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Friday, September 23, 2011

Group Blogging: Is it for you? (Part 1)

Now that I'm a few weeks into my kidlit mystery writing blog, Sleuths, Spies and Alibis, I thought I'd reflect on the process of launching and running a group blog so far. I'm by no means an expert yet, and I'm learning a lot by trial and error. But if you're considering banding together with other writers and starting a group blog, maybe the following questions will help you to chart your course.

Why do you want a group blog?
List pros and cons before you start. Here are some to get you started. Running a solo blog has great benefits. You're in total control of content and scheduling. It's all about you. On the other hand, a solo blog can be very time consuming. There are times when the well of ideas runs dry.

On a group blog, you can share posting responsibilities and blog less frequently, while still having a dynamic site that provides fresh content weekly or even daily. You can also feed off other members' ideas, collaboratively generate topics or themes to work with, and potentially interact with a wider base of readers than you might on your own. However, unless you have a clear plan, there can actually be more work involved with managing content and various administrative details. (These are the hidden time costs of group blogging, which I'll say more about later).

Personally, I like running my own blog, and will continue to do so. But I also get tired of talking about me, me, me. I started a blog with other mystery writers because I wanted to blog about something larger. I wanted to link to numerous resources and provide an educational service for mystery fans, writers, teachers, and librarians. I also wanted the synergy of group blogging to break up the isolation of writing alone.

How many people should you have?
I've seen group blogs run equally well with three people and with ten. It may depend on how frequently you want to rotate posting responsibilities and how often you want to have fresh content on the blog. If you are managing the blog, will you get overwhelmed if you have many people? Will two or three people feel too much like running a solo blog? Sleuths, Spies and Alibis has seven members right now, which feels good to me; we've been able to divide up the schedule so that no one posts more than three or four times per month.

How should you assign responsibilities?
While I came up with the initial concept for my group blog, everyone has equal input. I love how all our members have fresh ideas about design and content, and the blog is evolving in a direction I could never have taken it all on my own. However, it's helpful for all members to have some kind  of role. This includes someone who is sort of an overall organizer slash communicator type. To avoid chaos, confusion, and long silences, someone should be in charge of general group communication, sending out notes from email discussions or conference calls, presenting issues to think about going forward, scheduling, etc. In my group, I guess that's, uh, that's me. You can see I'm a little uncomfortable with the role. But the fact is, there's no blogging interface that will actually run the blog for you. People have to take leadership roles. There can be more than one. And the roles can rotate!

Other roles that can be assigned might include:
  • CTweetO (Chief Twitter Operator). Your blog should have an accompanying Twitter account and someone to announce your posts, help manage giveaways (if you're doing them), thank followers and retweeters, etc. This can be more time-consuming than it sounds -- especially because, starting out, you have to get followers without looking like a spammer. I recommend having more than one person  in charge of a Twitter handle, or rotating tweeting tasks on a regular basis.
  • Design Czar. All members should have design input, but it's helpful for a designated person to create the initial design and/or implement changes to the template. It's useful to draw up a priority list of design elements in or near the beginning. Think about color schemes, what you want on sidebars, content for tabs, desired widgets, your banner, any logos or buttons, etc.
  • Technology Guru. If someone has more advanced technological knowledge than others, or more experience with your particular blogging interface, then that person can be in charge of fixing technical glitches that are bound to arise. This person might also be the administrator of a Google group for communications, or the administrator of the blog itself. 
Next week, I'll discuss more questions to ask yourself starting out, including: How long should you plan before you launch? How should you launch? What's the best way to communicate with group members? What are the hidden time costs of group blogging -- and how can you avoid those?

Are you in a group blog? I'd love to hear how other group bloggers have designated roles or considered these issues.

Are you considering starting or joining a group blog? I'd love to add more questions to this list. Maybe I or other group bloggers can take a stab at answering them!

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