Today I was scheduled to teach a short class on blogging at my local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. However, my grade-schooler is home sick, and I’m on childcare duty today. So I’m posting my notes here on my blog since I can’t share them in person. Please forgive their somewhat random nature:
Right there, in your driveway, is a really fast car. Not one of those stupid Hamptons-style, rich-guy, showy cars like a Ferrari, but an honest fast car, perhaps a Subaru WRX. And here are the keys. Now go drive it.
Right there, on the runway, is a private jet, ready to fly you wherever you want to go. Here’s the pilot, standing by. Go. Leave.
Right there, in your hand, is a Chicago Pneumatics 0651 hammer. You can drive a nail through just about anything with it, again and again if you choose. Time to use it.
And here’s a keyboard, connected to the entire world. Here’s a publishing platform you can use to interact with just about anyone, just about any time, for free. You wanted a level playing field, one where you have just as good a shot as anyone else? Here it is. Do the work.
That’s what we’re all waiting for you to do – to do the work.
Ah, the Internet – and the blogosphere within it. You can publish your own writing, photos, recipes, and ideas for worldwide attention without ever leaving your house, networking with publishers, getting any formal training, or paying anything beyond the price of a computer and an Internet connection.
This is inspiring (because your access to the public is unprecedented in history) and disheartening (because this access is available to everybody else with a computer and an Internet connection too, so how do you get your voice heard among all those other voices?).
Well, Mr. Godin would say you need to find your tribe. If you use your unique voice and “do the work,” and give it time, you can build an audience who really cares about what you have to say. It may be small, but if you can do this well, you will build a virtual community where people really do want to gather around your blog.
Remember, blogging is not just for experts. You can be a reporter or researcher or someone sharing your own unique perspective on a particular topic (or no particular topic!). You can be asking questions and leading your readers in a learning experience. You can review movies or books – whatever you are interested in, a blog can be a way to deepen that interest and share it with others.
A blog is a website of running entries, like a journal. Short for weblog.
A post is one entry on the blog.
Vlog – video blog/video log – a blog based on video rather than text.
Categories – titles used to classify posts
Tags – terms you apply to individual posts to help people searching with these terms to find your post
Free blogging platforms –
WordPress (what I use and know, arguably the best free blogging platform) – www.wordpress.com not wordpress.org (you want .com unless you want to pay for a web hosting service of your choice and then use the wordpress software for your blog)
Blogger.com – run by Google.
Tumblr – (tumblr.com) – short, photo/graphics-centric
. . . and many more – here’s a good article listing ten of them – http://sixrevisions.com/tools/top-free-online-blogging/ (Several of these use wordpress software)
YouTube (for vlogs)
Things to Consider:
What is the purpose of your blog? (teach/learn, entertain, discuss, inspire, market/publicize, creative outlet, social connection, practice writing, build a book, gain readership/fans/build a base . . .) Defining this will help you evaluate future post ideas and overall blogging decisions.
Images, widgets, sharing buttons – how much “clutter” do you want on your site? Images original or stock? (article on use of images – http://www.problogger.net/archives/2013/02/28/common-creativity-understanding-the-rules-and-rights-around-free-images-on-the-web/)
Minimalist blog example – www.zenhabits.net (no graphics, no sidebars, no comments!)
Busier but still clean blog example – http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/
How often will you post? Do you want to post regularly (ex. once a week, every Tuesday morning), or just whenever you feel like it? You will probably get more consistent traffic if you are posting regularly, but is that important to you? Do you want to take your time building your blog or jump right in? (You can do special things temporarily – I love what Kristen is doing at cheeryhillcottage.wordpress.com right now – posting one photo every day in March.)
Do you want to use your real name or be anonymous? How about your children/family? If you’re talking about them, do you want to identify them or keep it private? Anything you post online can be viewed by anyone in the world. Always remember that!
Focused subject matter or random?
Timeframe – perpetual or specified end-date? (“life on the prairie” or “one year with chickens”)
Getting the Word Out
Social Networking – Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. – connect your blog with your accounts on social networking sites. Try to build one consistent Internet presence (your personal “brand”). Get a Gravatar profile (http://en.gravatar.com).
Twitter is great for connecting with people you don’t know – put your profile out there, start following people/orgs you find interesting and relevant to your blog, and many of them will follow you back. Peruse Twitter regularly for other blog posts/articles related to your blog, read, comment, connect with people around these posts.
Title, First Line, Images – there’s so much out there, and esp. when you’re sharing links to your posts on social networking sites, it’s the title and any images you include that will draw people to your blog. (First line is important for the same reason – it often gets included when you or others share a link to your post on Facebook, etc.). Grab their attention with a title that tells something about your post but leaves people curious to read more.
Subscribe to other blogs you find relevant to your own blog. Read and comment – often when you comment, you can post under your blogger identity or include a link to your website (if that particular blog gives you a “website” field to fill in). Don’t include links in the body of your comment. One, it looks (and usually is!) self-promoting, and two, many blogs will classify your comment as spam if it includes hyperlinks.
General Blogging & Writing Tips
Should you respond to every commenter? Will you reply “thank you” to every commenter who writes “great post!” (Sure, why not?!) I’m still feeling this one out myself – sometimes I get annoyed when reading other people’s blogs and see that the blogger has responded to every single tiny comment – it’s hard to wade through if I want to read other comments. I think this depends on how many comments you receive. As your blog grows and you begin getting more comments, you can pick and choose what needs a reply and what doesn’t. Don’t feel bad about that! Sensible readers understand it is a waste of everyone’s (you as the writer and us as the readers) time for you to make up replies to every little comment. (Pay attention to your own favorite popular blogs for how different bloggers handle comments, and figure out how you’d like to do it on yours.)
On the other hand, especially when you are just starting your blog, you will be genuinely grateful and appreciative to anyone who takes the time to read and comment (leaving aside trolls and mean people) – and it’s probably better to err on the side of too many replies to comments than too few.
It’s your blog, you get to decide what comments to approve, which ones to reply to, how much you will engage with commenters. I’ve enjoyed the discussion that happens between/among commenters, without the blogger always chiming in. If your blog gets lots of comments, you may find yourself becoming more of a moderator of discussions happening among your commenters.
Respond to commenters using the username they give with the comment, even if you know who they are. For example, if you know by the email address that it’s your Aunt Mildred, but she posts her comment under a username “Peaches,” call her “Peaches” in your reply, and leave out any identifying information she hasn’t included in her comment. Respect that your commenters may be wishing for anonymity.
You’ll find (at least I did on WordPress) that random bloggers will follow your blog, or “like” a post, and sometimes this is apparently just to pick up more followers for their own blog. It’s not always for this reason, but if you check out their blog and discover a long list of bloggers commenting, “thanks for liking my blog!” then it probably is. There is a difference between genuine interest in people’s work and feigned interest for self-promotion. Get experienced at spotting this when other people are doing it to you (it’s fine if they want to follow for any reason, but don’t feel too flattered; and be mindful of your own motives in engaging with other people’s blogs.)
Start small, with low expectations about your work. (http://zenhabits.net/sticky/ – great post about building a habit).
Don’t make public promises (next week I will post about . . ., etc.) unless you are absolutely committed to making it happen – and even then, I think “underpromise and overdeliver” is a great tip. You want to build trust with your readers, so always do what you say you will do.
At least in the beginning, let your posts sit overnight before you publish. Sometimes going back and reading again with fresh eyes will point out places for editing.
Narrow narrow narrow. Expect to eliminate readers. Say what you really mean. Be opinionated (but never unkind or disrespectful). Don’t say “I think” – just say what you think. Readers are not likely to stay with your blog for long if they don’t find a distinct personality there. Even if people disagree with something you say, they will be more likely to engage/comment/follow when you use your unique voice instead of saying what you think people want to hear.
Use good grammar, spell-check, short paragraphs. Constantly improve your writing. Because blogs are so immediate – quickly published, often without anyone else editing but the blogger – they are often filled with poor writing, basic grammatical errors, etc. You can set yourself apart just by faithfully applying basic grammar/spelling rules!
Use specific language to help us see what you’re writing about in our mind’s eye. (Not “a car” but “a red Toyota.”)
Read read read! Read other people’s blogs, books, articles – learn more not only about your blog’s topic but also about good writing skills.
Always have something with you (notebook, smartphone with voice-memos, etc.) to record blog post ideas. Keep a running list of blog post ideas. (In WordPress, you can save drafts of blog posts for later publication.) Then when you have time to work on blogging, you won’t have to come up with a new idea each time.
Don’t let your blog (or any social media for that matter) substitute for a personal journal. Your own journal, where you write unfiltered, is so important for developing your own ideas and building your writing skills. You can always build a blog post from a journal entry later.
Links on blogging and general writing:
Frank Viola – http://frankviola.org/2012/01/19/adviceforbloggers/
Mr. Money Mustache – http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/01/17/how-to-start-a-blog/ (note – this is about starting a blog where you pay for the web hosting, if you are interested in that level of blogging).
Darren Rowse – http://www.problogger.net
Inspiring page of a Seth Godin free e-book – “Don’t Waste This Platform” – p. 23 of http://changethis.com/manifesto/100.01.IcarusDeception/pdf/100.01.IcarusDeception.pdf
There you have it – my notes for the class I couldn’t teach today. Please feel free to ask questions if you need me to clarify something or if you have other questions about things I didn’t mention. I’m by no means a professional or even very experienced blogger but I’m happy to share what I (think I) know anyway!
And if you have tips or suggestions yourself, or links to other good blogging resources, please share!