Inspired by Robert Fulghum’s poem, “All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.”
I’ve been a nonprofit web worker (webmaster, web content administrator, web project manager, web writer/editor, social media administrator) since 2006. I’ve worn many hats in my career. I’ve managed websites and social media for organizations, designed and optimized graphics for the web, wrote and edited web content, learned to use and administer different content management systems, led web redesigns and content migrations, trained staff in these skills, etc.
Prior to being a nonprofit web person, I was a blogger for seven years. I took blogging pretty seriously and between 2003 and 2010, I wrote for and maintained two blogs. The first one focused on jobs and career issues for Liberal Arts graduates; the second one focused on my thoughts and opinions on music, culture, politics, and books. I had a good run and was featured twice in the Washington Post.
Like many bloggers who started out around that time, I’ve since taken my blogs offline because life simply just got too busy (graduate school, raising a child, household chores, job duties). But I look back fondly on blogging, not just because it was fun. I truly do think much of what I did was excellent preparation for work as a full-time web worker for nonprofits.
Learning new systems
A big part of web work for organizations is knowing your way around content management systems. These can be open source or proprietary and can run the gamut from simple and easy to use (such as WordPress) to highly complex and technical with a steep learning curve (such as Drupal). My first blogging platform was Blogger. I graduated to WordPress.com and, eventually, to the hosted version of WordPress. Blogging platforms are essentially simple content management systems. If you get a good handle of learning the ins and outs of writing in, formatting text and images, uploading files, administering and tinkering with the backend, and customizing the blog with features such as plugins and themes, you’ve got the basic skills needed to learn and administer a content management system! Big plus if you are really good with HTML, CSS, and technical configuration. You can make a very solid argument that you’ve got the background and skills to work on an organization’s CMS under someone’s supervision.
Planning for creativity
To keep a blog going, you need a constant stream of content. If you are not writing it yourself, you are seeking it out elsewhere and linking to it, or re-purposing it from other sources. You learn to get creative as you realize writing text and essays is just one aspect of blogging. You learn to use and properly format and optimize images, audio, video, and combinations of these elements. Once you have a blog and you’ve gotten the bug to keep it going, you learn that if you don’t constantly and regularly update your site with new stuff, your blog becomes static and stale pretty quickly. This holds true for an organization’s website, blogs and social media accounts. You have to keep “feeding the beast” with content. You have to not only be creative and proactive, you learn to plan content ahead of time. You incorporate an editorial calendar to keep track of things. You get creative about re-purposing content from other sources so you don’t have to create everything from scratch. Guess what—you’ve now gotten the basic skills and experiences for web editorial work!
Understanding your audience
To build and maintain an audience over time, you need quality content. You can’t just phone it in. You need to produce and publish material that people who read your blog will be interested in reading, downloading, commenting on and even sharing. You need to give your audience content that is relevant to them and that they find interesting or else they will go elsewhere. Once you are applying this principle consistently to your own blogging activities, it is not a big stretch to apply it to working for an organization. This insight can be used to bolster your background for web editorial and social media work for an organization.
Analyzing the outcome
Once you attract an audience, you will want to keep track of them. Where they come from, how many of them visited your site, what did they look at/download, what aren’t they looking at or downloading, etc. That is why people use tools like Google Analytics. Once you learn Google Analytics for your own blogging use, you can apply this skill to administering any other website, including for an organization.
Once you have a blog going and you’ve gotten some traffic, you will notice that people will comment and share your posts. You will notice that you might attract the same three to five individuals consistently and they are commenting, sharing your stuff and are engaged with what you are doing online. Some of these folks can be just fellow hobby bloggers. But sometimes, you get lucky and you attract someone who has a substantial audience or following, someone well-known or famous, or (like in my case) someone who works as a journalist for a nationally known newspaper or publication and they decide to write about you. Congratulations! You’ve now gotten experience with online influencers! Experience in attracting, maintaining relationships with, and using the exposure you get from these influencers to expand your audience comes in very handy when making a case for administering an organization’s online presence, especially their social media accounts.
Blogging, for me, started out as a hobby and as a way to vent and express my thoughts about issues I felt strongly about. Along the way, I learned some valuable skills and got a good, basic background to get my foot in the door for web work. I’ve used skills and insights I learned from blogging pretty much day-to-day in my jobs for the past fourteen years.
Liberal Arts graduates (I am one) often find the work world bewildering, initially feel lost and, have difficulty finding ways to apply the skills they learned in school to work. Blogging was a good (and fun!) way to develop the skills and background to got my foot in the door to do web work for nonprofit organizations.