Notes on Running an Outstanding Blog Project

I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like there are a lot of blog projects and blog games going around lately. I ran my own project a little while ago, I've participated in four others, and now I'm caught up in a game of bloggy tag — but hey, I'm all for it. To see who tagged me, click on the blue “Bloggy Tag” button. To see who I've tagged, keep reading until you hit the bottom of the post. There's also a link for the bloggy tag rules down there in case you're interested in starting up your own game of tag.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been able to participate in several group projects while maintaining a focus on the topic of photography. I started off with my own project asking for “Sites From My Readers“. Then I did a combined “Top 5” and “Source of Inspiration” project with Problogger and Inspiration Bit, respectively. I went on to participate in a “Favorite Photo and Background Story” project with JMG-Galleries. And I just finished up an article for the “What Does Photography Mean to You” project with Words:Irrational. I tell ya, it's been a busy couple of weeks.

I'm no expert on running blog projects, but I think I've pulled a few worthy pieces of advice together from what I've experienced so far. As for the “Outstanding” part of the topic… I don't know if I'd go that far, but I think I can at least give advice that will keep people out of the “terrible” end of things. So here we go then…

  1. Gaging Your Audience — This may be a little tough to do, but it's a good idea to get a handle on the number of active readers you have and what their interests are. By active readers, I mean those readers who visit frequently, leave comments, link out to your site, and submit your articles to social networks. These are the people who are going to jump all over your project and put a lot of energy into making it successful. If your active readers have a common interest or background, you may want to think about targeting your project topic to these readers. Prior to my first project, I had guessed that there were about 10-15 active readers, most of whom had their own photography sites.
  2. Choosing a Topic — The topic of your project should be strongly tied to the topic of your blog, and it should be interesting and informative to your readers. If you have a lot of active readers with the same site topic, make sure you keep them in mind so they'll be more willing to participate. I decided to keep my topic very broad but targeted to photography — I simply asked my readers to submit their photography-related site with a one sentence description.
  3. Setting the Boundaries — Based on your topic and your estimate of possible participants, you may or may not want to set further boundaries on the project to limit the size of it. If you allow too many participants, the resulting traffic and interest will be spread too thin to really make anybody happy about the results. My boundaries were fairly open for my project — I only asked that the entries be a photography-related site such as a photography blog, a photoblog, or a photo gallery. I wanted to get a better sense of who my readers were, and what their level of involvement was with photography. Plus, my readership wasn't so huge that I had to worry about hundreds of project entries.
  4. Laying Down the Rules — At this point you should have some idea of how the participants will go about entering the project — try to think of anything they could do differently from what you have in your head. The more follow-ups and clarifications you need to make with the entrants, the less time you have to focus on the other aspects of your project. I didn't set a lot of rules on my project. I asked that the participants use my contact form rather than the comments for their entries, I prominently set the deadline, and that the final list of entries remain in-tact if reposted. Everybody followed the rules.
  5. Promoting the Project — Your active readers are probably going to find out about the project quickly, and eagerly participate. But you want others to come and play too — it's called expanding your network. Make sure everybody who happens upon your site knows that you're running a project. Also, if your active readers don't hit the social networks within a couple of days, you might also consider doing a little self promotion if the project is lacking interest. Just don't do it five minutes after the project goes live — you'll look like a dork and it's kind of a turn-off to the other socialites. As soon as I posted the project I also posted a very prominent link to the project in my sidebar. This way, every visitor would have a much better chance of seeing the project. I also had a lot of support and promotion from my active readers who urged their readers to check out the project and submitted my project post to many of the social networks.
  6. Keeping Up With It — Stay on top of the entries as they come in! Don't wait until the project closes to put everything together. If you wait, you'll have a higher chance of screwing something up and getting really stressed out. I started my end-of-project post before I even had any entries — I got a lot of the structure in place so I could easily add the entries as they came in. When each entry came in, I would send a confirmation reply and add the entry to the final list immediately. If I had waited until the last minute, I would have been up all night putting the list together.

Running a project successfully can provide many benefits to you and your readers; increased traffic, new friends, expanding your network, boosting your authority, and an increased sense of community are just some of them. But those benefits can turn into costly detriments if your project flops. My biggest piece of advice for running a project: do the extra work up-front. The more effort and thought you put into it, the more it will show — and that will cause the project to be a success naturally. Another key point is to participate in a few other projects and learn from other bloggers. When you run your own project, learn from it and incorporate those learnings into your next project.

Like I said before, I've only run one project of my own. I was testing the water and getting a feel for my readers. I learned a lot and I am very pleased with the results. I managed to make a few new friends and bring others together who otherwise wouldn't have. Based on that project, I definitely plan on running another — but the rules and boundaries will be a bit different.

There are a couple of things I'll do differently in my next project. First, I'll require more than just a link to a site — it'll be a writing project or a photo project that requires original content. Second, I'll remove the rule for reposting the final list — repost what you like; it's your blog. And third, I'll remove the restriction for needing a photography-related site — just the content of the project entry will need to be photography-related. Other than that, I'll probably run it much in the same way I ran the first one.

Now for the tagging. These go out to the people whose projects I've participated in — Jim from JMG-Galleries, Antonio from Words:Irrational, Daniel from Daily Blog Tips, and Darren from Problogger. I know the last two are kind of big fish, but there's no harm in trying — right? The topic is how to run an outstanding blog project. Also, read the Bloggy Tag rules for more info on how this whole thing works.