While often regarded as a platform for people to share their personal stories, a blog can also be used to tell the story of an organization. Whether showcasing your work, offering behind-the-scenes glimpse into your non profit, highlighting the people you serve, or advocating a particular point of view, a blog can be a powerful — and influential — communication and public-relations tool for your organization.
So how do you create a blog? Let’s say that you’ve already spent time reading other blogs and articles on how to successfully maintain and promote your blog. (More Resources at the end of this article will help you get started.) You’ve defined your goals, your target audience, and the type of content you’ll provide. Your next challenge is to pick the blogging tool that offers the right features for you.
There are a number of good blogging tools, but choosing among them can be confusing. In this report, we’ll take a detailed look at the top blogging tools out there and outline key considerations for selecting a blogging platform, including the skills required to set it up; the ease with which you can post to it; whether you can upload images, video, or audio to it; its ability to moderate comments and prevent spam; how closely you can tailor its design to match the look and feel of your organization’s Web site and other collateral; and tools you can use to track who’s reading it.
The seven blogging platforms we’ve chosen for comparison are
We chose these tools because they are the ones most commonly used to create a typical non-profit blog — by a long shot. 77 percent of all the bloggers included in the Non-profit Blog Exchange and 81 percent of respondents in a survey of serious bloggers conducted by ProBlogger used one of these seven tools.
Blogging tools are designed to be easy to use. They generally don’t provide all the advanced features of a complex content management system, but rather does one task publishing a blog very well. To this end, they can help us:
Create posts. Since the purpose of a blog is to be able to post new text or information to the site frequently, creating posts should be quick and easy.
Upload pictures and multimedia. Many blogs go beyond text to include photos, video, or audio.
Display posts to visitors. A blogging platform can make it easy for readers to view your posts and to comment on them.
Moderate. While it’s typical to allow visitors to post comments to a blog, different platforms provide varying levels of help to weed out inappropriate contributions.
Publish RSS feeds. RSS feeds allow more Internet-savvy users to subscribe to your blog.
Configure the appearance and layout. Tools vary widely in the degree to which they allow you to configure your blog, and the methods they offer to do this.
Find support. Not every blogging tool offers the same degree of support: while some offer personalized assistance, others have forums where you can find answers to your questions.
Host your blog. While some blogging software lives on your own server, others are hosted by the vendor.
Get stats on your blog. Reporting features will help you see how many people are visiting your blog, and which posts are most popular.
Comment spam: Sad to say, spam is a problem on blogs just as it is in email. Comment spam, as you would expect, is left in the comments of a blog. It usually includes a few words and a link to a Web site. The point for the spammer is to get as many links as possible to the Web site, giving it higher search engine rankings.
Trackbacks: Trackback technology helps bloggers link back to other posts on related subjects. Functionally it’s a little complicated: If you’re posting about something you’ve seen on another blog, look for the Trackback URL. Paste that URL into the allotted spot in your own blogging software, and the two pieces of blog software will communicate, building a link from the original post to yours
Blogger is a free, hosted blogging tool. It’s one of the oldest blogging tools around and today has millions of users. Blogger promises that you will be blogging within 10 minutes of coming to the site, and in fact does deliver on that. This tool is about the simplest one around, and though free, nonetheless has an impressive array of features.
The biggest hole in Blogger’s offerings is the lack of post categorization, followed closely by the need to know HTML and Cascading Style Sheets to make custom changes to the templates provided. Unlike some of the most complex hosted services, Blogger doesn’t make customization easy, though it does provide some attractive skins to choose from.
One unusual feature of Blogger is the integration with the Audioblogger service. Program the Audioblogger number into your phone, and you can put audio recordings on your blog quickly by simply calling the number and recording yourself. This offering is unique among blog software packages.
Of special note is that Blogger does allow you to FTP the files generated for your blog to your own Web site. Used together with customization of the Blogger template, this fairly unique functionality means that your readers may never realize that you are using Blogger. It also means that you can publicize your own domain name, rather than the more usual Blogger URL: blogname.blogspot.com.
Blogger is perfect for the future blogger who’s in hurry and less than interested in design customization. If your priority is to start blogging now, you can’t do better than Blogger. Clearly, it’s also a great tool for those on a budget, since there are absolutely no costs. In fact, you need not even have a Web site or a domain name, so you can literally get started using Blogger without spending a penny.
Very few professional Bloggers stick with Blogger for very long, if they even start there. Because it is so simple, and perhaps because it is free, most professional bloggers choose to use blogging software that has more prestige (read: is harder to set up and install). However, it is an ideal tool to use when first beginning, especially if you want to test blog for a couple of weeks before devoting any serious time or money to a blog.
Time to launch: 10 minutes
The Typepad pricing scheme and features are divided into three levels: Basic, Plus, and Pro. Design customization is extremely limited at the Basic level and only fully accessible at the Pro level. If you want to run a group blog, or give some people editor access and others publishing access, you must go with the Pro account.
At all account levels, Typepad has a built-in feature called Typelists that allows you to build lists, associating each item with a URL. These lists can be added with a minimum of fuss to the left- or right-hand column of your blog – no need to touch the templates. Use a Typelist for your current reading list, links to other blogs, or links to new stories.
In some ways, it is actually more usable than its elder brother Movable Type. Typepad is a good option for users who want to get started quickly but still want all the bells and whistles. Customization is possible, but complicated, so it’s also a good option for those who just want a blog that works without fussing too much over how it looks. However, Typepad Plus and Pro do a better job than most blog software at allowing you to configure layout options without having to go into the templates.
Cost: $4.95 – $14.95 monthly, depending on level of service chosen
Free trial: 30 days
Time to launch: 20 minutes
WordPress is a solid, powerful blogging system ideal for publishers who are on a budget but who don’t want to give up any functionality. Professional blogger Darren Rowse maintains nearly 30 blogs using WordPress, from his popular ProBlogger to an Athens Olympics Blog. In two weeks the Athens blog received close to 2 million readers, said Rowse – a real testament to WordPress’ ability to handle heavy traffic loads.
Each WordPress post is formatted with search engine friendly URLs that also look good to humans. Comments can be extensively moderated: you can review them before they go live. You can also filter comments containing certain words or more than a certain number of links.
WordPress’ built-in blogroll management tool allows you to categorize blogs, set criteria for the display order of the links, and turn off and on visibility. You can also import an existing blogroll from some link manager services.
This software has inspired numerous developers to write plugins and extra features for use with WordPress, which makes plugin installation a quick and painless affair. You will find that the selection of additional themes (or skins), for instance, numbers in the hundreds, and that WordPress fans and friends have developed tools for adding photo galleries, a music player, an event calendar, and even geo mapping.
WordPress promises a 5-minute installation, but for that to be true you do have to have some familiarity with uploading files to a Web server and using an FTP client.
Time to launch: 20 minutes
Movable Type, created by Six Apart, is perhaps the best known of all blogging software tools. Built by a husband and wife team looking for a better tool for blogging, the system is powerful, but not simple to install or use. Although it has been used to create Web sites that don’t look entirely like blogs, doing so requires quite a bit of code tweaking. Movable Type is used by blogger Joshua Micah Marshall to create Talking Points Memo, and by Kevin Roderick who writes the L.A. Observed blog.
As a blogging tool alone, Movable Type has nearly every feature you might desire, and continues to add more. Many of their users are highly technical themselves, and have created additional plug-ins that can be added to the standard installation. You might say that Movable Type is the blogging package chosen by bloggers who care what other bloggers think, and who notice and appreciate other Movable Type blogs. If you are looking for street “cred” in the blogosphere, this is the software for you.
The least attractive functionality of Movable Type is the need to rebuild the blog whenever you make a change to a template, a configuration setting, or add a new category. Waiting for the rebuild is annoying, to say the least, and certainly slows down any customization work you do to the design or layout. This can be addressed by turning on dynamic page-building, but some users have found that the server load that occurs as a result is unacceptable to their Web host.
For the non-technically inclined, installation of this software can be quite a challenge. Don’t attempt it all if you aren’t already comfortable with uploading and downloading files to a Web server. There are several Web hosts that offer Movable Type installation as part of their package of services.
There is no trial period for Movable Type, but there is a free version of the software that you can download and install. The paid license entitles you to support, some promotion, and discounts on future upgrades.
Cost: MT’s pricing scheme is fairly complex. Personal users will pay at least $69.95. Commercial users pay at least $199.95.
Time to launch: 2 hours
Machine’s Expression Engine isn’t well-known, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving this powerful and extensible software a try. It is technically more accurate to call Expression Engine a content management system, rather than just a blogging software tool. However, it grew out of blogging and has all of the blogging bells and whistles: moblogging, Trackbacks, archiving and so on. Dennis Lloyd uses it for the independent information resource iPodlounge.
In addition to the usual set of blogging functionality, Expression Engine has incorporated modules for image galleries and a mailing list. Uniquely, you can crop, resize, and rotate images in the Expression Engine photo gallery tool, in addition to batch processing a set of images. The people and search engine friendly URLs the system generates are of particular interest to bloggers looking for good search engine listings. You can run multiple Weblogs through the same installation of Expression Engine, and each “new post” page can be customized exactly to fit the use. Most blog software limits you to title, entry, extended entry, and excerpt fields. With EE, you can rename those to suit your publication and add more as needed.
Templates are editable online through a simple textbox interface, but you can set up the system to generate files you can download and edit with an HTML editor. Learning how information relates and how to link across the site is a challenge: expect to spend several hours learning how to use this system. Your reward will be incredible flexibility in building a site that has constant updating needs, blog or not.
Expression Engine is ideal for publishers that need to do more than just blogging; this system is ideal for handling hundreds of members, multiple user groups with different editing privileges, and sites with several blogs. Technically speaking, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Cost: $149 for a non-commercial license, $199 for a commercial license
Free trial: 14 days if installed on your own server, 30 days with a hosted version
Time to launch: 2 hours
LiveJournal is, at its core, a community collaboration tool that allows you to form networks of “friends” and blogs online. While it’s often used to create simple blogs, the tool isn’t the best in its realm, especially in comparison to some of the free tools (LiveJournal, is about $2 a month). It’s not very intuitive to set up, and the less-than-professional-looking templates are difficult to modify, even with advanced coding skills. If you’re looking for a tool to create an organizational blog, there are better choices.
Price: $4.95/month for Basic, $8.95/month for Plus, or $14.95/month for Pro
Hosted or installed? Hosted
Bandwidth: 2GB for Basic, 5GB for Plus, and 10GB for Pro
Supports Categories: Yes
Supports Excerpts: Yes (except for Basic)
One Step Pictures: Yes