Thomas Edison famously remarked that genius was “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” For bloggers this means that if you put your effort into it, you can create a blog that gathers a following. If you look at a group of bloggers, one with a worldwide following and the rest with small audiences, the former will not necessarily be the best writer, the funniest, the smartest or even the one with the most inside info or useful tips. The great bloggers you follow yourself could have varying amounts of these characteristics.
So what separates the good bloggers from the ones with larger followings? Many call it the “x factor.” Since this is a bit amorphous we’ll touch on it later. You can take your first steps toward creating an engaging blog that builds a loyal following by following some simple guidelines. There are definitely tips, techniques and tools that will get you there and equip you to compete in the blogging big leagues. We’ll return to the “x factor” after getting you to that starting line.
Audience as foundation
Know your audience. Marshall McLuhan observed almost 50 years ago that the world was transforming into a “global village” through mass communication. The global village is here. People don’t log on to the Internet to be lectured. They log on for information, but also for intelligent dialogue – for exchange, for discussion, for sharing – with people like themselves. Know your audience and the information and conversation they are looking for. You need to engage your readers and speak directly to them with a personal touch, a sense of inclusion, and even a hint of intimacy. Blogs are about relationships, and relationships are about discussions and dialogues of all kinds. The “Monologue Era” is over. Your blog will succeed to the extent that you connect with your audience.
In our Dialogue Era, if you offer people something useful you can become a resource. People bookmark resources and return to them repeatedly, expecting more of the same. Once you have defined your audience you must set about adding value to their visits. Provide information helpful to your audience. Write clearly and don’t try too hard – be natural but concise, instructive but conversational. Produce useful, supportive and brief pieces that people can apply – today, tomorrow, whenever. That will show they can return for more information without wasting their time. Blogs are not articles, so keep them to the point, but do not enforce an arbitrary word limit. Your length will depend on your topic and your audience – make every word count.
Draw them in, move them along
To engage an audience in the first place, craft interesting headlines that invite readers in and use subheads to move them along and allow them to scan for the specific information they are looking for. The flow is enhanced if you keep sentences shorter rather than longer, and active rather than passive. Don’t posture, pretend, boast or brag, and always maintain a healthy skepticism and sense of humor. You are not writing great literature, your helping your neighbor. Finally, always review your output and rewrite where necessary. During this process, make words “pay their rent” by weeding out unnecessary ones.
You have many things to consider, a number of bottom lines – plural. Bottom line: You need to read about writing, learn how to edit and refine your technique over time. Bottom line: You need to learn the particular writing techniques that have evolved around blogs, like how to craft good bullet points, when to use them, how to use the page layout to your advantage and so forth. Bottom line: You have to continue reading your competition and your colleagues, often one and the same, and analyze what works and what doesn’t. Bottom line: There are a lot of bottom lines in blogging.
Go forth and blog
Coming full circle, then, let’s consider that “x factor” again. Although it’s not possible to define it quite precisely, we know where it is located. It is in you. It is your personality, your spark, your unique outlook. Be yourself, not what you think they want you to be. In that jigsaw puzzle that is “you” there are many traits and abilities, opinions and truisms, dreams and fears, and the sum total of them all is what adds up to “you” – and no one else – and your own real personality coming off the page is often what engages people. How can you inject “you” into your writing? There’s only one way to draw it out, of course, and that is to write.
Since you are forming relationships, do what Dale Carnegie advised about 80 years ago and ask small favors of your readers. Invite their comments. Ask for their opinion. Encourage them to express their point of view. This tells them you value what they think. More importantly, it engages them and makes them a valuable active participant (instead of a passive visitor), a member of your community, and part of an ongoing and growing dialog. This is what will lead many of them to make the all-important cognitive leap that will have them bookmark your blog, link to your posts, tell all their friends about it and continue the dialog. The leap occurs when readers stop thinking of themselves as readers, and start thinking of themselves as “stakeholders” – readers that interact with you.
If you can convert readers into stakeholders, you’re on your way.