The Public Relations Student Society of America chapter out here requested a guest lecture on blogging, as they know blogs will be part of what they need to do to be successful in their fields. Students have often told me that when they show up for an internship or a job, the first thing they are told is, “We need a blog. Go do it.”
What should be on that blog? “We need a blog!”
What’s our audience for the blog? “We NEED a BLOG!”
Do you have any advice on how to go about blogging for this organization? “Look, kid. You know the interwebs and stuff. Just go build the damned blog…”
Unless you want to be roadkill on the information superhighway (or worse), it pays to understand the concept of blogging and why it is certain blogs work and certain ones don’t. As a sneak preview of tonight’s talk, here are a few basic things to keep in mind when you want to build an effective blog:
RULE 1: It’s not about you.
Starting a blog because you want to write about something is like becoming a restaurant chef because you like to eat. The point of the job isn’t to give you a cheaper version of group therapy or to help you share your feelings with people. The point of a blog is to find an audience that has an interest in something you know about and a need for information that you possess.
What you know about your audience will largely determine how successful you are at drawing traffic to your blog. You need to know who is out there, what interests they have and how you can engage them, either digitally or interpersonally. This is particularly important if you are working for an organization that requires you to blog for it. Your personal stories won’t go far and the readers won’t give a damn about you.
To make this work, you need to learn who is out there that is reading the blog, what they need and how you can get it to them.
There are three things you need to examine to understand your audience: Demographics, Psychographics and Geographics. The type of blog you have will determine to what degree each of these elements is more or less crucial to your success. However, unless you have a sense of who is out there, you’ll never know if you can be of help to them. In marketing, we talk about the idea of a “buyer persona” while in news we talk about a “typical reader.” All we’re really trying to get across is that a certain type of person is going to be using your stuff, so you have to know who they are, what they want and how best to reach them.
For example, if you are doing a blog on fashion, you need to know who will be reading it. Are they younger people who wear a lot of leggings and ripped jeans or are they senior citizens who want to get out of the 1970s and its polyester phase? Are they New York jet setters or small-town kids who don’t want to wear overalls every day? Do they have gobs of money or are they shopping on a budget? Even more, things like how label-conscious they are, the degree to which they have a solid self-image and how often they like to shop will all play into this.
Regardless of what you choose to do, you need to make it about them. Not you.
Rule #2: Get narrow and get focused
Blogs can’t be about everything. They have to be about something. If you decide that you’re going to “blog about things that I notice,” you have managed to violate both rule 1 and rule 2 in one fell swoop. Writing a “personality” blog would only work if you are someone like Kendall Jenner, and even then it wouldn’t work because if you were Kendall Jenner, you’d need to learn how to write first.
We don’t live in a “mass media” world any more, so you have to find something specific that will draw readers and give them something they can’t get elsewhere. (Or, at the very least, they can only get a few other places, but you give it to them in a better way) That means you need to locate a niche that badly needs something you have to offer and then fill it.
Let’s look at how best to narrow this down:
- Stage 1: I want to write a sports blog. (WAAAY TOO BROAD)
- Stage 2: I want to write a blog that looks at college athletes. (STILL TOO BROAD)
- Stage 3: I want to write a blog that looks at college athletes and issues of mental health. (Probably workable)
Each cut, you see us getting closer to a niche. In this case, you have something that not a lot of people are talking about (mental health and athletics) so you have a lot of potential blogging options. You could look at star athletes and the mental pressures of success. You could look at athletes who graduate but won’t go on to a pro game and how they deal with that. You could look at athletes coming back from injuries and their fears and concerns about this. Sources can include sports psychologists, former athletes, coaches, mental health experts and more. No matter what’s going on, you have the ability to sharpen the focus by going more narrow.
Rule #3: Before you blog, answer the question, “Why you?”
The greatest line ever delivered in the history of professional sports came from Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Tobin after the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft. A draft analyst had criticized his picks on ESPN, which was covering the event. After hearing this over and over, Tobin went on live TV and asked,
“Who in the hell is Mel Kiper anyway? Here’s a guy that criticizes everybody, whoever they take. He’s got the answers to who you should take and who you shouldn’t take. And my knowledge of him: he’s never ever put on a jock strap, he’s never been a coach, he’s never been a scout, he’s been an administrator and all of a sudden he’s an expert.”
His point is one you need to consider when you decide on your blogging topic: Who the hell are you and why should anyone listen to you about this topic?
If you are going to be successful at blogging, whether it’s as a news blog, a promotional blog, an opinion blog or anything else, you have to be able to explain to your readers (or better yet just show them) what it is that makes you a credible and valuable resource on the topic at hand. This is where research REALLY comes in, especially if you are working for an organization or corporation.
For example, let’s say you are blogging for a travel agency that specializes in European travel. There might be a big gap in the area of food blogging for people with gluten allergies who travel in Europe. The questions of “Where is the best quality of gluten-free pasta?” or “Which restaurants use separate prep stations for gluten-free meals?” and others need to be answered. You have an audience that really wants to know this stuff, as for some folks, it’s a matter of life and death. You can draw traffic from other similar gluten-free blogs that exist like Chronically Gluten Free and Gluten-Free Fun, as people often post a need for these answers on those sites.
However, if you don’t travel through Europe, or you have no background in celiac allergies or if you never eat, who the hell are you to talk about this stuff? If you can’t be an expert based on your experiences, you better be an expert based on research, interviewing experts and doing more than just spitballing about the topic based on what you once heard at a PF Chang’s.
You have to be able to demonstrate to the readers that you have an expertise in this topic and showcase that expertise in pretty much everything you do. Imagine your doctor starting off your surgery by saying, “I’ve never done this before, but let’s give it a shot…” Not exactly awe inspiring.
If you can’t demonstrate good solid reasons why you should do the blog, don’t do the blog. If you don’t have a choice, you need to gear up and game up through research and checking in with experts. You need to make yourself into the expert.
Once you nail those things down, you can start figuring out where a blog should go or what you should include, but that should get you a running start at a successful blog.