Questions to ask when you're hiring a blogger

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Michael Haggerty of Trellon, a Washington, DC-based Drupal shop, asked LinkedIn Answers:

I need to hire a blogger, someone who can write about open source and issues affecting non-profits. Basically, I need someone who can take ideas from my team and synthesize them into something that sounds right on our blog. Dunno how to find someone for this position, evaluate his / her skills, or set expectations. Would appreciate any advice.

Clarification: There has been a lot of feedback on this topic - to be clear, I have no interest in outsourcing. I want to hire someone to work for me directly, and am really asking what kinds of characteristics to look for when evaluating candidates aside from writing skills.

Here are the chief characteristics I'd look for:

  • Do they currently blog in a voice that's somewhere in the neighbourhood of what you're looking for? Your preference is people who won't have to force a different tone to their writing - although they should be flexible enough to take direction.
  • Are they crazy-passionate about social missions and open-source... without actually being rabid? You want passion and knowledge, but not someone who gets into reader-alienating rants.
  • Have they met regular writing deadlines before? A candidate can be a lovely writer... but if each post takes a week to craft, you probably won't be getting value for your investment.
  • Do they engage with the broader web world? You want someone who doesn't just create blog posts, but can spur and develop productive conversations - both on your blog and elsewhere.
  • Do they know how to promote a blog post? Your ideal blogger doesn't just write something terrific: they head out into the social media world and drum up interest.
  • Do they understand social media beyond blogging? Your best candidate will be as comfortable engaging followers on Twitter and commenting on YouTube videos as they are cranking out high-quality blog posts.
  • Do you like and respect them? You're going to need to have a meeting of the minds... and as intellectual an exercise as that is, it also requires a level of personal rapport. Plus an engaging personality is a must for connecting with your audience.
  • Are they outgoing? Their work may well take them away from the keyboard to meetups, one-on-one conversations, phone interviews and video calls as they research blog posts... and even if it doesn't, you want them to be an effective ambassador for your blog in their day-to-day informal conversations.
  • Do they *really* get the non-profit sector and open-source? A lot of people have a vague, arm-waving idea of what non-profits are up to, but don't understand their culture and unique challenges and strengths. The same goes for open-source.

Re. how to find someone (if you're still wondering about that), and assuming you're also doing a traditional candidate search, here are a few thoughts on finding folks through other means as well:

I'd start by doing some personal networking - search LinkedIn for the keyword "nptech", and you should get a list of non-profit technology practitioners in your network. Let them know what you're looking for, and ask them for leads.

Next, do a Technorati search on the nptech keyword - through their blog directory in the first instance, so you're not overwhelmed by search results - and see if you can find promising candidates. You (or an assistant) can sift through the results for bloggers who match the profile you're looking for.

You can also drop by the Washington, DC Net Tuesday meetup and put feelers out there. Net Tuesdays bring out non-profit tech practitioners, with an emphasis on folks on the social web side of things.

Finally, Beth Kanter is an international treasure, and her blog is a fantastic source of links to non-profit bloggers, as well as all other things non-profit.

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