Back in March, ASHAsphere posted "The Best Speech Therapy blogs from A to Z" by Heidi Kay from PediaStaff. The idea for the post originated from the growing number of new blogs that have appeared and a need for a comprehensive compilation. It's a great resource-though new and noteworthy blogs continue to crop up.
The world of blogging is an exciting one. A therapy blog, specific to a given field, gives you a chance to share your expertise and provides countless chances to network and collaborate with like-minded providers through blog comments. Blogs can run the gamut from research ideas and treatment activities to assessment and course reviews. There continues to be a need for new voices that offer different perspectives and knowledge of specialty areas.
I decided to start my own blog to share the treatment activities and materials I had created and used successfully with preschool and school-age clients. It provides me with a creative outlet and a chance to interact with other clinicians, an opportunity not readily available to many school-based speech-language pathologists. It celebrated its one-year anniversary in July. To commemorate the milestone, I thought about lessons I learned. I gathered tips to share, which, I hope, will encourage you to jump in and do the same:
- Get organized. You need a name, host, and blogging platform. For me, it was important my name cover both my clinical business and my website and, most important, that it was available as a dot-com. Although I started blogging a year ago, I had secured my domain name much earlier, when I started my practice in 2006. Owning your own domain name gives you more freedom to change hosts or your blogging platform. If you blog through a free blogging platform like Blogspot, you don't truly own your blog/name and it's very tricky to move readers from one site to another if you change your mind later. I have a number of technical people in my life who gave me guidance in the hosting/platform arena. You'll need to do your own research, but my site is hosted on bluehost.com and I use WordPress to blog.
- Become inspired. Spend some time imagining the blog based on your tastes and interests. Don't think too much about your readers yet. If you enjoy what you do, readers will find value in it, too. And you need to be sure your style and slant are things you'll want to maintain. Do you want to share your knowledge with other clinicians? Will this be a resource for your clients or their caregivers?
- Combine your knowledge and unique viewpoint. Try to set yourself apart in some way. For instance, there are several excellent technology/app sites out there already, and unless you bring something very different to the table, you might want to reconsider your niche. Think about the resources you tend to look for, but can't find. Incorporate your skill set, but let readers know if your recommendations are evidence-based practice or anecdotal from clinical experience.
- Start writing. Once you have your site up and running-and, yes, I'm glossing right over technical and design issues-start writing. Sometimes writing is half the battle. Don't worry that you'll run out of things to say or about being perfect. Just get going. Writing also gives you a chance to get a feel for who you are and what you want. You may find yourself going in a different direction than you originally anticipated and that's fine. It's OK to evolve.
- Pay attention to details. If you can, write a post, walk away (a full day is ideal), and re-read it out loud, which is a great way to catch typos and awkward phrasing. Your writing will be much better with the edits. Double-check your grammar and use spellcheck.
- Use an editorial calendar. Using this tool will actually make it easier for you to persevere in the long run because ideas generate more ideas. Using an editorial calendar was something I learned at a blogging convention last fall. I chose a pattern of a Wednesday post one week, with Tuesday and Thursday posts the following, which was a schedule I thought I could keep up with long term. I have an actual calendar I use to jot down and "schedule" post ideas. Because I post treatment ideas along with tips and general musings, it also helps me keep a balance between these topics.
- Test the waters. Once your initial posts are up, ask a friend or family member to weigh in. Allow the tester to do this in private, on his or her own computer. You want to be sure the tester can find, without assistance, links and buttons. You also want to be sure your site is translating well on other devices. Does the tester have any suggestions? Remember, a suggestion is not a to-do list-consider the input and make your own decision.
- Make adjustments. WordPress keeps daily statistics for you or you can install Google Analytics. This information will give you a good idea of what seems to be resonating with your readers and how they found you. Keep working on your own style.
- Stay true to yourself. This is a tough one, because it requires thick skin. You'll begin to gain readers/subscribers (hooray!) and they'll comment periodically (yippee!). But you will also have someone unsubscribe at some point (ack!) or submit a comment you don't love (boo!). Remember, you can't please every palate-nor should you try.
- Increase your reach. Wondering how to get readers to come back or show up in the first place? Some of it just takes time and regular posting, but there are some things you can do to increase visibility. Be sure to announce your new post on Facebook or Twitter (with #SLPBlogger and #SLPeeps). Comment appropriately and thoughtfully on similar blogs. If you are particularly proud of a post, submit it to a large compilation blog (such as ASHAsphere or PediaStaff) or see if you can guest post on a site with more traffic. You might consider reading up on search engine optimization (SEO). Categorizing and tagging posts helps with visibility over time, as do clear and concise titles.
- Go easy on design. Peculiar fonts, odd color choices (i.e. white text on black), background music, and animated sidebars can quickly ruin an otherwise enjoyable site.
- Keep it brief. Blog post lengths are best kept on the short to moderate side. If you have lots to say on a particular topic consider 1) breaking it into a multipart post, 2) adding breaks with photos, 3) using a numbered list or bullet-point format, or 4) ignoring all advice and ranting! (Probably best saved for special occasions.)
I'm constantly sampling other sites and tweaking my own. This summer, for example, I added an ongoing series, "Home is Where the Heart Is," with a focus on parents/caregivers. To mix things up this fall, I started posting every Tuesday and Thursday. ActivityTailor.com originally began as a way to organize my thoughts and share my ideas on the field I love. I never would have imagined that it would result in the chance to meet so many wonderful SLPs, increase my clinical knowledge, and further spark my creativity. I can't wait to see what the next year holds!