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.
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.
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:
- 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
- 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:
- 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.
- 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