As I’ve become active on Twitter and participated in Blogchat these past few weeks, people have naturally asked me what I blog about. Great question! I guess I should think about that…
What I mean to say is, I’m holding off on starting a personal blog for a little while, and this past Sunday’s chat inspired me to write down a little bit about why. I hope some of these ideas can be applied more widely than just my situation, and that someone else might get something out of this even if they’re already blogging.
These are some of the things I am thinking about, and while my take on them isn’t groundbreaking, I’m sure many of you deal with them too. I’d love to hear what you think.
1. The Importance of Defining the Right Niche
One big reason I’m waiting is because I need to further define what exactly I want my blog to be about. I have no shortage of interests, including information science, technology, blogging, writing, web design, social media, publishing, libraries and more.
Although these topics all interconnect, trying to give each one equal attention would lead to chaos and also confuse readers as to what type of content to expect. Besides, there are already authority blogs in these niches that are doing amazing work. What to do, then?
I think that as newer bloggers we need to ask ourselves how we can add to the conversation in a different way and then make it very clear how we’re providing something unique and valuable to our niche(s).
Well, duh. But how do you do that?
A common trend across just about every successful blog I’ve seen is that the author finds a way to pull everything together and makes it feel cohesive, even if he or she addresses more than one topic.
Most often, this feeling is the result of an excellent tagline that conveys the blog’s mission in a clever but still informative manner. There are also other strategies that can help, such as well thought-out category organization or a great home page message in a strategic location. After successfully drawing the reader in, then, everything written on the blog must stay true to that particular message.
On Blogchat recently, Chris Garrett whittled all this down to two simple questions to ask yourself: “1) Why are YOU different and 2) why is that a GOOD thing?”
If you don’t have this firmly in your head when you blog, you’re hurting yourself. Every single person who just visited your blog should be able to respond without hesitation if they were asked “what made that blog different” and “what made it interesting.”
And you can certainly adapt this after you’ve already been blogging for a while. It’s completely natural for many kinds of blogs to evolve over time as their author does the same. In other cases, the response from the community might be different than expected and inspire the blogger to shift his or her goals a little bit.
2. What Type of Value Do You Offer?
Similarly, it’s very important to be sure what type of information your blog will offer. This sounds simple, but I was surprised when I wasn’t really able to really answer this question for the blog I’m currently planning.
Do you write provocative commentary on a topic that helps people think about an issue in a different way? Will your blog rile them up, or inspire them to act? Are you going to help your readers solve pressing problems? Or give them a step-by-step guide to accomplishing a particular task?
You want to make it clear what makes up your “pillars,” or blog foundations, and why people will want to read it.
Heidi Cohen recently outlined these and other reasons to blog in a great post titled With 74,583 New Blogs in the Last 24 Hours, Who Needs Yours? I’ve read other great posts that have touched on this as well.
This is something I haven’t thought about enough to this point; I got caught up with the idea of producing “good” content without digging deeper into what that really means.
3. The Benefits That Come With Building Connections – My Experience with Twitter
I haven’t been on Twitter for very long, but I’d estimate that I learned more about how to blog effectively in my first three days there as I would have figured out in three months on my own.
In that very short time, starting with a handful of blogs I read previously, I suddenly had access to hundreds of great bloggers and everything they were sharing. I learned so much about what types of content people are looking for, and also the kind of things that are already out there so I can think about what I might add.
But most importantly, it wasn’t a passive learning experience; instead, I learned by @replying and RTing and I left some comments on other blogs. It took me a little while to get into the flow, but now I’m really trying to get to know some of these people in my areas of interest.
Starting to See Larger Networks of Connections
I stumbled across Srini Rao’s podcast BlogcastFM a couple of months ago, and right off the bat it taught me a great deal about how to build a successful blog. I would listen to an interview on my walk to work or class and when I arrived I’d have to take a few minutes to scribble down all the ideas in my head.
But I also feel as though I’ve evolved as a listener over these weeks. At first, the interviewees seemed like celebrities to me, blogging superstars who were members of some sort of elite club and wouldn’t be bothered with those on the outside.
Once I got going on Twitter, however, I realized that although some of them are superstars, the last part is far from true! These exact same people kept on popping up: in my twitter stream, in shout-outs in other bloggers’ posts, and all over various comment sections. They were all over the place, and the conversation was always two-way and inclusive.
And they suddenly looked very casual and approachable. Suddenly, some of them were following me, and I was starting to have conversations with them. These larger networks of connections you develop can be really powerful, and I was fascinated when I made this realization.
To Wrap Up: A Cool Story About Serious Waiting
Starbucks Melody, a blogger who has taught me a lot, was a coffee fanatic and avid Twitterer long before she launched her blog. In fact, she spent over a year getting involved in the coffee niche and building connections before she started her Starbucks blog. She was simply in it to make friends, not recruit people to anything of hers, until the allure of starting her own blog became too strong to resist. How’d it work out? She got a write-up in the Seattle Times the very first week her blog was live! Now her blog is extremely popular and has a very active community of readers.
This isn’t to say that we all should have waited over a year before blogging. It should, however, remind us that we should sometimes step back and use these networks just to talk to someone new who seems interesting, without necessarily viewing them as a potential subscriber. It might benefit you in ways you never would have imagined.
I hope that in the next few weeks I’ll be able to sort through these issues for my future blog (although I guess technically it’s starting with this post).
Either way, I can’t wait to get going!