Congregational Blogging for Beginners at the URJ Biennial

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Slide 1

Let me start by giving a little of my blogging history, which I think is helpful to figuring out why people read blogs.I read a little piece in a magazine that mentioned the Vegan Lunch Box blog. I logged in, and checked it out.Simple - a woman who posted daily the lunches that she made for her son to take to school.I was totally hooked. Her posts were short and interesting. There were pretty pictures. She NEVER missed a day.I'd log in each day.Then I noticed that there was a little click-box for comments. So I noticed that she had lots and lots of commenters. I started reading the comments, I "lurked" as the term is, and I started clicking on some of the commenters' own links - and I started reading their blogs.And so it began. I read blog after blog. Until I decided that I could do it too! And that's when I started my own blog. (CLICK TO NEXT SLIDE)

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What is a blog? Do you have a blog? Have you ever set up a blog? There are plenty of free websites for blog creating – blogger, wordpress, etc.

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(These images are from Ellen Dietrick’s wonderful preschool blog) Why would you want a blog? To talk to your congregation.

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Why would you want a blog? To energize and engage your congregation. You can add content and information.

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Why would you want a blog? You can solicit help, you can call people to action, you can encourage participation.

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It’s nice to think that you’re going to use your blog for information, to share upcoming programs and tell people about snow days. But that’s not why people would come flocking to your blog. Sorry to break it to you! Blogging is about telling stories. All human beings, and Jews in particular, have in common our desire to share our stories. And these stories have the potential to inform, to inspire, and to foster community. Everyone has a memorable food (CLICK), a special piece of clothing, a secret hiding place, an eccentric relative or neighbor, (CLICK) a treasured family heirloom, holiday traditions, family customs, trips taken...through these common ideas, stories take on a life of their own. Reading about a family memory of Grandma's mandelbrot (CLICK) might trigger another person's memory of their aunt's special holiday cake, or the time that the well-meaning non-Jewish neighbor brought over a cake to honor Passover.One of the reasons that blogs have been so generally successful is that they offer regular people a chance to tell their stories. A congregational blog has the same potential. Each congregation is so full of stories, each person brings something in. How often do we offer our congregants a forum to tell their own personal stories? That's where the blog comes in.

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Congregational president: Share a congregational issue and ask people about a policy that you'd like to change. Do they want to change it? This might also be a way to take advantage of survey software that takes quick polls. Social Action Chair: Share a particular social action experience that moved you, and ask others to share ways that they were moved or touched by participating in social action. Worship Chair: Write about a prayer that you like and invite people to share their favorite prayers with you. Did something interesting happen at services this week? Was there a particularly good conversation at Torah Study?   Religious School Parent: Spend a day in your child's classroom and write about the experience. Invite other parents to do the same, or to comment on their child's experiences. Library Chair: Review a book that had an impact on your life and ask others to share a book that touched them.

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Which brings me to the tone of your posts. Remembering that in an ideal world, a congregational blog is written by a team, it’s a good idea to get everyone on board with the tone that you want your blog to take. And if it’s just being written by one or two people, or the rabbi or the staff, that’s okay too – but having a general idea of how you’re all going to approach the writing will help to unify things a little big. So…writing for the blog should be mostly: Friendly Conversational – it’s not an article for a scholarly journal. You want to engage in covnersation with readers, not force them to scratch their heads Genuine – be yourself, don’t try to make things up just for the blog or write about things you aren’t interested in or don’t know. Inviting – ask questions, welcome disagreement Responsive – respond to comments and questions as best as you can, either in another comment or through email. Welcoming – don’t use a lot of “lingo” or abbreviations, or even Hebrew words without translation. Accessible – LINK whenever possible to more information or other explanations. I will often link up, for example, “Purim Spiel” has a Wikipedia entry, to which I linked. Is it all the information about what a Purim Spiel is? No. Did I check to make sure I liked what it said, of course. But it was a quick link that people could check out to learn more. PASSIONATE – write about topics that mean something to you. And make sure to ask yourself as you write your posts, or as you approve posts for publication – do they fit into these criteria? Before you click “post” make sure that you, of course, edit for spelling and all that. Once it’s out there, it actually CAN be undone, but there might be remnants of what you posted for a brief time, for example if people have email susbcriptions. So for the most part, be sure before you post.

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So…what kinds of stories should you tell on your blog? Well, you know your community best, but you’ll want to tell stories that you think will be interesting and engaging to everyone who might be reading them. But know that not everyone will be interested in the same things. And that’s okay. But it’s a good idea to have a broad idea of what things could be written about on the blog! Some suggestions to get you going – these are taken from the document I wrote for the URJ website but there are so many more. (Click through these) A big question people want to know: Should I Share a youTube video, or a link to an online article? I say YES but don’t make the post JUST the link or the embedded video player. Make sure to comment on it, make sure to add your own opinion, and make sure to ask others what they think as well. Do they like it, or disagree with it? That is the purpose of a blog – and when I say it this way, you know that it’s easy. After all, we’re human beings, we are full of opinions! So here is a chance to share those opinions. Do you have a member of your congregation who forwards you every silly video or interesting Jewish tidbit they receive? This might be the perfect person to tap into – ask him or her to post those things on the blog instead, with his or her comments! Give him or her an assignment to do it once or twice a week and you’re doing well in the Content department.

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Solicit posts – make sure that on your blog you have a way that people can email you and announce, all the time, that submissions are being accepted. Unlike magazines and newspapers, space isn’t an issue. You can publish what people send you. So do it. Once people start reading what their friends are writing, they might be more inclined to send them. Invite “Guest Posts” – Maybe your President doesn’t want to write regularly for the blog. Okay. So encourage him or her to write a monthly “guest post” – and make a big deal about it! Hold writing contests – publish the winners – This works great with kids. Hold a poetry contest in your religious school and explain that the winning poem will appear on our blog. I guarantee you, if you post the winner and 2 runners up, all those people will send the link to their friends and all that to share the news! You can do the same with art (has to be scanned), photographs (still lifes, for example, which takes us out of any privacy concerns with faces)…or whatever you can think of. Create “Features” that welcome people in – “Ask the Rabbi” or “Ask the President” or even “Crazy Quote of the Week” or Congregant of the Month. A brief interview with people – wow, I want to be Congregant of the Month! Assign “blog watchers” to generate ideas – do you have people who don’t want to write for the blog but they like using the internet? Assign them to watch other blogs and generate ideas. Invite them to look at Jewish and non-Jewish websites and regularly come up with lists of ideas for posts. Sometimes people just need a title or idea to get them going. Special Events – use your blog! Do you have a musical guest? A scholar in residence? Ask for him or her to do an interview for your blog (brief, remember?) – either in person when they’re there or before their visit over the phone. Most people are totally willing to do this – usually they want the publicity and most people in the Jewish world are willing to do blog stuff because they’re realizing its power. We hosted Maggie Anton in January and she was very pleased to be a part of an interview on my blog. I also was able to participate in the Sydney Taylor Book Awards Blog Book Tour – and not because I have any special pull, but because they asked on Facebook who wanted to participate and I said yes! So you’d be amazed at authors who will talk to you, etc, just because you’re wiling to write about their book, CD, movie, etc.

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When you start to write blog posts, don’t feel that you have to write a tome for each post. In fact, studies have shown that people tend to read and remember the shorter pieces. So, some tips for writing for a blog: (CLICK) Keep your writing style simple and brief. (CLICK)Don't be too long-winded. (CLICK)Make sure your posts aren't too long. (CLICK)Write less than you think you need to write. Shorter is better. People will be less likely to stay with a long post. (CLICK)Consider setting a word-count limit for posts. 250 words? (CLICK)Write good headlines! Be snappy, be clear, be interesting. (CLICK)Use Short sentences and also short paragraphs. (CLICK) I hope you’re giggling a little (the downside of a webinar is that I can’t hear if you’re laughing – makes it hard to tell jokes online) but I hope you also understand that I’m serious about this. I’m not here to impose a word limit on you or even to imply that this is the ONLY way to write. But I’ll ask you to do a self-experiment. As you go out into the world and peruse a bunch of blogs (which will be an assignment of this Webinar), take some time to notice which blogs keep your attention. Is it lengthy thick posts? Or is it shorter posts, broken up by smaller paragraphs (and maybe a picture thrown in)? For most of us, reading online is made easier when it’s shorter, and with more white space around the paragraphs. No need to indent, just make a space between the paragraphs. You might see bloggers who make use of various sizes of type to make their points as well. Experiment a little and see what works for you.The other upside of brevity is that it makes the task of “Writing a blog post” seem a little less onerous. Especially if you’re going to be composing a team of people – if you can say to them 250 words or less (or wathever you decide as your blog length), it makes their own expectations a little simpler. And, look, if it was good enough for (CLICK) Mark Twain, it should be good enough for us too.

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So these are our blogs.We’re not really here to advertise our blogs, but… But, um, in case you want to check it out. (click) We’re kidding, but only a little. Because, frankly, the only way people will find your blog is if you tell them about it! So once you’ve gotten started with your congregational blog, it’s time to promote the heck out of it. At the bottom of email signatures. In your newsletter. On your congregation’s website On business cards that you print up and hand out. On stickers you attach to every kid as they leave the religious school on Sunday morning. You get the idea. It works best if people read! Which also points me to the idea that you need inspiration. Get yourself acquainted with the blogging world. See what other people are doing, and “steal” their ideas. But make them your own. See a great post on an interesting topic? You can write your own post on that topic! See a great series on another blog – for example, a weekly “Why I love our temple” – so borrow that idea! The RJ Blog has a bunch of links on the side to all the Reform Jewish bloggers and congregations out there, so click around a little bit and get acquainted with the blog world.

Slide 15

The last topic we want to address is blog comments. Blog comments are what make a blog really work. They are what enable a simple post to become a conversation. So don’t discount them, don’t make them difficult to leave, and don’t be scared of them. Basics: It’s a good idea to have a comment policy on your blog. (CLICK) One easy way to do this is to google “blog comment policy” and read a few (CLICK). You’ll find something that you like. Don’t forget that you can always change it. Just make sure to have a link to it. On my blog, I have a small tab at the top which is a link to a past-dated post that contains the comment policy. Works for me. (CLICK) CLICK One of the biggest debates bloggers have (and let me tell you, just like Jews, bloggers have many many opinions.) is about moderating or not moderating. Moderating means that you don’t allow comments to show up until you’ve approved them. This significantly slows down the flow of commenting and also makes it somewhat more difficult for people to see their impact on the blog immediately. If they post at 3am, they then have to wait until your moderator wakes up and approves the comment. Assuming that he or she isn’t on vacation. And if you do decide that moderating is what you’re going to do – that’s fine. But have a backup plan and a way to handle the moderation if your person goes away, etc. Will you moderate comments on Shabbat, for example? All good things to consider and think about, but shouldn’t deter you from choosing the path that works for you. I personally think that moderating comments is a good idea but from the back end – as in, I read every comment that comes onto my blog (I have it set up to send me an email whenever I get a comment). If I get one that’s inappropriate, or spam, or whatever, then I go in and delete it. I reserve that right – it’s MY BLOG! This way I open the flow of conversation but also maintain a control over things. (CLICK) What if someone disagrees? I would suggest that you be very flexible and open to the idea that you might WANT people to disagree. Encouraging respectful and polite debate is one of the best things that can happen on a blog. Getting people to “Weigh in” on a topic makes it more interesting and way more interactive. You can even refer people to the comments or write a second post, linking to the first, answering and addressing comments. Someone is particularly passionate about a topic? Invite that commenter to write a “D’var Acher” – the other side – as a guest post. What a great way to bring people into the blog. Ultimately – relax, it will be okay. (CLICK) People aren’t going to hijack your blog and write horrible things. The Purpose is to foster online community and see what happens. You can always go back and change things, but know that if you’re paying attention and on top of what’s going on, nothing really bad is going to happen that can’t be undone with a few clicks to delete the offending comment.

Slide 16

don't forget that this is still, at the end of the day, about person-to-person communication.be flexible! it can be surprising.be collaborative! share ideas.be humble. people working together can create a hugely powerful force. TO conclude, let me say this with the holiday of Pesach as my backdrop. David Ben Gurion, in 1947, wrote: Three hundred years ago a ship called the Mayflower set sail to the New World. This was a great event in the history of England. Yet I wonder if there is one Englishman who knows at what time the ship set sail? Do the English know how many people embarked on this voyage? What quality of bread did they eat? Yet more than three thousand years ago, before the Mayflower set sail, the Jews left Egypt. Every Jew in the world, even in America or Soviet Russia, knows on exactly what date they left – the fifteenth of the month of Nisan; everyone knows what kind of bread the Jews ate. The story has been told and re-told. We never get tired of it. We tell of the journey itself because we know that the journey was what made the whole thing possible. Enjoy the journey. Celebrate the stories. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Slide 17

So these are our blogs.We’re not really here to advertise our blogs, but… But, um, in case you want to check it out. (click) We’re kidding, but only a little. Because, frankly, the only way people will find your blog is if you tell them about it! So once you’ve gotten started with your congregational blog, it’s time to promote the heck out of it. At the bottom of email signatures. In your newsletter. On your congregation’s website On business cards that you print up and hand out. On stickers you attach to every kid as they leave the religious school on Sunday morning. You get the idea. It works best if people read! Which also points me to the idea that you need inspiration. Get yourself acquainted with the blogging world. See what other people are doing, and “steal” their ideas. But make them your own. See a great post on an interesting topic? You can write your own post on that topic! See a great series on another blog – for example, a weekly “Why I love our temple” – so borrow that idea! The RJ Blog has a bunch of links on the side to all the Reform Jewish bloggers and congregations out there, so click around a little bit and get acquainted with the blog world.

Slide 1

Blogging… just do it. Photo Credit: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3091/3220548716_3dd85905e4.jpg

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What is a blog? Online conversation Interactive Selected people post, anyone comments Dynamic Often more informal than website Always begin with goals & strategy. Then just do it!

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A Blog is for Talking Reach out & Bring your content TO your congregants

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A Blog is for Energizing Provide added value & offer a gift

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A blog is for Embracing Engage the community with story & Call to action

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Blogging = Telling Stories

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7 Get started…

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Scheduling & logistics Start recruiting posters Have 5-10 posts ready before you go live Schedule 2-3 posters per week Use the “auto-post” feature Role of organizer: Remind, support, edit, seek out stories

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Who should post? Congregational president Social Action Chair Worship Chair Religious School Parents Religious School Students Library Chair Who else…Think about your congregation…

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Setting the Tone for your Blog Friendly … Conversational Genuine… Inviting… Responsive Welcoming…Accessible PASSIONATE

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What should I write about? How did you come to the congregation? Favorite Jewish memory My Bar Mitzvah My Child's Bar Mitzvah "Overheard on the way home from Hebrew School" Trip to Israel Visiting an out of town synagogue Why I come to services Why I don't come to service What we ate for Shabbat dinner last week My family’s recipe for Hamantaschen A Great Article I Read in a Newspaper, Magazine, or Online How this week’s Torah portion interests you Or anything else you might think of!!!!

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Getting people involved Solicit posts Invite “Guest Posts” Hold writing contests Create “Features” that welcome people in Assign “blog watchers” to generate ideas Special Events – use your blog!

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Be Brief use few words concise succinct boiled down short and sweet to the point not long I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. Mark Twain

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imabima.blogspot.com janethewriterwrites.blogspot.com

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Please leave a comment! Have a comment policy. It’s okay to borrow someone else’s. To moderate or not to moderate? Disagreement makes for great blog posts. Relax, it will be okay.

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Who is wise? The one who learns from all people. Pirke Avot 4:1 http://www.blogcoach.org/ http://www.bloggingtips.com/ http://www.bloggerbuster.com/ http://www.problogger.net/ http://www.bloggingbasics101.com/

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imabima.blogspot.com janethewriterwrites.blogspot.com

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