May 31 2011

What Does It Take To Become A Blogger?

Categories: Blogging, General Dave Rathbun @ 9:07 pm

I’ve had a number of folks ask me over the years what it takes to be a blogger. I’m going to start with Who, What, Where, When, and Why, the five “W” questions. I will answer them in the context of being a blogger, and in doing so I hope to give you some items to consider related to opening a blog of your own. That’s the answer to the “who” question already, it’s you. :) With the “who” question answered, I will move on to the “what” question next.

What do I blog about?

The first and most obvious requirement is that you should have something that you want to talk about. Notice that I didn’t say you needed to have something that other folks want to hear. ;-) That’s really all there is to it. Pick a subject that you like and start researching and writing about it.

That being said, here is my first bit of advice: make your blog specific to a single topic. You might be interested in Beanie Babies, Indy car racing, European black metal bands, and vegetarianism. It’s going to be very unlikely that you will find a large audience that has all of those same interests! If you try to maintain one blog that crosses all four subjects, the odds are that a visitor is only going to be interested in about 25% of what you have to say. It is for that reason I have five different blogs, each on a different subject that I’m interested in. Some of them get more attention than others, and that’s okay. I talk more about posting frequency below.

Another consideration might be how crowded your selected subject area might be. I’m not saying this is a show stopper, but you might want to at least think about it. There are a whole bunch of blogs in the business intelligence area. On my blog here I post technical details of various solutions I have implemented over the years as well as general “how to” information. I’m not the only one posting “how to” topics… in fact there are quite a few. There are also plenty of blogs on BI strategies, BI future directions, and how to successfully pass a BI job interview. :P I think what differentiates my blog from some of the others is that I spent fifteen years working for a consulting / training partner. I feel that I have developed a different style of presenting solutions that works for me.

Is there a great blog out there that focuses strictly on the administrative side of Business Objects? No? Then go write one. :) A blog doesn’t have to be unique (it helps) but it should have something special to offer, otherwise why would people read you instead of someone else?

Where do I blog?

The next step is to determine your blogging platform. I use Wordpress for my blogs, and I have an individual domain name. If you think you’re going to do a blog, I thoroughly recommend that you take this approach from the very beginning. One of my friends and fellow blogger Dallas Marks started out using a free blog hosted by Google, but he has since converted over to a personalized domain and runs Wordpress. Another friend and blogger is Michael Welter, and he is currently using a hosted blog without his own domain. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to be honest the financial cost of getting a specific domain (a vanity domain, if you will) and setting up hosting are minimal.

What about the SAP Community Network, also known as SCN? Can you blog there? Absolutely, and I think they would love to have you. There is a simple application process to go through, and then you can start writing. Initially your blog posts will need to be approved, but I believe that once you become a trusted blogger the approval process is accelerated or removed altogether. Simon To and Jamie Oswald, both members of the former GBN steering committee and current ASUG Ambassadors blog on SCN.

There are some folks that maintain individual blogs as well as posting on SCN. I do not, and I don’t currently plan to change that. Why not? There are lots of reasons, but for me the primary one is that I already have (as I mentioned earlier) five blogs, and I don’t really want to get started on another. I have already invested the time and effort to get this blog off the ground, and I want to continue to maintain it.

I’ve had folks suggest that I simply post the same content both here and on SCN, and that just doesn’t make sense to me. I feel that it would dilute the value of what I post here, doesn’t add anything to SCN, and ultimately would just give me an additional place to monitor for questions. That’s how I made my decision; you may decide differently. If you are looking for a hosted solution that you don’t have to pay for, then SCN could very well be a good platform for you to consider. You don’t have to worry about installing software or running upgrades, managing backup strategies, or any of the other items that I do in order to manage my own blogging platform. However, you are also giving up a certain about of control over your content. That may or may not be a concern for you. In fact, if you’re not sure you will be blogging for a length of time, you may definitely want to consider SCN as they will preserve your content for you even after you have decided that you no longer have the time or inclination to be a blogger.

Another advantage that I believe SCN offers over a free platform such as wordpress.com is that the content there is all going to be related to SAP products. With any of the free blogging platforms you will end up getting mixed in with who knows what. On the other hand, even a free blog gives you the option of an easier URL. What’s easier for folks to remember? Something like http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/pub/u/252143425 or www.dagira.com?

As I already mentioned, I very much recommend getting your own domain. It’s completely under your control, it looks better than a hosted blog, and you can start building your own personal brand, which can include printing business cards or setting up an email address at your domain name. I believe that these are all good things. 8-) I can get a new domain, set up hosting, install Wordpress, and write my first blog post in less than an hour. It’s really that easy. The hardest part is finding a domain name that makes sense that someone else hasn’t already taken.

When do I post?

Can you be a blogger with only one or two posts? Yes, but probably not a very good one. Do you have to post every single day? No, in my opinion you don’t have to do that either. Somewhere in between once or twice a year and every single day is a good “sweet spot” that will feel comfortable for you. Here’s my next bit of advice for you: set a goal for post frequency that you think is reasonable, and then reduce it by half. If you think you would like to try posting once a week, set your actual goal for every other week instead. If you make your goal, you will feel successful. If you feel successful, you will continue to blog. Once you start missing your self-imposed once-a-week quota, it becomes easier and easier to skip yet another week. Trust me on this one, I’ve lived through it. Probably more than once.

Should you post more often than your desired frequency? Certainly. I post quite a bit more during the conference seasons because there is more going on and the information would get stale if I did not publish it right away. If I have a draft post written at a conference and I don’t finish it within a month, I delete it because it’s no longer relevant. Normally if I write extra posts I will save them for when I don’t have time to meet my quota. Wordpress allows me to schedule a post for a future release date. It may look like I’m busy writing away, with a new post coming out every other week or so, when in reality I just spent a long weekend writing a whole bunch of stuff and then setting up future release dates. In my opinion it’s more important to be consistent, rather than have floods of activity followed by gaps of inactivity. I have been guilty of both, but for the most part I try to keep a regular schedule.

Why is this important? A blog – unless it really is just for yourself – is for your readers. As a blog reader myself, I find it frustrating to go to a blog only to find that nothing new has come out. Eventually, I’m going to stop going, unless I get a feel for the “pulse” for that blog. Once I stop going, it’s going to be hard to get me to come back. Because of my experience as a blog reader, I try to keep a regular schedule for blog writing as well. Having an RSS feed available on your blog can help. Readers can subscribe to your feed, and they’ll get notified when you start posting once again.

That brings me to my favorite trick: the multi-part blog post. :) Regular readers of this blog will recognize this technique. I don’t sit down and consciously decide that I am going to write a three-part blog post. I sit down with an idea and start writing. As I write, sometimes the blog post grows beyond what I think would be comfortable to read in a single sitting. (We’re living in the world of twitter where 140 characters caps how complex your thoughts can be!) Once I see that the blog post has become too large, I start looking for a logical break point and split the post up. How long is too long? I generally cap a post at three pages, with each page being two or three screens full of information. Obviously posts with screen shots take more space so that factors in as well.

Why blog?

My first blog was for my immediate family, and I talked about what our boys were doing that day. That way the extended family could read updates and know what was going on. Today I guess people just update their Facebook status. :P Doing the family blog got me interested in the blogging vehicle, and I started writing Business Objects tips and tricks down because I wanted to remember them. By setting up a blog, the information was available anywhere I went, and I would often share the links with clients so they could use the same reference. If anyone else found my ramblings beneficial I considered that a bonus. The blogging platform works great for this.

I also found it to be more efficient to write detailed answers to common questions on BOB one time. Once I have done that, I can then go back to BOB (or to SCN or other communities) and reuse the content. Or better yet, maybe one of my readers will have already shared a link for me. It’s still a thrill to see someone else on BOB / SCN answering a question with a link to my blog; it never gets old.

What else do I need to know?

Now that I’ve answered the Five W’s, what other considerations are there? I’ll save that for – wait for it – part II of this post. 8-) I hope I’ve given you enough to get started: pick a topic, pick a platform, write a few posts, and see what happens. You might decide that you like it!

Related Links
Some bloggers that I visit from time to time (in no particular order):

Other links related to this post:

5 Responses to “What Does It Take To Become A Blogger?”

  1. Comment by Joshua Fletcher

    Hi Dave, great post – more BusinessObjects bloggers (or BI bloggers) would be much appreciated. I myself have been guilty of floods of activity then inactivity. Which reminds me, been a big too long since I last posted..!

    For those choosing which platform to go with, I use Wordpress installed on my own purchased domain. My domain host is Dreamhost, and it’s a one-click install to get Wordpress up and running. I also find that Wordpress has great plugins for integrating with podcasts, which I’ve recently introduced.

    We are also now seeing more content types, not only text blogs with pictures, but video and audio, like at DSLayer.net. I myself am really excited about how much you can convey even with a 5min video, which you can host on Youtube.

    For anyone thinking about starting up a BI blog, I’d definitely encourage them – just make sure you ping a few people in the community and get the word out there. It’d be a shame if people started creating some great content, but it got overlooked.

    Cheers, Josh

  2. Comment by Jamie Oswald

    I’m gonna take it as a tremendous compliment to be included on that list.

    I myself have a huge problem figuring out where to blog what. Right now I have an internal work blog (mostly energy industry stuff at this point), an ASUG blog (for community specific stuff although this is admittedly getting dusty because its behind a paywall of sorts and I’d rather share stuff more broadly to drive folks to ASUG), an SCN blog (for technical stuff AND community stuff AND some miscellaneous ranting), a BusinessObjects podcast, and a personal blog that I do with a buddy where we talk about fatherhood, suburbia, reviews, relationships, etc, etc. I really need to figure out how to focus or at least appropriately tag my stuff.

    Or I need to just shut the hell up already.

  3. Comment by Dave Rathbun

    One of the concerns about podcasts / videos that I am sure the wizards at the various search engine companies will figure out is how to properly index non-text content. Today if I do a podcast, I have to write about what’s in the podcast in order to be indexed. I have seen plenty of statistics that show the amount of video on the Internet is doubling faster and faster. Cisco, according to one article I read, suggests that video will be 90% of consumer bandwidth consumption as early as 2013. But I’m getting ahead of myself; this is part of what’s coming in part II of my post. :)

    Have you considered hosting your own videos rather than using Youtube?

  4. Comment by Scott Wallask, Managing Editor

    Another good tactic with blogs that’s easy is to link frequently to outside pages or other blogs. It improves Google searches to your blog and maybe gets other folks to check your posts out.

  5. Comment by Dave Rathbun

    Hi, Scott, I think you have your direction backwards. :) What you want are links coming in to your blog, not going out. The challenge in that activity is making sure that you’re linking appropriately and not considered a spammer. As long as your comments are on-topic and appropriate for the blog you’re commenting on, they are usually okay. I also include links back to my recent blog posts on BOB, which helps increase my exposure. Even still it’s important to abide by the community rules. BOB allows signature links as long as the post provides something of value. Posting only links is frowned upon. Each community might have different rules, and it’s important to respect them.

Leave a Reply

If you want to include formulas or code in your comment, please read my Tips for formatting comments first. Tags you can use are listed below.

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <acronym title=""> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <strike> <strong> <sup> <sub> <u>

Confirm submission by clicking only the marked checkbox:

             []     

Please remember that comments that are not related to this blog post may be ignored or deleted without notice. If you're looking for help on a topic you have already posted on BOB then please do not repost your question here.