For many, blogging brings a certain amount of fear. Fear of not writing enough, fear of writing too much, fear that no-one will read, fear that people actually will read. So what is it about blogging that paralyses people who are usually so socially capable?
As a follow-up to the We Are What We Tweet event I recently spent some time discussing the merits of blogging as a mechanism to build an engaged audience. Many people are completely comfortable doing this in face-to-face situations –sharing ideas, thoughts and perspectives or simply chatting is something that comes completely naturally to most.
Blogging really should be the same –a rewarding activity that isn’t too difficult or time-consuming. So partly for my own benefit and partly in response to that discussion, here are a few ideas…
What’s your motivation?
Are you sharing life’s stories, trying to build a brand, documenting or publicising your event or business, or seeking to stimulate thought and debate. It doesn’t matter what it is you want to do but it is worth putting a bit of consideration into it first.
Think about your goal or message –it just might help you to collect your thoughts and get going. It doesn’t matter if you just want an outlet for self-expression or you have a very specific aim but spend a bit of time reflecting on this and it will help to shape your writing.
And don’t be afraid to change your goals. It may be that you are not too interested in building a readership at first but as you gain in popularity you may want to think more about your aims and where to take your audience next.
Who is your audience?
Speaking of audience, imagining who is reading, or who you would like to read your blog can be a good way to develop your writing. It gives you a focus, a direction. You might want to imagine you are talking to a particular person and whilst it’s often the case that your implied or imagined audience can be very different to your actual audience it doesn’t hurt to begin with this approach and refine it as you go. Of course having an audience also brings another consideration…
Can you handle the spotlight?
Part of the initial fear of blogging can be the sudden realisation of putting your thoughts ‘on the record’. What might be fine as a private conversation or comment might not be something you want to have permanently engraved on the web. It’s worth remembering that regardless of your audience, implied or otherwise, blogging leaves an almost indelible mark that people could see, even if you were to subsequently delete your blog.
Finding your voice
It’s worth deciding the tone of your writing. Organisations in particular often opt for a very corporate approach, which is fine if this reflects your reader but it’s also worth considering that whoever your audience, they are still people and therefore the rules of social engagement are the same. People want to hear from other people, with personalities and opinions, so it follows that a friendly humanistic approach is likely to engage an interest.
How often and how much will you write?
Blogging is a bit like marriage (is that the sound of mouse click closing down my blog page?) or any other long-term commitment in that it takes a bit of time, dedication and nurturing to cultivate success. So you should decide how often you are going to talk to your audience in order to build rapport without setting unrealistic expectations.
You should also think about how long your posts will be and set yourself a word count. Many prefer blogs to give bite-sized topic summaries of 500 to 1000 words. You don’t always have to say everything in one post, if you have lots of really interesting stuff break it down into a series of articles. This enables your reader to digest your point and a series of short snappy posts will encourage your readers to come back for more.
Planning, and even writing your posts in advance doesn’t mean you can’t be genuine and spontaneous but it will help you to have a steady stream of content. There are no hard and fast rules but there is a link between frequency and traffic so set a schedule and stick to it.
What topics should you choose?
It often helps to write about things that you are knowledgable on and interested in. This helps you to write with authenticity and expertise which will definitely come across in your writing.
Apply that same principle of planning to each individual post and have a checklist. As a starting point you may want to include:
- A short, compelling or intriguing headline;
- A strong first sentence to “hook” your reader;
- Pictures (if you use them) can be great at both illustrating your point and grabbing your reader but if possible try to use ones that are high quality and original;
- Breaks in the text. Short paragraphs, numbered lists, bullet points and subheads all help people to read posts quickly and easily.
Remember that online readers often scan first until they find something that “grabs” their attention so it’s worth considering how your blog looks as well as how it reads.
Chances are you already have a ready-made audience of friends, acquaintances and colleagues on social networking sites. Use your social networks to promote your blog. Paste links and encourage friends to visit. You can also ask them to repost the links on their own pages. Since the people in your network are friends, it’s pretty certain that a significant number will actually help you.
What does success look like?
Just as you’ve considered your goal, it’s also useful to track that goal in order to continually improve your blog and develop your skills. It may be helpful to establish some kind of process for reviewing what is and isn’t working. Things you can easily monitor include, comments and traffic. If you want to dig a little deeper consider web tools like Google Analytics or use simple tools that often feature as part of your blog platform.
Right, having written this I now understand all the things I’m doing wrong so I’m off to take my own advice and build a global audience!