I recently started a blog which has been surprisingly successful. From the very first month, I had an enormous response. It is still growing briskly and lots of very nice people write me to tell me how much they like my site. It has been a fantastically rewarding adventure!
For me personally, the success has been more shocking than surprising. I’ve never written for an audience before. As a senior media executive, I made a point of not having any writing ambitions. I have always believed that business side people should stay out of creative people’s way. They should be given clear guidelines and left alone. So I never gave the idea that anybody would want to read my writing a second thought.
When I first started my blog, I read lots of advice about how to write a blog – most of it good. However, I have also found that my experience managing online and offline publications has been very helpful as well.
These are some insights that have helped me and that I haven’t seen elsewhere. I hope you will find them useful too.
Write, Then Start: Professional publications don’t launch right away. There are always at least a few practice issues. Writing four or five posts before you actually launch your blog is a good way to get a sense of what you actually want to write about and to develop your voice and style.
The short delay in launching your blog is meaningless, but the practice and insight you will gain will be invaluable. Launching with multiple posts also helps you get off to a good start.
Maintain a Reserve: Always keep posts in reserve. My blog is more topical than timely, so this is easy to do. However, even if what you are writing about is more time sensitive, you can still keep a reserve of less time sensitive posts.
Keeping a reserve will help you to post regularly and get over dry spells. You will be able to write more when you have ideas, less when you don’t, and still maintain regularity on your blog.
Write what you know, but also what you don’t: Over my career I’ve managed to amass a certain amount of knowledge and expertise. There are some things, even technical subjects, I can write about almost off the top of my head. My readers seem to appreciate getting the benefit of my experience.
However, there are other interesting and important topics that I do not know much about. I still write about them, it just requires a bit more effort. The process of discovery and learning is probably where I personally derive the greatest value from blogging.
Build Content Clusters: Most interesting topics are too big to tackle in one post. Using multiple posts to flesh out a big idea will help you keep each post focused while still keeping the overall theme in mind. You can then link the posts together within the text.
Content clusters have lots of ancillary benefits. Search engines love them and it lets your readers continue to explore a topic in depth without having to read through an overly long post. It also adds an atmosphere of depth and expertise to your site.
Don’t Follow all the Rules: As I mentioned above, there is lots of good advice for bloggers around. However, the advice is general. You will need to find what works for you.
Use advice to help you, not to make you a prisoner. What might be a flaw on most sites can actually accentuate the uniqueness of your own. I don’t mean to say that you should ignore the rules, but developing your own style and voice is essential and that often requires doing something different.
Get Some Editors: Professional writers do not publish without being edited. This goes for Pulitzer Prize winners as well as for lowly staff writers. Even if you’re blogging just for fun, it’s important to get feedback.
Another important point is that you need more than one editor. Expecting the same person to review all of your posts will most likely result in a lost friend or a ruined marriage. Spread the wealth a little bit and try to send drafts to people who will actually be interested to read them.
Some of my most successful posts have been the ones that my friends had trouble with. They didn’t tell me they hated it, they just didn’t show much enthusiasm. I asked a few pointed questions, found out what the problem was and fixed it. Those have been some of my best posts.
If you are trying to say something important, it’s probably going to be hard to write. Some “fresh eyes” can be invaluable.
Don’t Try to Make Everybody Happy: Some people will like what you write and some people won’t. In fact, some people will hate it and tell you nasty things. That’s just a cold, hard media reality.
Focus on pleasing the people who have an affinity for your subject matter and your perspective. Trying to please everybody will guarantee that you will excite nobody.
Consistency and Surprise: The legendary editor Dick Stolley has had an amazing career. He discovered the Zapruder films that captured the Kennedy assignation, managed Time Magazine and created People Magazine. He probably knows more about successful magazine writing than anyone alive.
He told me once that a great product has “Consistency and Surprise.” He meant that it is important to set readers’ expectations with some guiding principles. However, it is also important to break your own rules sometimes. Regimentation creates order and familiarity, but too much of it becomes stale and boring. You want to add some spice to the soup every now and then.
I hope that these tips have been helpful and that everybody’s blogging experience will be as rewarding as mine. Good Luck!