All About the Blogathons Part 2: How to host your own

The Sea Hawk 1924, Frank Lloyd, Milton Sills, Enid Bennett, Wallace Beery, A Silent Movie Review
If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: No one wants a puffy shorts blogathon!

Welcome to the second half of my two-part series on blogathons. Last time, we talked about blogathon participation. This time, I will give you some tips for hosting your own blogathon.

So, you’ve decided that you want to host your own blogathon. First thing’s first, though.

Choosing your topic

You may already have a topic in mind but here are some tips that will ensure maximum participation.

Your topic should be broad enough to allow a variety of participants

There is nothing stopping you from announcing a Trigger the Wonder Horse Blogathon but such a specific subject would severely limit the number of potential participants. The Movie Horse Blogathon (which I am using as an example for these articles) allows a much wider variety topics to be explored.

Does this mean that you must avoid more obscure topics? No, but there are ways of making them have a more general appeal. (This is, of course, assuming that you want a larger pool of participants. Some hosts prefer a more intimate event.)

For example, I wanted to create a blogathon centered around Lon Chaney. Now Chaney is very popular, as silent stars go, but he only made one talkie and this fact would reduce the potential size of the blogathon. So, I expanded the event to include Lon Chaney, Jr. as well. Chaney Sr.’s extant films range from 1914 to 1930 while Chaney Jr.’s credited filmography stretches from 1932 to 1971. This gave participants over 50 years’ worth of films to choose from and resulted in a richer event.

Co-hosts, do you need them?

Now that you have an event theme, it is time to consider whether you want to have a co-host or co-hosts for the blogathon. Let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages:

Co-hosts

Some things are better together (via allposters.com)

Pros

  • You have someone to bounce ideas off of and to ask for advice
  • You will expand the number of potential participants with your combined readership and contacts
  • You can split the hosting duties
  • Your co-host may supply expertise in the topic that you lack

Cons

  • You have to consult with your co-host before making changes
  • You may not have the same ideas about running the event
  • You will divide the traffic generated by the blogathon

Solo hosting

For when you want to be alone (via Tumblr)

Pros

  • You can turn on a dime, making any changes you wish
  • You will get all the traffic generated by the blogathon
  • You can fine tune the personality of the event

Cons

  • You won’t have a co-host to consult or commiserate with
  • You will have to shoulder all the hosting duties
  • You will have to sign up all the participants yourself

I have both co-hosted and solo hosted blogathons and I enjoy both styles. Of course, I have had the advantage of working with wonderful co-hosts, which makes all the difference.

How do you ask someone to co-host? Contact them and ask them if they are available. Ask as far in advance as you can. I try to ask my co-hosts 4-6 months before the event launch date and I usually have blogathons planned at least that far in advance.

Duplicates. Duplicates. Duplicates. Duplicates.

The Play House Buster Keaton silent movie review, comedy short
Duplicates, do you want them?

No matter what your blogathon topic, one thing is certain: Some subjects will be more popular than others. If you host a Marilyn Monroe blogathon, you can be sure that The Seven Year Itch is going to be snapped up quickly. If you host a regency fiction blogathon, Jane Austen will surely be claimed immediately.

So, will you allow multiple blogs to host on the same topic? Or will you ask that there be no duplicates? What are the pros and cons of allowing duplicates?

Pros:

  • More bloggers will be able to write on popular topics
  • Get multiple takes on famous subjects

Cons:

  • Too many participants writing on the exact same subject may become tedious
  • Bloggers may hesitate to sign on if they see that their chosen topic may be claimed by someone else
  • Not as much topic variety

Note that there are some cases when you almost have to allow duplicates. For example, duplicates may be necessary for a James Dean Blogathon due to his extremely brief film career.

When to say “no”

A magnificent beast! And the horse looks pretty cool too.
A magnificent beast! And the horse looks pretty cool too.

You will, of course, have to set content boundaries for your blogathon. Will it be about a specific movie star, author or musician? What is acceptable and what is off-limits?

For example, I may decide that the Movie Horse Blogathon is only for live-action movies and TV episodes, no cartoon horses need apply. Other boundaries may include limiting eligible release dates (example: no films made before 1980), banning certain types of films (example: nothing rated above a PG), etc.

You and your co-hosts should decide these limits in advance. However, there is usually someone who will come up with a really off-the-wall topic during the course of a blogathon. It’s up to you whether to accept more unusual submissions. Just know that the subject will come up and you will have to make a decision.

If someone wants to submit something that is just not a good fit, thank them and politely let them know that you would love to have them aboard but you’re afraid that the topic is not quite right. You might also want to suggest a similar topic that they can cover.

For example: Let’s say that for the Movie Horse Blogathon, someone wants to write about the film Legend, which features unicorns. Since unicorns are not quite what I want, I will let the would-be participant know (politely!) that their choice does not suit the topic. I might then suggest another fantasy film that features a horse, such as Ladyhawke.

Banners

Banners are essential for hosting a blogathon. Participants will place them on their own blogs, spreading the word to all of their readers. But how do you make your own?

The Techy Stuff

First, you need an image that catch everyone’s eye and immediately show what your event is all about. You may have just the right image in your collection but if not, you can find lots of free images on the Wiki Commons, Doctor Macro, Morguefile and Stock Exchange.

Next, you need to add text to your banner. This should include:

The name of the event

The name of your blog and any co-hosts

The date(s) of the event

Optional: A tagline describing your event

Title, hosts, dates, all there!
A banner done right: Title, hosts, dates, all there!
Another winner! All the information is in place and the text is very clear.
Another winner! All the information is in place and the text is very clear.

Bloggers use a variety of programs to make their banners. Here are some links to tutorials that work for assorted programs. Please note that most of these tutorials are for header banners (short and fat) so be sure to make your banners taller and narrower. 2.5 inches by 3 inches is a good size to aim for.

(I am just offering links, not tech support.)

Video tutorial for making banners in MS Paint and MS Word

Text tutorial for making banners in MS Word

Text tutorial for making banners in Photoshop Elements

Text tutorial for making banners in GIMP*

*GIMP is a free, open source alternative to Photoshop

The Artsy Stuff

Now, let’s talk design! I am going to give you a few examples to show you how to get maximum bang for your buck.

Here are the two most common mistakes for blogathon banners:

Unreadable colors:

wrong-banner-1

This first image showcases a common banner mistake. The image is good and all the information is there but the bright primary colors are difficult to read against the background. And keep in mind that your participants might have smaller areas in which to display your banner, which means it will end up looking like this:

wrong-banner-1

Not too easy to make out, is it?

Unreadable fonts:

wrong-banner-2

In this case, there is better contrast between the image and the text but the fancy-pants font makes it very hard to read. And, remember, it probably will be much smaller once it gets plopped into a sidebar:

wrong-banner-2

This is not the best use of your banner.

The Simple Solution:

Here is a simple solution that will produce clear, easy to read banners. It’s not the fanciest banner in the world but it is readable. Simply take a solid color rectangle and place it at the top or bottom of the header image.

right-banner

Use dark or bright colors against white and pastels and brights against black. A basic, bold font. Easy, readable, done.

right-banner

Works like a charm.

Here are tutorials on how to draw rectangles in Photoshop Elements, GIMP, MS Paint and Paintbrush.

But what font should you use for your banner? (I am calling them fonts so that people know what I am talking about.)

Unless you are confident in your design skills, this is about clarity, not beauty. Impact is certainly used a lot online and Times New Roman is pretty vanilla but both will get your message clearly across, which is what your banner is all about. When you have to choose between fanciness and legibility, choose legibility. (Both are ideal but…)

Conclusion: You can get as fancy as you like with your fonts but always be aware of contrast, readability and the fact that the banner may shrink in a blog’s sidebar.

Remember, fonts have personality!

(And here are the arguments against Comic Sans and Papyrus, if you are interested. Yes, this is an emotional issue. Please don’t use them.)

This is my all prettied-up design. Note that I used a pale gradient at the bottom and a drop shadow on the top text to ensure that there is strong contrast between the image and the text. I also used fonts that are decorative but not too squiggly.

right-banner-2

And the shrunk-down version:

right-banner-2

Ta-da!

This is all basic Photoshop stuff. You can use your search engine of choice to find tutorials for all of these techniques. As I wrote before, I won’t be able to offer tech support but there are a ton of great articles and step-by-step instructions on the web.

Getting the word out

Participation is the key to a successful blogathon. Getting the word out can be a challenge but here are some methods that I have found helpful.

Your announcement post

A month or two before your launch date, post an announcement with all of your blogathon particulars. This is where you describe your event and let people know the rules for participation. Most hosts also post a roster of participants, updating as more sign on.

Here are some examples of announcement posts:

The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon (shameless self-plug)

The Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon

The Great Imaginary Film Blogathon

Crickets

Most blogathon hosts will tell you that there is an awful stretch of time between your announcement and your first sign-up. Don’t stress! Here are some ideas to help you get some participants.

(If you are really terrified of this, get yourself a co-host as you will be guaranteed at least one other participant.)

Social media

Do not be shy! Plug your blogathon shamelessly on whatever social media you make use of. Post your banners, make announcements whenever someone signs up, make noise!

Open up the old address book

Personally invite bloggers whose work you enjoy. You can also look at other blogathons and make contact with participants from those events. Send a friendly message inviting them aboard. Not everyone will be able to make time (some bloggers have their posts planned weeks or months in advance) but quite a few should sign up if your topic is within their writing target.

Use your memberships

If you belong to blog associations, see if they will allow you to make a small announcement on their homepage. Some blog hubs even have dedicated blogathon pages where you can spread the word.

The big day!

Time for the blogathon already?
Time for the blogathon already?

The culmination of all your hard work! Here are some things to keep in mind on the days of the event.

Your roster page

On the day of the blogathon, you will want to post a list of all the participants. As your participants post, they will (you hope) send over links to their contribution. You can then add those links to your roster.

If you are hosting a multi-day event, it may make sense to post a list of that day’s participants. The disadvantage is that is can be harder to keep up with the event if you have to look through multiple posts. Let’s take a look at some well-run events.

Single-post rosters:

The Mary Astor Blogathon (two hosts, each with one post for all participants)

Children in Films Blogathon (one host, one post for all participants)

And multi-post rosters:

Dynamic Duos of Classic Film Blogathon (two hosts, each one taking a turn at posting the participants for the day)

The William Castle Blogathon (two hosts, each taking a turn at posting the participants for the day)

Reminders and no-shows

A popular blogathon can have dozens of participants. Should the host remind them of the event?

Two schools of thought on this. The first group feels that we are all big boys and girls and it is the duty of the participants to show up. The second group feels that a friendly reminder is always a good idea.

Both positions have good arguments so decide in advance which one you want to embrace.

Read, read, read

Oh Doctor Reginald Denny Mary Astor Silent Comedy 1925

This is the most time consuming job you will have as a host. It is also the most important and the most rewarding. You need to read all of the posts that have been contributed to your event. I also like to leave a comment on each and every participating blog (if they accept them). First of all, it is a great pleasure to read everyone’s take on your topic. Second, the success of a blogathon depends on the participants and it is important to show them that you enjoyed their work.

Thank you and good night!

Another nice touch is to close out your event with a “thank you” post for your participants and any co-hosts you may have had. You can put this up the day of the blogathon or a few days later. It’s by no means a requirement but it is rather nice.

***

I hope this article has helped you know what is involved in hosting a blogathon. Be sure to leave a comment if you have any additional suggestions!

16 Replies to “All About the Blogathons Part 2: How to host your own”

  1. Some excellent ideas!

    May I suggest another format for creating banners: Irfanview (http://www.irfanview.com/). It’s free, has plenty of options and is a nice alternative to Photoshop.

    Regarding banner fonts, it’s always wise to use a font appropriate to the topic. For example, recently I hosted “The Great Silent Recasting,” where the premise was to recast a post-1965 film with a studio, director and stars who worked during the silent era (I used 1929 as a cutoff point). For banners, I made sure to use fonts that made sense for that time period, such as http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/vp19/11600353/2433461/2433461_original.jpg

    As it turned out, the blogathon had a good, if not great, response…perhaps because people weren’t sufficiently familiar with silent-era personnel to come up with ideas.

  2. Many thanks for this and the previous post. As someone relatively new to the blogathon scene, they’ve both been a great help, especially this one, since I’ve really enjoyed participating in the ones I’ve done so far (and am looking forward to the CMHPB) and I’ve actually given some thought to trying to host one of my own, and this has really given me some good food for thought. Hmmm…

  3. as someone who’s co-hosted one so far, your suggestions are spot ON. It helps to have a similar-thinking co-host, the topic has to have lots of potential and it’s tons of work, but a lot of fun and I can’t wait to do another. great posts, thanks, I learned a lot more.

Comments are closed.