calling or emailing the Bradenton Herald typically does *not* get a response, so I don’t know why. So now I have no incentive at all to send them my material.

    Now, if they or one of the other local print media want to *pay* me to blog (or make videos) for them, sure.

    But work for them for free? Why?

  2. Robin – In my opinion, the short answer is: building your online brand through acquiring dedicated readers may be more valuable than the small amount of money you would get for freelancing. No website exists in a vacuum. Online businesses require links and online relationships to grow. Posting of content on other sites gives your site exposure, prestige, and (to answer your question of “why”) new converts.

    This shift of monetizing content (your words/audio/video) directly to monetizing and growing services that deliver content (your site) takes a leap of faith.

    That said, the McClatchy example you provide doesn’t sound promising; no response to emails or phone calls is never a good sign. Also, if this site has a low readership, you’re not going to get new converts out of the relationship. You may be better off propagating certain content to a more widely-viewed site like YouTube.

    My suggestion would be to keep an open mind about creating unpaid content for other sites, and not be too precious with your content, but perhaps pass on this particular opportunity.

  3. I have to agree with Robin on this one–why should I want to give my content to a newspaper’s site? The newspaper then becomes custodian of my content. I might lose the right to re-publish that content, as well as lose the ability to migrate that content if I choose to strike out on another CMS. What about photos? Do photos of your family, uploaded to a newspaper’s “blog” site become property of the newspaper because you are blogging on their CMS–and, essentially, blogging *for* the local newspaper?

    Still, why isn’t there a better discussion about how to integrate–not co-opt, not impress into service, not control–local blog content via an aggregation model? Why does the option always have to be for the content to go directly into a newspaper provided CMS rather than co-operating with the local blogosphere? Honestly, when bloggers band together, link to one another, they begin to become a force and a community on their own and increase one another’s visibility without the ageis of the newspaper. It’s not unheard of…

    Andrew, you might want to step back for a moment on your “open mind” comment re dissent in a community–think about how blogging for a newspaper might actually work to filter or perhaps even completely halt open dialog on particular regional issues (I live in what could be called “small-town America” and see some of this.) IMO, the independent placeblogger can add far more to community dialog, and perhaps even hold a newspaper accountable, then might someone whose blog is part of the local paper.

    So, perhaps the discussion shouldn’t be about compelling people to blog on your site because you’ll deliver readers to them. Rather, the discussion should be about how the newspaper can gather up and aggregate the local blogosphere so that both newspapers and bloggers retain their independence and increase community dialogue. Separation of “church and state” may be the better paradigm.

  4. Tish – Re: local bloggers. I’d agree that bloggers can act as a fifth estate – a check to the fourth estate.

    I would strongly argue that once you publish your content to the web, you are relinquishing a large degree of control. The question is, in releasing that story, how do you maximize that story’s benefit to you? Putting the cat back in the bag doesn’t work with digital media, and there’s little solution to being able to manage content, say, across blogs to propagate updates or corrections.

    To crib an example from Benkler (who used it to argue how there were obstacles in addition to copyright in earlier years): newspapers used to be delivered daily, and their wide distribution and timely availability meant that their being copied wouldn’t be profitable. By contrast, in the current age, that copying can happen instantaneously. Once you release a story into the wilds of the Internet, for better or worse, it’s out there.

    You’re right, there are a multitude of possible working relationships between amateur and professional content producers. I didn’t mean to simplify the situation, but to provide one example of a clear benefit to “giving away” content.

    Better integration of bloggers and newspapers is a difficult goal for reasons of power, as well. Much as we’re sitting here with Robin asking, “why should I give newspapers my content?” the publishers are asking, “why should we have open forums?” There’s a power struggle afoot, and publishers feel threatened. They would probably have a very strong negative reaction to their publication being essentially an aggregator for blog content. Bloggers, on the other hand, are more open to the idea of free flow of information and ideas, because it’s more the world they live in.

  5. This entire user generated content model that is the backbone of Web 2.0 is troubling to say the least. And it bothers me that “journalists” and “journalism professors” continue to promote what has become the NAFTA and CAFTA of the publishing industry. (Need I remind you of what NAFTA and CAFTA did to American manufacturing?)

    User generated content sites are driving down advertising rates and the pay the very students you train can expect to earn and yet the “professors” at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism continue to promote the very thing that will put all of you out of work. Your very students are entering into a job market that competes with free– how hard is that to figure out?

    I guess there’s something to the old saying, “Those that can do, those that can’t teach.”

  6. Tish — are you reading my pub sked? 😉 I’m planning to get to the local aggregation/network model for news websites in a commentary within the next month.

    Billy, we didn’t invent this world, we just teach students how to get along with it. Many “old media” journalists long to put the genie back in, but that ain’t happening. I want my students to have the best possible information, and sharpest skills, to make a living in the highly competitive online publishing world as it now exists, and will in the future. UGC is a huge, and very useful, part of that world.

  7. says:

    I think Google Friend Connect could be the answer to this…