9 More Lessons for Would-Be Bloggers

Write Follow-up Posts

This post is an example of this lesson in action. Two weeks ago I wrote 9 Lessons for Would-be Bloggers and it got a good amount of traffic: people seemed to enjoy it. Darren Rowse of Problogger, who I’ve read for some time, embraced it and added his own thoughts. I had some great comments left on my blog and I thought about them and considered other lessons that I’ve learned. I kept writing them down as I thought of them and eventually built up 9 more of them to write this here post.

So when something resonates with folks, keep paying attention to it. There might be openings for a follow-up post. When you do write up a follow-up post, link back to the original, assuming that some people will have never read it. And if the follow-up works, maybe start a series of posts on the topic. And then, a book. And after that…well you get the idea.

When you screw up, say so immediately

Admitting idiocy is one of the most important things a blogger can do. It completely diffuses a situation that could quickly turn ugly. For some reason we have an assumption that admitting a wrong is like kicking a puppy…some people would do almost anything to avoid it. But I remember listening to a podcast of Adam Bosworth, who is a damn smart guy (VP at Google), in which a point he made was quickly refuted…and instead of defending his position he said immediately: “Yes, you’re right. I stand corrected.” As a listener I was completely disarmed…when was the last time someone said they stand corrected? The result is that I’ve ended up having more respect for Adam than I did previously. So pay attention to people who admit when they’re wrong…they’re the type of people worth listening to because you know they’re not trying to spin anything. And the funny thing is, that if you admit you’re wrong, people might just start assuming that in the other cases you’re right.

Know when to take it offline

Several times I’ve had folks come to my site and try to embarrass or criticize me personally in the comments on a post. Whenever this happens, you have to immediately take it offline. Send them an email and explain your situation. More than likely, they’ll cool down after that.

I recently ran into this with my Death of IA posts…I had some IA folks come and really lay into me, trying to insult me in front of my audience. It’s fine to argue the points of a post, but its another thing to let someone criticize you outside the bounds of your writing on a personal level. In these cases I simply wrote them an email stating that I would be glad to consider their points as long as they stuck to the content of my post…sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you just have to stop the discussion and move on. So remember that its your blog and your audience…you’re the editor and you decide what is worth arguing and what isn’t.

Link back to your good stuff

Some folks don’t link back to their good stuff enough. Hopefully you have a greatest hits section on your site, but in addition to that refer to something you’ve previously written. If you wrote it well, it will be easy to do, because your post will act as a reference for the topic. Others will pick up on that and perhaps link as well.

One caveat…rarely quote yourself. For some reason it’s a big turnoff…maybe too much self-flattery or something. Instead, simply repeat the idea in a slightly different way, resetting the context for the idea that you want to talk about again. But please, don’t quote yourself…quoting is an activity we should reserve for people other than ourselves.

Reread to yourself

Blogs aren’t books, poems, or even journalism. They’re conversations, so they need to be conversational. Make them read like how you talk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written something that wasn’t conversational that didn’t resonate…because I was trying to be too formal. Then, I’ll write a post very quickly and conversationally and it will lead to something. That’s a funny thing about blog posts…people do treat them as a conversation. And, except for being asynchronous, they are.

Treat every post as a possible later reference

This is something that I’ve only realized of late. Treat every post as a reference going forward. If you’re a programmer, think about the DRY principle: Don’t Repeat Yourself. Write something once, write it well (revise until necessary) and then feel free to refer back to it later. One of my frustrations is when I’ll have a couple posts on the same idea that don’t work very well…because I put them up too hastily. Better to write it once, take your time, and make it something that not just you, but others can reference later on.

A good example of this is my post The Dangers of Judging Web Design Superficially. I wrote this almost three years ago, and recently linked back to it. Someone picked it up just the other day, linked to it from a well-trafficked blog, and sent a whole bunch of readers my way. You never know when stuff like this will happen, so treat every post as a target.

Keep updating your best posts

This goes along with the previous one. If you take your posts seriously, and you treat them as an reference archive, then people will link to them and send traffic to them over time. So, if the post could use pruning, or additions, be sure to go back and add them. It’s OK…this isn’t paper we’re publishing on. Just go back and change it, and maybe add a note that you’ve done so.

Name things (e.g. The Del.icio.us Lesson, The Chanel No. 5 Lesson)

This one I learned with The Del.icio.us Lesson, which I had actually written about before I named it. After I named it, it became my most read post of all-time. The idea is also a relatively clear one, so people could easily understand it, but I think that naming really drove it home and associated the idea with the Del.icio.us name…which is a very popular and well-known site. Of course, don’t name things just because you can, and make sure that if you name something that there is a real importance to the idea you’re naming. I knew it was important because people kept repeating it to me over and over…I just happened to be the person who wrote it down.

Link to the quiet, unknown ones

I know because I am a quiet one (or used to be). Link to people who nobody has heard of, just to give them some exposure. They’re just as smart as anybody else, they’ve got just as much to say. They just don’t have the attention yet. I remember reading Noah Brier back before either of us had much of an audience and were working out our blogging kinks…linking back and forth every once in a while. Well, Noah’s now kicking some serious butt and he’s got a good audience…his Likeminds meetups are growing and growing.

It works like this: people expecting company clean the house. If a blogger is expecting company (readers), they’re much more likely to work on their blog and make it better. Conversely, if they are unknown, they’re not really expecting anybody, and this lowers their own expectations of what and how they write. My guess is that any blogger out there, if they were told they could have a spot in an upcoming edition of the New Yorker alongside Malcolm Gladwell and James Suroweiki, would rise to the occasion and write their very best. They would care more, pay much more attention to what they write, and really knock one out of the park.

Any editors of the New Yorker reading this…? I’m waiting. :)

Translations: Hungarian

Published: March 26th, 2007

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