The conversation with the PRSSA kids yesterday went really well, considering that we’ve got the accreditation team on campus, it was hour 13 of my day and I was still wearing a tie at that point in time. We talked about a number of things that would lead to a good blog and I honestly think a couple folks there might want to take a shot at developing one of their own.
One of the questions that came up during the discussion was that of “best practices” when it came to running a blog. In other words, if they got past the three basic rules I laid out for blogging, well, then what?
We picked through a couple examples that were based on their interests and kind of came up with three basic areas of importance that separated the good blogs from the ones that died on the vine. They aren’t anything particularly shocking, but understanding why they matter can make a huge difference:
Having expertise is a great thing, but you have to be able to use that expertise in a way that effectively communicates it to the people who are reading your blog. Otherwise, it’s a waste and the readers will become frustrated and leave.
This is where knowing your audience becomes crucial, as you can meter your use of jargon, your level of explanation and your overall approach to the content based on who is reading.
For example, let’s say you want to run a blog about how to fix old pinball machines. You have spent half your life working on these things and you have repaired more than 100 games that ranged from mild tune ups to massive rebuilds.
If your audience is comprised of first-time pinball owners, you will need to use a lot of visuals to show them what things like coils and targets are. You will need to explain how to do simple things like remove the glass or disconnect a coin mechanism. You will need to offer more caution regarding dangerous things to touch or things that can break.
If your audience is comprised of more veteran repair folks, you can skip some of the basics, rely more on shared terminology and even go into deeper rebuild topics. As one of the students asked, “If people in your audience are really into your topic, can you use jargon?” I explained that it’s not jargon if the people understand it; It’s shared language. Jargon is stuff that you use that other people in your audience DON’T understand.
Additionally, you’ll need consider word choices to help people complete tasks in an effective way. So if you want them to use a hammer on something, there’s a world of difference between “hit” “pound” and “gently tap.” Experts will likely know these differences instinctively, while newbies will need more hand holding.
Being good at something and liking something are not the same thing. This is the argument I have with my mother to this day: She thought I should have been a political speech writer. Her point was that I was good at speaking, speech writing and that I could really make a difference in how people saw the world. My point was that I hated politics and I hated politicians, so no matter how good I was at this, I was never going to go anywhere in this field.
Or to quote a professor who spoke to my dissertation prep class, “Pick a topic that you really love because you’re going to be with it in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death or doctorate will you part.”
To be good at something and to do well at it constantly, you need to have a passion for the thing you are doing. Never is this more true than in blogging, because without the passion, you’re never going to make it. Here’s why:
- You have no deadlines. It’s easy enough to blow off an assignment when you have a deadline. When you don’t, you can always push something down the road a bit further. If you don’t believe me, consider the ugly yellow plastic windows we had on one of our kitchen cabinets back at our previous house. When we moved in, Amy asked me, “When you get a chance, could you get rid of those and put new doors on that cabinet?” When we sold the house two years ago, the plastic remained. We got to know the most-recent owners of the home and got a tour of the place a few weeks ago. Ugly plastic is still there. In short, when I WANT to get something done, I’ll get it done in a New York Minute. When I don’t have a deadline, I’ll blow it off.
- The quality of the work suffers: Mom used to read the State Journal every day when I was working there. She’d often call me up and talk to me about the articles I had written. In one case, she told me, “I read X. You didn’t really want to write that one, did you?” The truth was, I hated the story she was talking about, but I wanted to know what led her to figure that out. I asked if there were flaws or mistakes or whatever and she said, “No. It read fine and there wasn’t anything wrong. I could just tell that you didn’t want to do this.”
If you don’t have a passion for the topic, as in you love this thing and you want to spend a lot of time with this topic, writing to other people about it, you’ll end up with a really lousy blog. You can’t just have a passing interest. You have to love it. If you don’t it will show up in the writing and people will tell.
- You will run out of stuff to talk about: People who love a topic will talk about nothing other than that. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch Forrest Gump again and listen to how Bubba talks about shrimp. You want your blog to be like a diesel engine: It might take you a little longer to get started, but once it gets going, it can run long and hard without stopping. If you don’t have a passion for the topic, it’ll be like a bottle rocket: It’ll take off in a hurry, explode quickly and then dissipate.
This puts together the above two with the idea of understanding what it takes to make this thing work and forcing yourself to do it every day or every week or whatever. You must make sure you are constantly looking for things to add to the blog. You must make sure you post when you are required to post things. You can’t just blow it off when you don’t feel like writing. You can’t push it down the line because you can’t think about something or because other things become more important. If you are going to develop an audience that has an interest in you, you must continue to find things to give them.
Dedication leads to consistency and leads to success.
Nolan Ryan pitched in the major leagues until he was 46 years old and he credited his workout regimen after games for a lot of his longevity. When he won his 300th game, his family wanted to take him out and celebrate right after the game. Instead, they had to wait for him to finish his post-game workout before they could go out. Even though they pleaded with him to skip it “just this once,” he said, no and went to work.
Think about all the things that you might have succeeded at or failed at. It could be the New Year’s resolution to work out. You get going all gangbusters and then it’s really, really, REALLY cold outside and you don’t want to get out of bed and suddenly, goodbye exercise.
It could be a diet where you have meals planned and things are going along fine, but then you get caught short of your health nut mix and Hello, Taco Bell!
A blog can’t be like that if you want to be successful at it because it takes a long, long time to get an interested and engaged audience and it will take no time for them to leave you like a cheating fiancée on Temptation Island.
Honestly, not every day will be an academy award, but you have to ply your trade every day no matter what.