Mar 26 2012

Exposing Yourself To The Internet

Categories: Blogging, General Dave Rathbun @ 11:47 am

In part one of this series (What Does It Take To Become A Blogger?) I talked about what it takes to become a blogger by answering the “Five W’s” of reporting. In part two (Blogging for Dollars? Or Something Else?) I went a bit further into depth on reasons for blogging, how much money you should expect to make (or not make), and covered some of the financial costs of running a blog. In part three I want to talk about what happens after you start blogging. The worst possible case is that you put yourself out there and nobody notices. Let’s assume that’s not going to happen. :)

Content Is King

I talked previously about setting up a posting schedule and sticking to it. This becomes the “pulse” of your blog and I think it’s one of the most important attributes of your new online presence (call it brand or whatever else you like). I tend to post mostly technical articles that are designed to solve a specific problem. That’s what I do in real life (solve problems, or at least attempt to do so). That makes it easy for me to carry that over into my blog life. (Hopefully solving more than I cause. ;) ) That being said, what if I don’t have any blog posts ready to go for a particular month? Do I make up some fluff in order to maintain my self-imposed posting schedule, or do I just skip a month? Maybe I should just post a movie review or talk about my latest technical toy that I have purchased to fill in the gaps?

Or perhaps not…

Jon Reed recorded a great podcast at the last TechEd conference. (See below for link.) In it he talks about how bringing a certain amount of personal “flavor” into a blog doesn’t hurt. Jon says:

I do share content about my personal life. I don’t talk about why Beyonce’s latest album sucked, even though it did. But last Friday I posted a few favorite YouTube videos because it does add some flavor to who I am and what I care about. Social media is about inviting people into your living room, not into your bedroom, so we are making concious choices about what to share and what not to. Bringing people into your living room does create intimacy and authenticity to a point, but making clear choices about what you share does matter.

The emphasis was Jon’s so I repeated it here. I tend to agree with him on this point. I tend to write like I talk, and I talk a lot, so my blog posts can get long. I also am a fairly informal person so I am fairly informal here on my blog. I’m one of the few bloggers I know that actively uses emoticons. ;) That being said, I don’t talk about the latest soccer games my boys have played in, or what they wore for Halloween. That’s saved for my family blog. I don’t talk about the fact that I’m very much looking forward to the Final Four championship games coming up this weekend. I save that for what I call my “manly” blog. :lol: I don’t talk about my new camera lens or the next photography trip I am going to take, that’s saved for – you guessed it – my photography blog. On this blog I talk about BI software, tips and tricks, BI conferences, or technologies that are related to BI in some fashion.

Content is what will initially bring people to your blog. Continuing to post relevant, topical, and useful content is what will keep blog readers coming back. Some blog readers may be familiar with the concept of SEO or Search Engine Optimization. I’m going to save that for a later blog post as it deserves to be covered in more detail than I want to do here. For now, I will assume that you have built it, and people have come. Now what?

Don’t Blog In A Vacuum

This is where I (the pot) get to call the kettle black. Here’s another quote from Jon Reed’s podcast I mentioned above:

It’s embarrassing to see blogs that are not aware of the conversations going on. You’re joining a conversation and trying to advance it. If you don’t understand the context of other experts in your topic, how can you advance the conversation?

As before, the emphasis is replicated from his blog post. What does Jon mean?

I’m going to make up some terms to describe how blogs can work. Blogs can be one-way or two-way. Two-way blogs can be local or global. Let me try to define what I mean when I make those distinctions.

A “one-way” blog is one where the blogger creates content but does not allow any discussion. It would be like going to a college course where the professor does not allow any questions during class. Yes, he or she might have visiting hours so you can ask questions in private; that would be like a blogger posting an email address or contact form for private questions. In my opinion this is the worst type of blog for both sides. Blog readers are not able to interact with the blog owner except in private, and that means that the same question could be asked over and over. Eventually the professor (blogger) is going to realize that there was a flaw in their lecture and potentially address it (by editing the blog post). But none of the other students got to hear the conversation.

A “two-way” blog allows comments. I allow comments here in order to allow “students” to ask the “professor” questions about the lecture. By having that conversation in public, all of the other “students” (blog readers) can benefit, especially if they had the same question. But what if the professor is aware of another conversation taking place in another similar classroom? Is it the professor’s duty to let the students know about that as well?

That’s where Jon’s comment comes in. A two-way blog is great, but if you never reference activity going on around the rest of the Internet then your content can feel a bit isolated and incomplete. Even if you aren’t making the effort to see what else is out there, many of your more knowledgeable blog readers are most certainly aware of that additional content. A blog that does a great job of referencing other blogs or content would be what I call a “global” blog. If I write a blog post (like this one) that is inspired by or partially in response to another post, then I do try to link back (or “hat tip” as it is sometimes called). Sometimes I do that in the body of the post, and sometimes I do it in the “related links” section at the end of a post.

I freely admit that I don’t do a great job of this. Frankly, it can be a lot of work. That means my blog is more “local” because I don’t reference external content nearly as much as I could, or perhaps should.

Make It Easy For Readers To Promote Your Blog

One of the best ways to increase traffic to your blog is to convert readers into your unpaid marketing team. The best way to do that is to make it really easy for those folks to promote your blog posts. If it’s hard, they won’t do it. If it’s easy, then they might at least think about it. I was recently sent a link to a list of ten “must haves” for any Wordpress blogger. It’s probably significant that over half of them were related to social media in some fashion. I have tried different variations of several social media plugins over the years but have not yet settled on one. I plan to get something along those lines selected and installed this year.

What About Promoting Others Via a Blog Roll?

There is at least one simple thing that you can do as as blogger to show that you’re aware of the bigger group of conversations going on. Wordpress offers a feature called a “blog roll” which allows you to create a list of other blogs that you read, reference, or endorse in some way. I don’t have a blog roll here and my reason is simple, if a bit childish. I don’t want to show favoritism, and rather than list everyone that I know who writes a blog, I just don’t list anybody. In other words, I’m not going to pick my favorite child. :P I do reference other BI blogs within specific posts; Jon Reed would be the most obvious example since I’ve included several quotes from him in this very post. But he is not the only person I have referenced on this blog. Dallas Marks has an excellent example of a blog roll

What About Videos? Podcasts?

As I mentioned near the beginning of this post, content is king. But you have some decisions as to what format that content takes. I do primarily text posts with a supporting cast of images. I try to make sure that every image has the proper HTML tags for “alt” and “title” to make the images more relevant to the text-scanning process used by most web spiders. Why? Because when someone searches for content that appears on my blog, I want them to find it. Videos and podcasts are not (at this time) indexed nearly as well. I am sure the brilliant minds behind the search indexing bots are hard at work. Several years ago Cisco suggested that by 2013 videos will be by far the largest form of content consumed via the Internet. Are we there yet? I don’t know. But I do know that without excellent keyword support it’s very hard to find relevant video content. Google’s own support site for webmasters still says today that Google’s web indexing process cannot process video content.

What About Corporate Policy?

More and more companies are setting corporate policies for blogging and tweeting. Your employer may allow you to create a personal blog as long as you use appropriate disclaimer text, or they might not. When I was a consultant I had full reign within Integra to create whatever content I wanted, and I retained ownership of that content. If that’s important to you, then make sure your company policies related to blogging are consistent with your goals.

Summary

I did not write this post to scare you away from blogging. :) I just wanted to show that while content is important, being a responsible blogger is not just about writing. You should make sure you have permission to blog and that you follow any corporate guidelines established by your employer. You need to be aware of how different forms of content can be scanned (or not scanned) by the various search engines, what impact that has. You have to decide how much effort to put into making your blog a part of the broader global Internet versus ignoring the rest of the world and perhaps looking smaller as a result. You have to decide if you’re going to have a one-way or two-way relationship with your blog readers.

Once you’ve set up a blog and decided to allow comments, you then need to be aware that you’re not just going to get positive reinforcement. :) You’ll get input from those that disagree with you, sometimes in a virulent fashion. You’ll get input from spammers who see your blog simply as a vehicle for them to promote their own products or services. I’m going to talk in more specific detail about tools for moderating comments and handling spam in the next post in this series.

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4 Responses to “Exposing Yourself To The Internet”

  1. Comment by Scott Wallask

    A writer I used to know said there are two kinds of blogs:
    1. A blog that discusses a topic readers are passionate about (movies, for example), in which case you are likely to get many comments
    2. A blog that presents a topic from an authoritative position, in which readers come to get educated and may not comment because they feel the blog is a source of info

    I’ve tried to remember that person’s opinion, because if you don’t get comments on a blog but want to, it may require you to change your approach and appeal to aspects of a topic that people are passionate about (as you know, BusinessObjects is a passionate topic for many users, ha, ha).

    As for podcasts, at WIS Publishing, we sometimes transcribe podcasts and then post the transcript as a alternative way to allow search engines to index the recording’s content.

  2. Comment by Jon Reed

    Dave – as an admirer of your “old school” blogging style – and I mean that in the best way possible – I’m psyched to find my work assessed/excerpted here. One of my big concerns on the social media micro-noise-fest is that we lose track of the time and effort required for in-depth views. As much as I enjoy some rapid fire exchanges on Twitter, when I want to understand complex enterprise issues it’s almost always a blog post or another piece of long form content (podcast, videos) that brings clarity.

    The comment I made in that social media podcast about the living room was about Twitter but it applies to blogs as well, I think it’s good when your personality can come across. It’s a form of virtual trust that develops, I’ve seen it happen again and again. You might have big disagreements on issues but if you get a sense of the real person behind the content it changes things. Bigger companies struggle with this, not surprisingly.

    ” if you never reference activity going on around the rest of the Internet then your content can feel a bit isolated and incomplete.” One of the points that really stood out. Yes, to me when I read bloggers who are not plugged into the broader conversation of blogs, tweets, etc on issues, their isolation stands out. It diminishes the impact of their work. Listening matters. So does attribution.

    In terms of blogging versus podcasting versus video, I think the search thing is overrrated. In this regard: if you’re aware of that issue, like Scott says, you can offer transcripts. I often do in-depth summaries of my podcast as well as bullet point highlights in text. And videos work great embedded in relevant blog posts. To me, the principles that stand out are: try different mediums, push yourself sometimes to explore them, and multi-purpose the content you create.

    I find I enjoy a lot of different mediums. I enjoy short videos, but also longer podcasts. Tweeting can also be a good way to riff on a topic when the day is crowded with meetings. Lately I’ve been videotaping Google Hangouts which is a lot of fun, and releasing those as audio-only also via iTunes, etc.

    My view is whatever keeps you creating content is the way to go. You read all the time that certain things are unfashionable – podcasts are dead, blogging is dead – to heck with that. You find your voice and find the medium that works. I really like how you work “the art of blogging” into your content mix here, and I will keep sending readers your way for sure. Later!

  3. Comment by Kashif

    Hi Dave,

    Is thr any way to get an email update if any new blog is posted on your site?

    Regards,
    Kashif

  4. Comment by Dave Rathbun

    Hi, you can follow the RSS feed. There are two feeds, one for new posts and one for new comments. Thanks for your interest.

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