An Interview with Phil Cooke
Phil Cooke has been involved in advocating house of worship blogging and online networking for many years. He has developed incredibly effective blogs of his own and has been a valued consultant for many individuals and facilities who wish to reach out with this potentially potent communication method. We asked him a few questions about what the best ways are to build and promote a worship blog.
TFWM: When starting out, what are some good examples of blogs to emulate?
Phil Cooke: I would start scanning the “blog roll” of particular blogs you personally like. For instance, if I’m a pastor, I would start looking over the blogs that guys like Perry Noble, Bil Cornelius, Dino Rizzo, Mark Driscoll, Mark Batterson, Greg Groeschel, and others recommend. If I’m a church communications director, check out the blog roll of Kem Meyer or Greg Atkinson. If you’re a strategist or leader, check out what blogs Tony Morgan is reading. If you’re into media and culture, see what I’m reading. I’ve discovered that checking out other people’s blog rolls are very helpful and insightful.
TFWM: What are some effective ways to promote your blog?
PC: If no one’s reading your blog, it’s a huge waste of time, so promotion becomes very important. Here are some techniques to consider:
First, take your blog seriously. Although I speak at conferences and write books, I realize that my blog at philcooke.com is the most watched thing I do. It’s the fastest way to understand what I’m thinking right now. So it’s much more than just a hobby.
Second, whenever I write something I think certain people will be interested in, I’ll email them the link and ask them to respond. I have a lot of very articulate friends, and they’ll often read it, respond online, and send the link to others. Be frank with people. Let them know you’re trying to spread the word and they can be very helpful. By the same token, don’t send them something every week. Be selective. Keep them interested. Don’t turn them off by becoming a spammer.
Third, if you ever speak at workshops or events, create a handout and make sure your blog URL is on it.
Fourth, I made up business cards for my blog and I hand them out everywhere I go. Don’t be afraid to talk it up and recommend it to people. I also include my URL on my email signature.
Fifth, ask friends and like-minded bloggers to add your link to their blog roll.
Finally, when I write a post that could be edited into a magazine article, I’ll send it to appropriate magazines and very often they will print it. That drives a great number of people to the blog.
TFWM: What is considered good etiquette when blogging- (how often to blog, what to discuss, promoting websites, etc.)
PC: There are over 100 million blogs out there, and yet the platform is still in its infancy in many ways. Etiquette is open for discussion, but here are some suggestions from my experience at philcooke.com:
1) Be careful about slander and libel. I’m very careful about naming names if I’m being critical. If I use illustrations from our client work at Cooke Pictures, I’ll take the high road and usually not mention specific people, ministries, or projects. One of my big frustrations is that if I do mention a specific ministry that is doing really bad stuff, my readership skyrockets. Here I am trying to write a serious blog about faith, culture, and media, and yet people seem to want a religious gossip column! But I have to over-power that urge and stick to things that matter.
2) Stick to what you know. The most successful blogs are disciplined blogs. If you’re an expert at church lighting, that’s why people are interested in your blog. They don’t care about your opinion of Barack Obama, the financial crisis, or your day at the state fair. Stick to your expertise, and don’t ramble about things outside that world.
3) I blog at least once a day. My experience has been that if people come to your blog twice and nothing has changed, they’ll stop coming. Don’t start this thing if you’re not interested in writing, and writing often. Seth Godin gave me a really great endorsement for my new book “The Last TV Evangelist,” and I’ve used his blog as a model. Very disciplined. He writes once a day, and doesn’t post links, news items, or other stuff. Seth’s Blog is about his personal insights on marketing and the world of influence, and that’s why it’s so incredibly popular.
4) I tried advertising through Google’s Adsense, but it didn’t work for me. I thought it cheapened the look of the blog, and I had very little control over the ads. So from an advertising perspective, I’m flying solo right now.
TFWM: Is it better to launch a blog through the church website, or as an individual from the church?
PC: Great question. If you associate your blog with the church, you have to be more careful regarding the subjects and issues you deal with. People assume you’re speaking for the church, so you have to be more sensitive. For my money, I’d be independent – even if I was the pastor. Who knows? You might not be at that particular church forever, but your blog could be a lifetime passion. Once you’re popular, having to change your URL could be a death-knell.
Also, the entire blog experience is about being a behind the scenes, candid, personal journal. So blogging for an “official” organization is a little counter-intuitive for me. I prefer the personal insights that an independent blogger can offer. In my own case, although we link, my blog at philcooke.com isn’t officially a part of the Cooke Pictures website. So I don’t even speak for my own company!
TFWM: Are standard websites being replaced by blogs?
PC: We often recommend that to our clients at Cooke Pictures. The reason is that Google and other search engine spiders scan websites based on how often content changes. With a normal website, the content may not change too often, but a blog can change multiple times a day. Therefore, in most cases, a blog is more likely to come up in an online search. It’s really a question of how you treat your website and what your purposes are. I can’t emphasize enough that if you’re not going to post and post often, then don’t get started with a blog.
TFWM: What are some good ways to set out your goals prior to launching your blog? (assessing your audience, determining your content, frequency, etc.)
PC: Perhaps it’s because I wrote the book “Branding Faith” – the brand story is the most important issue for me. Your blog should be a key part of your personal brand. What subject are you authoritative in? What makes you different from other blogs? Why should I read what you have to say? Those are the key first questions. In a cluttered, online world of 100 million blogs, you have to be unique and different. In today’s online world, the future is about “findability.” In a digital universe, if I type your name in a search engine and nothing comes up, you don’t exist. My new book “The Last TV Evangelist” deals with the implications of this digital transition in great detail. I believe it’s the most significant shift in how we communicate since the invention of the printing press.
TFWM: Are Vlogs essentially the future of blogging, or do you think there will always be a place on the web for text based blogging?
PC: “Video Blogs” were interesting when they first started, but I see very few serious video bloggers out there today. The reason is that I can read faster than listen to you talk, and for a multi-tasking, A.D.D. generation, that’s important. Plus, unless you have a budget and the talent to make it interesting, I have no interest in watching you ramble about something while sitting in your bedroom. Another important issue is ease of use. I keep my video stuff on my podcast, and keep my blog based on text, because I want people to be able to easily download my blog on their Blackberry, iPhone, or other device.
TFWM: Are there certain looks/designs which work better for certain blogs?
PC: It’s really a question of the brand. The “look and feel” of your blog needs to reflect your own personal brand. A theological blog should look different than a church tech blog. I can’t say enough about the importance of your personal brand when it comes to blogs. Be different. Be unique. And most important – say something that really matters. In a world of media clutter, your voice needs to be heard, so make it count.
My new book: “The Last TV Evangelist: Why The Next Generation Couldn’t Care Less About Religious Media” has just been released by Conversant Life (conversantlife.com). It’s a hard core look at the failures and the future of religious media. It’s been endorsed by a wide range of highly respected people from marketing guru Seth Godin, to the producers of movies like “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “Elf,” and “Mission Impossible III.” Brad Abare, founder of “Church Marketing Sucks” said “This book will either cost Phil his career in ministry media, or elevate him to cult status.”
Also, my blog is called “The Change Revolution” (philcooke.com) and is focused on issues of faith, culture, and media. It may be the most important blog for helping the Church re-discover its voice in today’s media-driven culture.
My company website is www.cookepictures.com