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April 10, 2008 / jnolen

How do you manage to blog so much?

I realize the irony of posting that title here, on my personal blog that has barely seen one entry per month lately. However, the subject at hand is actually Atlassian's company blogs, which you can find here and here. And we do manage to post up a good stream of interesting material there. We're tracking about six to eight posts posts a week, if you include both blogs. And we've seen our readership increase steadily since we started keeping track. I mean, we're not 37 Signals or anything, but we're getting there.

And it's obviously because of this, and not my depressingly-silent personal blog, that Steve Lane of Soliant wrote me this morning and asked:

We'd love to have a blog stream half as rich as Atlassian's. I want to find out how blogging is motivated at Atlassian? Are there specific incentives for blogging? Are people paid for it? Is it a prize to even be asked to blog, so people vie for the privilege? Do people expect their work targets to be reduced to make time to blog?

It seemed a good question, and one that would be generally interesting. So in keeping with the theme, here is my answer, in blog form:

Click through for more….

1. Blogging starts at the top
Blogging has been a part of Atlassian's culture from its earliest days. One of the two co-founders, Mike Cannon-Brookes, has been blogging for and about Atlassian since he started the company (although much more so in the early days than in recent ones). But he encouraged and set an example for all the Atlassians who came after. Mike recognized and preached the value of Atlassian blogging as much as possible, on any platform, and in public. Because of that:
2. Blogging is part of everyone's job
We try to make sure everyone at Atlassian understands that reading and writing blogs is a normal, fundamental part of their job. On each new employee's first day, they are required to subscribe to the internal blog feed and required to post a blog to introduce themselves to everyone.
And that really is everyone. It's not just the executives, or just the developers, or just the professional marketing folks who are encouraged to blog — everyone in the company, no matter what their job may be, is encouraged to participate.
We don't want blogging to feel like an extra duty, or a special privilege, or something that you do only when you have time, or when you feel like goofing off for a while. Blogging is work, and it takes time and effort to do it well. We want people to invest that time at the top of their priority list, not at the bottom.
3. Blogging is how we talk to ourselves
Atlassian has now spread across the globe: we have employees in Sydney, San Francisco, London, Poland and Kuala Lumpur. So when you need to talk to the group blogging is the best way to do it. Every post shows up in group feed (which, remember, everyone is required to subscribe to). So a blog post starts our conversation, comments continue it, and often the results of the discussion are distilled into a wiki page. But no matter the outcome, the whole process is archived, searchable, and linkable later. Having that record of discussion and opinion and decision-making is incredibly valuable.
4. Make internal blogs public blogs
You may have noticed that the first three tips are really all about how we use blogs to communicate amongst ourselves. And the astute among you will have also noticed that Steve wasn't really asking about internal blogging. He wants to pump his public blog stream. Fortunately, internal and external blogging are all part of the same ecosystem. We find it much easier to have a vibrant public blog because we have a vibrant internal blog scene. The internal blogs feed the external one.
Many posts that begin in private are later made public. Whenever I see an internal post that we think would be interesting to readers on the outside, I (or someone else) leaves a comment that just says "dev blog it!," The author can then move the post out to the public blog and carry on the discussion there.
5. Blog about everything
Don't worry about what you're blogging. Every post, no matter how trivial, builds a bond between you and your customers. Sometimes the more trivial posts are the best. Blog about your stupid office pranks. Blog about developer in-jokes. Blog about company outings. Blog about cool developments in technology, or great products that may have nothing at all to do with your business. Anything about which you can have an interesting opinion, which could express your views or your culture, is great on the blog.
In my view, the primary purpose of your public blog is not about marketing your products or even spreading useful information, though it can do those things. The primary benefit of the blog is building relationships with your customers. Your customers and your fans want to know more about you. They want to know who you are, they want to see your faces. Make the blog personal; use your full names and email addresses, put your picture next to your posts. You're trying to establish a relationship, and the more information you can share about your company, the more connected and the more valuable your blog will become.
6. If you take it seriously, measure it
If you want to increase the amount of blogging at your company, then you need to start measuring it. The three easiest and most relevant metrics that we use are 1) posting-frequency, 2) number of unique authors, and 3) total subscribers. Firstly, you want to have frequent, steady, quality content to keep your readers engaged, so you need to track how often you're posting. Secondly, you want to ensure that there are a variety of viewpoints represented, and that the burden of keeping up the blog doesn't fall on any one person or team. So measure how many different company authors and commenters are participating. And thirdly, you need to know if your blogging is resonating with your audience and creating the kind of engagement you want. The best proxy we've found to measure this is the number of feed subscribers.
You can obviously track more specific metrics like the popularity of individual posts, or how many trackbacks and comments they generate. But our overall goal is engaged attention of our customers. We know it's an ongoing process that will unfold over months and years. Counting subscribers is the best way for us to measure that long-term engagement.
Set up your measurements at the beginning of your project and track their growth somewhere highly visible. And if you're going to measure your efforts, then you need to set goals and celebrate your successes. Blogging is a big deal — it should be a central part of your company's efforts. We made blog-engagement one of the top five goals for engineering last year, and worked toward it with as much effort as each new release or our hiring goals.
7. Have a champion
Here's another technique that we've used with some success. Even though blogging is part of everyone's job, we've designated a Blogging Champion (the position rotates every so often) who is responsible for some special blog-related duties. The Blogging Champion is not responsible for writing (more) posts. But he or she is responsible for encouraging and motivating everyone else to blog more. So she goes out of her way to measure and report statistics, to notice and encourage internal posts which should be made public, and to extract lessons to make the whole process more effective. It might also be his responsibility to deal with some of the infrastructure: making sure everyone has accounts, approving comments, dealing with spam.
The blogging champion publishes an internal post every few months with lovely charts and graphs tracking our blogging metrics, showing us just how much our post frequency and subscriber count has grown. It's also useful for the Champion to look back and see exactly which kinds of posts resonated the most with the audience in order to inform our future subjects.
Thinking about our blogging efforts at Atlassian, it's clear that we still have plenty of room to improve, and I always feel that we could make even more information public. But I'm pretty happy about how far we've come since I started at Atlassian three years ago. I've tried to list the attitudes and practices that have gotten us this far, and I hope it proves useful. But I'd love to hear more ideas, though, from people inside and outside Atlassian. Have I missed anything? Are there things that your company does differently that have been successful?


  1. Charles Miller / Apr 10 2008 1:52 am

    +1 dev blog :)

  2. Mike Cannon-Brookes / Apr 10 2008 7:01 am

    Great post mate – dev blog it! :)

  3. wojtek / Apr 10 2008 12:39 pm

    Great post Jonathan.
    Blogging almost replaced e-mailing (especially CC) here.
    @Charles: I can always count on your comments! :)

  4. Richard McLaughlin / Apr 10 2008 6:06 pm

    I used to work for Microsoft and we had file shares. Try working on a file that everyone can share that does not allow multiple real time changes – in a simple text document.
    Using a blog allows people to edit what they want much more easily – and although this is a low tech solution it has worked for my present clients that are working together.
    File share. Do people remember file share? We used to have special servers just for this. Now the idea of share is second nature. My 17 year old was born when I was working on main frames (Harris, to be specific) and she was 2 when I built my first LAN (really a MAN for a university in central Paris) Does anyone say LAN, MAN or WAN anymore? It’s all just the network.
    On projects I used MSProject. Document saved on my desk and emailed to people on the team. Changes came back and I had to try and mix them into the first document. Even if you don’t share the files a blog is great for comments.
    Blogging is a great office tool, too bad people in France, where I live, pretty much consider it a toy for kids. Like Instant message.
    Don’t get me started on IM, greatest tool out there and twitter is trying to destroy its value by – well by being twitter.

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