Take a look at REALTOR® associations’ blogs from around the country and you might begin to question what a blog is after all and what it should be.
In about 2007, when REALTOR® associations first launched blogs, the platform was rich with potential. Association blogs would facilitate an ongoing digital dialogue between members and leadership on issues affecting the industry and their businesses. It would broaden associations’ understanding of who was willing to engage with them and what members were excited and worried about. Yet, for many associations, that promise fell short of expectations. Several respondents to RAE’s recent blog survey said they’ve closed their blogs due to lack of member interest.
Association blogs were going to offer a new relatively unstructured form of communication where members and staff could write about anything, at any length. But for many, it was precisely this formless feature that caused the downfall. Over time, the blog space morphed into a content dumping ground of press releases, product promotions, and leftover newsletter articles.
It’s no wonder—writing original and interesting content is difficult and time consuming. And it’s especially disheartening when your carefully crafted opinion piece on local market pressures doesn’t get a tenth of the page views of the Facebook photos of your board president dressed as Elvis for the RPAC fund-raising talent show.
It’s enough to make you wonder: Is a blog worth it? You’re not alone if this question has come up at your association.
In fact, USA Today reported last year that with the growing allure of social media, more companies are replacing blogs with easier tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, that require less time and fewer resources. Surveys show fewer companies are blogging (down from 50 percent in 2010 to 44 percent in 2012*); instead companies are investing more resources at LinkedIn’s company pages and on YouTube channels.
But before you abandon your blog—if you haven’t already—take a hard look at the pros and cons, including what blogging does better than other platforms and whether you realistically have the resources to do blogging well.
If you struggle to keep your association updates within the character limits on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, then you realize the benefits of long posts. It’s impossible to engage your audience, establish credibility, and sway reader opinion in 200 characters or less.
An effective long-form blog can serve as a uniting hub for scattered social media posts. It’s the home members are funneled to from other outlets—and who knows how many other outlets you’ll be using in the future. Your blog is yours, where no one can change the format, forcing you to redesign and repost (Facebook), suddenly charge you for features that used to be free (LinkedIn), or go out of business, taking your data with it (Storylane).
Plus, fresh content is essential for search engine optimization success. Your regularly updated blog is likely to show up more often than your Web site in searches for industry-related information.
A blog enables an association to disseminate information and viewpoints that are picked up and shared by news outlets. Once upon a time, it wasn’t considered journalistically credible to quote a blog; today it’s common practice. Several associations in our blog survey said their blog is routinely quoted in local and even national media.
But the biggest benefit of having a blog, association blog survey respondents said, was “the ability to communicate in a more personal tone to members.” The second most noted benefit was “the ability to explain issues or topics in-depth to members,” which isn’t possible on many other social media platforms.
According to HubSpot, companies with blogs attract 55 percent more Web site visitors, get 97 percent more inbound links, and have 434 percent more indexed Web pages than blog-less companies.
Blogging isn’t for every association—and this has nothing to do with your association size. It takes commitment and consistency, likely over the span of at least a year, to bear fruit. Blogging takes time and resources—more than you may have originally thought. The hardest part isn’t coming up with content, blog survey respondents said, it’s finding time to write it. Then that content also has to be published and shared on social media. After that, you have to monitor and respond to comments, not to mention comment on other blogs in order to promote your own. Which brings us to the second most cited hurdle of association blogging, according to our survey—attracting traffic.
Plan before you leap
The likely reason most of the estimated 95 percent of blogs that are abandoned within months of launch fail is poor or nonexistent planning. If you didn’t have a thorough blog strategic plan when you created your blog two or three years ago, don’t feel bad. Who knew you’d be using Facebook for business and communicating with your leadership team via LinkedIn? The very nature of technology makes it hard to plan around.
But launching a blog takes the same planning as launching any other association program. You’re no stranger to strategic planning, so we won’t list here all the elements your blog business plan needs (view 20 questions to get you started), but make sure that your blog is filling a real need and that you frequently reassess your plan to ensure that it’s meeting its goals.
If your association blog is tied in with your marketing or communications programs, ensure that the time and resources allotted to it are realistic and that it’s included as an element of every outreach campaign.
Because content is key, map out a weekly plan for your blog posts. AE respondents in RAE’s blog survey said the most popular blog posts are those that provide housing stats, explore industry issues and trends, highlight upcoming events, and offer technology and MLS tips. Most of all, member-written posts offering peer-to-peer messaging get the highest views and shares.
Ultimately, if you lack the staff, time, and leadership buy-in to consistently maintain a quality blog, then other social media outreach platforms may be a better fit. But if you are in a position to make the most of this unique and branded online environment, you could benefit from enhanced communication and engagement, delivering tremendous value to your membership.
* Source: the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, 2012