Blogging Advice (It’s All About the Audience)

NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics

A while ago I was asked for some advice, specifically “Do people tend to listen more or read more in webinars?”. Responding to them, I discovered I have Geek Cred. This discovery surprised me. Companies and individuals routinely ask for our advice, often on blogging, and we always start with “The audience comes first”. I’m told we have lots of credibility.

Really?

Shortly thereafter a reader wrote “I am new to blogging so ANY advice you can provide will be greatly received. I’ve spent some time looking through your own Stating the Obvious blog and feel a tad worried about my first post…”

I responded and since then have been asked for blogging advice from several people and groups. Here’s my response to that original reader, updated with what I’ve learned since then. Enjoy!


Hello,
Advice on blogging. Hmm…I don’t consider myself an expert. Companies routinely hire us to advise them on their blogs so I’ll give you the nickel tour of what we advise them.

  1. Before you start writing anything
    • Know who your audience is
      • Know their language, their jargon, their dreams, their goals, their travails, …
      • Decide their experience level in your topic
        • Are they novice?
        • Beginner?
        • Intermediate?
        • Journeyman/woman?
        • Expert?
      • Decide what role you want to play for that audience
        • Mentor
        • Leader
        • Influencer
        • Lurker
        • Antagonist
        • Member
        • Observer
        • Commenter
        • Apologist
      • Does that audience want
        • Content types
          • Images?
          • Text?
          • Media?
          • A mix of all?
        • Post length
          • Long posts? (over 500 words)
          • Short posts? (under 200 words)
          • Posts long enough to get your message across?
          • Very long posts should have an introduction, the post body and a summary that take the form of “Here’s what I’m going to be posting about, here’s the post, here’s what I posted about”.
        • Authorial Voice
          • To be amused?
          • To be educated?
          • To get emotionally charged?
          • To be intellectually stimulated?
          • To be challenged?
          • To get gossip/dish?
    • Decide what’s interesting to that audience
      • Come up with 5-10 things
        • Are you a member of your audience? Will what interests you interest them?
        • Is this something
          • You want to know more about?
          • You want to share with others?
          • You’ve discovered and are letting others in on the secret?
          • That bothers you?
          • That excites you?
    • The Writing Part
      • Pick one of those 5-10 things and make it into a headline? (see Headlines That Attract Attention)
      • Make a bullet list of 4-5 major points (or as many as you feel are necessary. It’s best to have between 3-5 for short posts, 4-5 for midlength posts, 5-9 for long posts)
      • Write a single, descriptive sentence about each bullet point
        • Write as if the person is right in front of you and you want/expect them to respond. This is called “direct address”.
        • Use active voice whenever possible
      • After you’ve written a single, descriptive sentence for each bullet point go back and write an explanatory paragraph for each descriptive sentence
        • Again, use direct address and active voice to get your points across
        • Save passive voice for when you want to “slow the action” and give your readers a chance to think
      • Check your flow (do things flow logically from one paragraph to the next?)
        • Add connective sentences if necessary
        • Check for things only you or people at your level intuitively know. Explain everything even if it’s obvious (Especially if you think it’s obvious. see What is a Dark Mystery to you is Perfectly Obvious to someone else (and vice versa).).
        • Provide images and graphics for examples only when they a) genuinely clarify the subject (for informational/educational posts) or b) demonstrate a point being made
      • Phrases like “in other words”, “said/let me explain this differently”, “to clarify”, … usually indicate things aren’t clear to the author.
        • Stop writing
        • Clear your mind
        • Imagine as vividly as possible what you want to communicate
        • Write down that vivid imagining
          • The colors
          • The smells
          • The sounds
          • The tastes
          • The emotions
          • The people
          • The tools
          • The places
          • The scenery
        • Use exact details and descriptions wherever necessary to explain yourself and get your point across. Remove whatever doesn’t explain or get your point across.
      • Use adjectives, adverbs, superlatives and diminutives sparingly if at all in informational/educational posts. Use them intentionally and sparingly otherwise.
      • Starting a sentence with “This”, “That” or “These” usually indicates a reference to something previously stated. Make sure the reference is both obvious and clear, and when not, repeat the previous item by name or some recognizable abbreviation so readers can follow easily.
      • Make sure your posts have a beginning, a middle, and an end. When readers get to the end they should feel their time was well spent and that they were rewarded for their investment.
      • Online readers read differently than offline readers read. Paragraphs may need to be shorter, you may need to use more images, ideas may need to be spread across the post. As before, know your audience and you’ll know how they read.
      • Once you’ve written your post put it away for at least a day (unless it’s extremely timely/topical)
      • Read your post outloud at least once before publishing. And I do mean outloud. I also usually print it and read the printed form. Reading your post outloud reveals grammar, spelling, punctuation, cognitive, emotive, logic, etc., errors that the reading mind overlooks.
      • Fix errors
  2. General Rules
    • Posts should be as succinct as necessary to tell a good story. succinctness and good story-telling need to balance.
    • Emotions — I call it Energy in Motion — get more traction than ideas. The best idea is just an idea, a piece of intellectual fluff, but the emotions surrounding an idea give that idea legs. Get readers emotional about something and they’ll pass it on to others. Give readers an idea by itself and there’s usually no reason to propagate it.
      • Opinion pieces generate more emotional energy than fact pieces because readers can agree or disagree with an opinion while they can only accept or reject a fact. Facts may carry a lot of emotional energy and they’re still facts. People emotionally responding to “2+2=4” are best ignored unless they can be swayed to think logically. People logically responding to “Bradgelina Adopts Bisexual Mixed Race Cocaine Addicted 39 year old” may be amusing and unless they’ll bring traffic, ignore them.
      • Post regularly, if possible. Most audiences like knowing they’ll have something interesting to read on a regular basis.
        • This is true even if you announce your posts via social networks. Several readers tell me they collect the links I send out socially and do their “Joseph Reading” on Saturday mornings, usually before anybody else wakes up and with a cup of coffee beside them. I find that flattering.
      • Admit your mistakes and fix them when you realize them.
        • To that end, do your best to recognize your mistakes before anyone brings them to your attention.
      • Remember, you blog at your audience’s pleasure.
        • Let them know when a post will stray from your usual format, when you’re going to do something new, … .
        • Respond to them when they comment. I like to send an email that I responded to their comment, thank them for reading and commenting, ask them for ideas, feedback, ask if I or my company can help them, direct them to other resources, …
        • Be nice
        • Use different blogs to demonstrate different aspects of your work, your personality, your … Doing so allows your opinion blog to reference your fact blog for validation and vice versa.
    • Mechanics
      • Search Engines (Remember that audience definition work we did in step 1? Here’s where it pays off)
        1. Come up with a 2-3 word phrase that describes your blog post. This 2-3 word phrase is called a “keyword” phrase. Now determine if that 2-3 word phrase is how your audience would describe your blog post and if not, come up with something they would use. Write both down, even if they’re close to each other.
        2. Can either 2-3 word phrase easily work as part of the post’s title? If not, go back and come up with some other 2-3 word phrases. Come up with the phrases first, then see if they’ll work as part of the post title.
        3. Use at least one of those 2-3 word phrases for every 100 words of the post. As above, work it into the post itself. It can be a subheading, callout, a title, alt-text or name of a media file or part of the text.
        4. Come up with a bunch of alternative 2-3 word phrases. Be creative. These don’t have to be necessarily close.
        5. Use at least one of these alternative phrases for every 200 words of the posts as described above.
        6. Use full names as URLs if your blog engine supports them. This means your blog URL will be a phrase (probably the post’s title) rather than a string of numbers.
        7. Links should be 2-3 word descriptive text that continues the narrative flow of the post.
        8. Image alt-text tags should be descriptive and include at least one 2-3 word phrase.
      • Tags (ditto the audience definition work referenced above)
        • Humans use tags to determine if your post contains what they’re interested in so write your tags carefully. Disappointed readers are not return readers.
        • Search engines also look at tags. The crossing ground is that keyword phrases can be tags although a good tag tends to be both more general and more inclusive. For example, a mansion may have a “Red Room”. Inside that room are red drapes, red upholstery, red wall paper, red carpeting, red everything. “Red Room Furnishings” is the tag and “red drapes”, “red upholstery”, … are the keywords. If your post is about “red drapes” then your tags would be “Red Room Furnishings” and “Red Drapes” along with whatever else fits.
      • Categories are how humans organize information. Make sure you create blog categories that your audience will understand.
      • Being Social
        • Learn the purposes of sites such as del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, etc., and decide if they’ll benefit you before investing time in them. The best way to determine if such sites will benefit you as a blogger is to decide how similar you are to your audience, then consider how often you rely on such sites.
          • Are you a member of your audience and you don’t use these sites? Then don’t put any effort into them.
          • Are you not a member of your audience and you do use them? Then don’t put any effort into them.
          • Are you a member of your audience and you do use these sites? Then put effort into them.
          • Are you not a member of your audience and you don’t use them? Then put effort into them.
        • Technorati is useful whether or not you ever use it or go there.
        • Using RSS, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, email and similar social links makes it easier for people to follow you.
        • Tweet what you post when you post it.
        • Trackbacks, Pingbacks and Linkbacks are BlogoSphere kickbacks. They drive traffic from one blog to another. Accept trackbacks and such from people/blogs you know and trust, refuse such from those you don’t.
        • Comments
          • Make sure comments need to be approved before they are posted to your blog.
          • Make sure you read the comment, the commenter’s name, their URL, their site, etc., and all related information carefully. A short comment that indicates your blog and you are doing great work, are god’s gift, etc., is probably spam.
          • Comment on other blogs, etc., only when you a) strongly believe you can further the discussion or b) have a strong reaction to what’s been posted by others. In either case, include a link back to your blog in your comment (usually as the “your site” option).
        • Blogrolls
          • You need to ask people to add your blog to their blogrolls, and is a good reason to comment on someone else’s blog.
          • You need to add blogs to your blog’s blogroll. Add blogs that add value to your blog, even if they often disagree with your posts.
        • Most blogs have a “Preview” option. Use it to make sure paragraphs break correctly, images display correctly, etc.
    • Final thoughts
      • You have to play by the rules before you can stretch the rules.
      • You have to stretch the rules before you can figure out when to break the rules.

I’m sure there’s more and this is what’s obvious to me as I sit here. I hope it helps. You may also find Optimal Blog Post Frequency – NSE Social Media Research Paper #1 and Social Network Mechanics: A Preliminary ToolKit for Creating and Co-Opting Social Networks for Marketing Purposes useful. These are both for-pay papers. There’s also research findings on Forming Strong, Lasting Social Networks (an element of blogging) in our Members area (also for-pay).

Joseph