I found myself part of a contributor blog back before anyone really knew what blogs were, let alone contributor blogs! In the beginning, everyone had publishing permission and you never knew whether two posts would go up in a day or none in a week. The team at Kindred Grace has been so patient with me as I’ve learned through the years (mostly by trial and error!) what does and doesn’t work. I wanted to share a few of those tips with you here (including some I learned and implemented since listening to Ruth Schwenk’s session on “Building a Successful Contributor Blog” at Allume last year!).
1. Set clear guidelines.
Start at the very beginning — write out detailed guidelines for everything from the requirements for post image and length to how to format their bio and choosing categories for a post. This is where you can create your own post style guide, telling them when to use block quotes, and reminding them of the importance of using headings for SEO and bullet points for easy reading. (Lorelle has an extensive list of guideline ideas here.)
But the guidelines go beyond just the nuts and bolts — this is the place where you remind your contributors what this blog is all about. If you have a public mission statement, share it again here. If you don’t have a public mission statement, create a private one that gets to the heart of your blog, your readers, and the reason you’re each there writing.
Keep the guidelines in an easy-to-find place. Whether it’s a file in your contributor Facebook group or a private page on your site, make sure the link is accessible to every writer so you can direct them there as often as necessary.
2. Set a submission deadline.
Try setting your deadline at the 15th or 20th of the month before the month the post will publish. Back it up if everyone always pushes the deadline, but be firm: a deadline is a deadline. And for a contributor blog, deadlines save a lot of late nights and headaches.
Whenever you set your deadline, make sure to give yourself and your team ample time — for edits, changes, the addition of any missing graphics, and the actual scheduling — before the new month is upon you.
Delegating the social media management for our contributor blog was the best decision I ever made. I gave our VA a list of what I wanted shared, when and how, and she took it from there. No more remembering at the end of the day that I never shared today’s post on Facebook!
Designating a post editor was another step towards delegating and streamlining the work. I still filter the guest post submissions, but the editor goes through all the regular contributor’s posts with a fine tooth comb for grammar and punctuation before I ever see them. Then, when I read them, it’s a breeze — I only have to decide what should be scheduled for when!
4. Schedule in bulk.
Bulk scheduling allows me to make sure the flow of the posts is coordinated and cohesive each week and month. It also allows the advance time necessary for our VA to schedule the social media posts, as well as giving the contributors themselves warning as to when they should be ready to promote their posts and answer comments.
I use a shared Google Calendar for the first round of scheduling (though the Editorial Calendar plugin works for this, as long as there are drafts for each post), allowing both my editor and the rest of the team to see what’s tentatively going to be published when. Then, when I officially click the “schedule” button, the writer receives an automatic email thanks to the plugin Edit Flow (see below). (If you don’t set up user profiles for each of your guest contributors, you’ll need to email them with the permalink and scheduled date — create an email template for repetitive ease.)
Clear, consistent communication from the person in charge is the only way to keep a contributor blog running in ship shape. It seems like whenever there’s a misunderstanding with my contributors about a topic or an edit, it’s usually because I’ve fallen down in the area of communication. Don’t bombard their inbox every day, but don’t wait until the night before the deadline to remind them that you haven’t seen their draft submitted yet. Monthly emails with details about upcoming topics for future months and reminders about this month’s deadline are crucial.
6. Use editorial and group blog plugins.
If you’re using self-hosted WordPress, there are a host of plugins to help you out!
Automatically get an email when one of your contributors submits a draft for review — they don’t have to email you and you don’t have to bug them!
A must-have plugin for group blogs, with features you can customize to ease the flow of editing posts and providing editorial comments. No more searching for the author’s email address to communicate with them about an editorial change — comment back and forth within the post itself (with email notifications, of course), where only author and editor can see. Plus, custom post statuses allow your authors to submit ideas, lets your editors mark posts “Ready to Schedule”, etc.
Easily redefine the roles and capabilities of your site contributors — for example, remove the ability to publish or schedule from all but editors or admins, while giving your contributors the ability to view private pages where they might find the contributor guidelines.
Public Post Preview
A handy option to give guest posters a public preview link to see their post before it goes live.
A drag and drop calendar for previewing or rearranging the schedule of your posts — so handy!
WordPress SEO by Yoast
Every blog needs a good SEO plugin, but this one also gives you the ability to display the author’s name within your RSS feed, so that feed readers aren’t wondering who in the world wrote the post.
Author Profile Plugin
Show appreciation for your authors by creating a contributors page (like the one here on Allume), as well as providing links to their website and social media outlets at the end of each post using author profile plugins like:
What methods have you seen or used for managing contributor blogs?
(Next time, I’ll be exploring ways to maintain the momentum on contributor blogs for the long haul. I look forward to your ideas!)
Thanks for sharing,