Gerald Bauer at the Vancouver Web 2.0 forum has been interviewing leading bloggers in the Vancouver area over the past several weeks. It makes for good reading and some fascinating insights… and today it was my turn.
One of the best questions he asked was “What tips would you give bloggers just starting out?” I offered eight:
Serve yourself. Know why you’re blogging: maybe it’s just to learn the tools of the job; maybe it’s to keep friends and family informed of what you’re doing; maybe it’s to save a watershed; maybe it’s to publish your poetry; maybe it’s to join other bloggers in conversations about subjects you find interesting. A sense of mission can go a long way to keeping your blog interesting, focused and on track.
Serve your audience. Figure out who you want to reach, and what they’re looking for (as well as what they don’t need to hear). If you’re trying to inform, understand their level of knowledge; if you’re trying to persuade, understand what motivates them; if you’re trying to engage (which is where good blogging excels), understand the broader conversation you’re all participating in. Whether you’re provoking thought or offering practical tips, ask yourself: am I giving my readers something they can use?
Start small. I see a lot of blogs that launch with big promises, and then fade away in a few short months as their creators feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what they’ve taken on. If you start with modest goals (such as a post every week), and build the habits that can sustain your blogging, you’ll find yourself steadily increasing the scope of those goals as you discover what works for you and what doesn’t.
Think big. Before you publish a post, ask how it could do more. Is there a resource it could link to? A deeper insight it could offer? An action it could propose? And as you get more and more comfortable with blogging (and you will), ask yourself how your blog could do more.
Reach out. Comment on other people’s blogs, and join the conversation. If you’ve written a post that you think would interest a particular blogger, don’t be shy about dropping them an e-mail about it. Link to other blog posts from yours, offering your readers places to go where they can learn more or even read a differing perspective.
Be human, and be humane. Reflect on what you’re about to say, how it’s likely to be received, and what you’d like to achieve by saying it. One of the greatest things about blogging and the web is the opportunity to encounter new and unexpected ideas. But all too often, bloggers (particularly in politics and technology) substitute insults for insight and attacks for argument. This isn’t the way we communicate face to face, and it shouldn’t be the way we communicate online. And don’t let some blustering digital jerk shut you up, either. The bad news is that thoughtful conversation doesn’t win flame wars; the good news is that flame wars aren’t worth winning in the first place.
Keep learning. Find out about new tools that can extend your reach, make it easier for people to find you and smooth out the mechanics (and wipe out the pitfalls) of blogging. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if there’s something you don’t know (but start with Google, which is where I turned to deal with my first encounter with comment spam). And when you learn about something, post it somewhere and share the wealth.
One last thing. Don’t let this scare you, but you are responsible for everything you publish. Your parents, your employer, that coworker you’re crushing on will all read your blog. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday. So if you’re drunk, furious, hurt, stoned, humiliated, vengeful, hung over or baked over, do yourself a favour and wait before you post. If you must post something, take a picture of your cat and upload it. In the 21st century, that’s what pets are for.