How To Start A Blog Network

by Mike Holman

Perhaps one of the best decisions I’ve made in my blogging career was to start the M-Network. I was lucky enough to hook up with 9 other great bloggers. Although we are not always like-minded, it makes us a stronger bunch as we bring our own unique perspective to the network. Due to the success of the network, I am occasionally asked by other bloggers about how to start a blog network.

network

In this post, I am going to outline some of the steps and things that we do to support each other. But before I begin, I should explain that there are many types of network. For example, you could be part of a FeedBurner Ad Network, or a Blogroll Network (i.e., Frugal Hacks, Money Hackers, and The Snowflake Revolution). However, I will be talking about the type of network where a closely knitted group of bloggers that act as business partners and intelligence engine.

How To Start A Blog Network

1. Define your goal

What would you like to accomplish with the network? How big do you want to grow the network?

For example, I wanted a handful (some number less than a dozen) of bloggers in similar situation who would collaborate with me and help each other grow our blogs. This includes sharing information about monetization, marketing, traffic generation, SEO, and so forth. I also wanted moral support if it’s ever needed.

2. Define the ground rules

Who makes the decision? What types of blog should be included? What’s the minimum level of activity? What’s the minimum level of participation?

For example, I decided early on that I didn’t want to be the sole decision maker. As a result, our group relies on the majority rule voting, or unanimous decision, depending on the importance of the decision being made. We also decided that we should only include personal finance blogs that post content at least 3 times a week. Members should also participate in conversations and projects when necessary.

3. Establish the primary network communication channel

In order for a group to work effectively, you’ll need a group communication tool — emails will get out of hand very quickly. One of the easiest ways to establish a network communication channel is through services like Yahoo! Groups or Google Groups. Or if you’re a little more web savvy, you could set up a forums using free forums software like phpBB.

This is going to be the backbone of the network where members can collaborate, consult, and support each other.

4. Establish the network identity

This is the banner under which all members will rally. This is no different than your blog’s name. It is something to be known by. You need an identity to build reputation. Once you decided on an identity, be sure to register for your domain name before going public with it.

I didn’t check the availability of our network domain name early on and it caused some issues down the road.

5. Recruit members

When you started a network, you’ll need members to join it. An approach would be to make a public announcement — which I did initially. However, a much better way is to scout out potential members and contact them directly. This way, you have much more control over the blogger’s content quality, writing style, personality, audience reach, etc. This was a method that we later adopted as a group.

6. Launch

At this point you are ready to launch. You could put each other on the blogroll, and mention the network to your readers. If you are familiar with press release site, you could announce your network via these sites as well. One of the best site for announcing a new blog network is called Blog Network Watch.

Note that we didn’t have a dedicated network site or joint RSS feed initially. Members had the option of listing other members in a special M-Network blogroll, or set up a page dedicated for M-Network.

7. Working together

As the network comes together, there are several things you could do to establish the network’s and members’ brand. Here are some of the things we have done in the past:

Externally

  • Group writing projects that are exclusive to network members
  • Group writing projects that are open to other bloggers
  • Promote each other articles through follow up or opposing view articles
  • Round up posts that highlight other members
  • Comment on each other blogs
  • Give each other social networking push

Internally

  • Share monetization ideas and information
  • Discuss post ideas
  • Share SEO ideas and information
  • Share blog design ideas and information

How much you do together and share is up to the group and only limited by your imagination.

8. Other pieces

As the M-Network matured, we have added two components to the network:

  1. Aggregated RSS Feed — This feed allows readers to subscribe to all blogs with one subscription. This is not the biggest feed in the group, but it’s nice to know that there are over 100 extra subscribers reading our blogs.
  2. Network Web Site or Blog — Our network exists over 6 months before we finally took the plunge and started our own centralized blog. The centralized blog is a place where we announce group projects and other network activities. And here are some additional features:
    • Headlines feed with excerpt –Shows the latest posts from the network with short excerpts.
    • Network email updates and RSS feed — Allows you to subscribe to email updates and RSS feed for the entire network. This eliminates the hassle of subscribing to individual feeds.
    • Network-wide search – Allows you to search the entire network.
    • Links to network blogs
    • Headline Feed for individual blog

I hope this post is helpful to those thinking about taking their blogs to the next level, or starting a network.

Photo by kaibara87 via Flickr

{ 14 comments }

1 FFB

Great list of ideas on how to start a network. Interesting, when we started the Money Life Network we followed many of the same steps. Of course we had the M-Network’s example to follow.

We found it was important to start with a small group of like-minded sites whose content didn’t cross exactly. We wanted to cast as wide a net as possible while still focusing on personal finance. I think the M-Network has done a great job with that.

Also, with a smaller group it’s easier to make decisions. We learned that a forum is a really great way to communicate. Our emails were jumping back and forth and getting real long (thanks to Prime Time Money for setting that up).

One last note – It’s fun having a blog network! It’s great interacting with fellow members and shooting ideas back and forth. You think you know a little bit and then you see what other people are coming up with…it’s real inspiring.

Thanks for the great article!

2 Pinyo

I am very impressed with the Money Life Network. In many aspects, it’s a newer better M-Network.

3 Curt

Very interesting. I will be looking for a network very soon. The Money Life Network look like it has a lot of potential. I expecially look forward sharing ideas and information.

4 PT

Nice write-up Pinyo. I love our network…totally inspired by your gang. We (MLNers) followed most of this “how to” advice just by watching you guys closely.

You mention decision making. Could you share some detail as to how that’s done? Forum poll? Forum discussion vote? And how are Network ideas brought up to be discussed/voted on?

Also, here’s an article I found on the importance of maintaining solid content and creativity with your network: http://wisdump.com/web/why-blog-networks-failed/

@FFB – I agree. Ultimately it makes the pf blogging experience more like having a group of friends online instead of acquaintences.

5 Peter

Great post pinyo!

When we started Money Life Network we followed a lot of these suggestions and it was very helpful. We have M-network to thank for a lot of that, in addition to a couple of the other personal finance networks out there.

I love the ideas that you mention above as working together. I think some of those will definitely come in handy as we begin taking our network to the next level using contests, group writing projects and so forth.

I think the social aspect of having a network is one of the great perks – getting to know some other bloggers who really are great people as well! Once you get to know them you actually enjoy helping them to succeed, and vice-versa. It’s a great situation!

Thanks for the great post! stumbled.

6 Mrs. Micah

Pinyo, I’m very grateful that you started the M-Network. I loved learning from the blogs even before I joined and since then I feel my blog has really come up a notch. Not planning to start my own soon, ;) but this can apply to many other group situations.

And if I ever get my new non-PF blog off the ground then perhaps I can start one with it.

7 Pinyo

@PT — Thank you. As for decision making, anyone can throw out ideas and the rest would vote on it. Normally, it’s a new discussion thread for each decision.

@Peter — Yeah, having someone to talk openly with is one of the best thing about the network.

@Mrs. Micah — another blog…you’re one busy lady. ;-)

8 plonkee

As an m-network member who’s keen on consensus decisions, I’d say that we don’t often formally vote, it’s more likely to be a straw poll in a forum or email thread, than an option voting thing. If it’s important, we tend to allow everyone to have a say before we make up our minds.

None of this is set in stone, and I’m not sure we’ve really discussed it, it’s just how it seems to have worked out.

I really appreciate the social aspect of our network, and the fact that we are all different, both in what we blog about, but also in how we approach blogging. Diversity is good.

9 snow

how do i start a blog site

10 Laura

I never thought about starting a blog network. Thanks for the resource. I’ll think about getting some friends to join.

11 Corey Freeman

Nice. I’m starting a blog network myself (ripped edge media) and I found this post insanely helpful. We actually have a lot of the steps completed already, but there were a few I hadn’t thought of (like the aggregation)

12 Shirei

Huoo its amazing article. I never think to build network. I only focused with content and traffic. Thx for the tips. I will try for it ^^

13 Pinyo

@Plonkee — Although I occasionally wish that we are all sitting in a circle in a room somewhere. I think that would be cool, but a little creepy.

@Snow — You need this article:

http://www.blogthority.com/51/how-to-start-a-wordpress-blog-in-9-easy-steps/

@Laura — It’s a lot of fun to do things together, especially at the beginning when everyone need some help.

@Corey — Cool network name. What’s the network about?

@Shirei — Starting a network is a great way to build traffic and even content (by exchanging ideas and doing group writing projects).

14 pfincome

Pinyo – I wish I would have found this post several months ago. I have been trying to get a group of bloggers to start a network but have not had much luck. Hopefully I can use some of your tips.

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