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Monday, March 17, 2008

Free advice (and worth every cent)

Every so often a new (or would-be) blogger emails me to ask for advice about blogging.  On the one hand I find this flattering... since by simply keeping my shop open this long I have magically become one of the 'elder statesmen' of the blogosphere. 

But on the other hand, I find it kind of funny since ove rthe past 4+ years I've gone against almost every bit of advice I tend to give others.

Anyway, below is a post I wrote about a year after starting up treppenwitz.  Although I'm sure you probably have many pearls of wisdom to add from your own experience, I find that this is what I tend to tell newbies to read before taking up blogging (you'll have a chance to toss in your two cents at the end if you're so inclined):

Success:  Define it before you go looking for it!
I should begin by saying that I already considered treppenwitz a success before I even published my first entry.  Some people measure success in numbers... of hits... of comments... or of visitors.  I measured my initial success by the tingly, mildly buzzed sensation I got when I was writing down something that was important to me.   I absolutely loved the feverish, almost possessed way the writing made me feel.  It's a good thing too, because even before I had any readers to speak of, I suddenly had a 'born on' date stamped on every entry... a date that created a constant demand (at least in my mind) for fresh material.

In other words... if you are going to set up a blog, you'd better like the subject matter... and you'd better enjoy the idea of feeding it, because it is always going to be hungry.  The huge number of abandoned blogs floating around the blogosphere with only a handful of half-hearted entries is a pretty good indication of how many people want to adopt a virtual puppy, kitten or bunny... but had no desire to own and care for a full grown virtual dog, cat or rabbit.

The Child That Never Grows Up
Keeping up a blog is like having a 'special needs' child. It is never going to be completely self-sufficient and it will make demands on your time and attention that you can't even begin to imagine.  This isn't to say that your efforts won't be richly rewarded... but the reward isn't always what you expected it would be. 

This goes back to the issue of care-and-feeding I mentioned earlier.  If you manage to attract a regular readership, you're bound to find that even the perception of reader demand takes a bit of the fun out of blogging.  Doing something when you feel like it is fun.  Doing something out of a sense obligation or because someone else is waiting for you to do it, can sometimes feel suspiciously like a job.   

If you don't like the idea of posting frequent blog entries that start with "Sorry I haven't had much to say lately"... imagine how much your readers will enjoy it!

Most of the 'successful' bloggers I have spoken to about this seem to have struck a balance between selfish indulgence and fulfilling reader's expectations. 

Value-Added Proposition
Remember back in the '90s when everybody thought that all you needed to do in order to become a gazillionaire was to set up a web site and wait for the venture capital firms to start throwing money at your feet?  OK, maybe that's a bad example since during the first couple of years of the 'dot com' revolution making money was almost that simple. 

My point is that the bubble eventually burst on that kind of thinking when people finally started to wake up to the fact that you had to have something of value to offer or nobody was going to visit your little plot of online real estate. 

Blogging is no different.

What you do on your blog has to be of value... at least to you.  The world is big and diverse enough that you are likely to find quite a few people who also find value in what you are publishing.  But first and foremost your blog has to mean something to you in order to have any chance of success or longevity.

Even Attention-Whores Should Consider Anonymity
This part of our little lesson deals with how much (if any) personal information to reveal... and why it could be hazardous to your job and home-life to to assume 'nobody will ever find out'.

I've mentioned before that if I had thought things through beforehand, I would probably have opted to remain anonymous here.  Even if one doesn't make a practice of blogging about, or from, work (an absolute no-no), there is a growing tendency for employers to consider all of your thoughts to be 'company property'.  Moreover, it is almost inevitable that at some point you will succumb to the temptation to say something unflattering about your workplace, your boss or one of your coworkers on your blog... and search engines are much too good these days to hope that a passing remark will go unnoticed. 

Similar issues come up with friends and family who you might want to roast when you're having a particularly bad day.  The only difference between writing about your work and home life is that if you blog about your friends and family you might end up losing a friend or even your spouse instead of just your job!

Play Nice!
I can't over-emphasize the importance of being nice to people online.  This sounds easy but it is often quite difficult.  The online world is full of 'tards and trolls.  Most of them are trying to provoke confrontations that they wouldn't dare attempt in real life.  Be nice if you can... ignore them if you can't.

Being nice to other bloggers is a simple way to get your first few readers.  Not surprisingly, some of the most voracious readers of blogs are bloggers.  If you find a few blogs that interest you and occasionally leave a cogent comment, there is a a good chance that the blogger or some of his/her readers may wander over to your site to see who you are.

Shamelessly plugging your blog in someone else's comments section or begging other bloggers for reciprocal linking is not the way to endear yourself to anyone. You'll most likely just come off as sounding needy.  The same can be said for sending impersonal, cut & paste email requests for linkage to every blogger with a visible e-mail address.

You also probably don't want to go the route of leaving deliberately provocative / inflammatory comments around the blogosphere in hopes of drawing attention to yourself and your site.  This kind of 'Jerry Springer' approach to blogging will get you noticed... but will probably not get you the kind of attention or reputation your were hoping for.

Talking Back
Most bloggers I know place almost as much value on comments/feedback as they do on traffic in terms of measuring their 'success'.  Both traffic and number of comments can be helpful tools... but they are not always reliable indicators of success or failure.

For instance, you might post 20 straight entries about things that are deeply meaningful to you without garnering any significant traffic or comments... yet when you dash off a mindless post about something salacious or controversial you are suddenly flooded with both.  The combination of search engines surfers looking for specific terms and certain topics that will always garner an eager audience has tempted many a blogger to abandon their original format and pander to the basest interests of the mob. 

I would strongly discourage anyone from going down that road.

Just as the class clown and the class slut know the most expedient way to attract attention to themselves... I suspect that neither one ends up entirely pleased with the long-term quality of the attention they've attracted to themselves.

If you find that you have to frequently do the blogging equivalent of 'putting out' or taking a pie in the face to get your hit counter or comment indicator to jump... I doubt you'll be very anxious to sit down at the keyboard and write.

Being nice to people who comment on your blog (if you decide to allow comments) is also quite important.  If you habitually argue with people in your comments section or ignore them altogether... chances are they will go somewhere more welcoming. 

Burn Out or Fade Away?
Another personal choice that every blogger/journaler makes is how frequently to post.  Besides the issue of setting expectations (i.e. how often your readers will expect to see new material on your site), there is the issue of setting a pace that can be sustained for an indefinite period of time.

Sometimes the pace will be dictated by your subject matter.  For instance, if you want to set up a 'meteorological blog' (meaning you'll be writing about the weather conditions in your area), you aren't likely to develop much of a steady readership if you only update once a month.  By the same token, if you are a Civil War buff and you want to blog about your hobby, you will probably burn out rather quickly if you attempt to post fresh entries once or twice a day. 

Aside from which topic(s) you chose to write about, there is the more basic issue of how much time and energy you have to devote to your blog. 

I follow a few blogs that are updated several times a day.  I honestly wonder how these bloggers manage to maintain any sort of gainful employment or personal life with the kind of frenetic blogging pace they maintain.  There are other bloggers I read who update their sites only once or twice a month (if that).  I can't imagine how these bloggers stay engaged and sustain any kind of interest in their writing. 

However, with both of these examples, it doesn't matter whether I understand or approve of their pace... it is only important that they have found a pace that is comfortable and works for them.

And now you tell me how I'm dead wrong...
Well, maybe not in so many words, but one of the wonderful things about blogging is that everyone with a computer and an Internet account is a potential dissenting opinion!  I'm sure many of you have your own ideas and advice to offer on the subject... so feel free. 

The comment board is open.

[Hat tip to a new blogger named Hadassah for inspiring this re-run]

Posted by David Bogner on March 17, 2008 | Permalink


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why thank you so much for the hat tip - much appreciated. Your tips are excellent and inspiring. I started my blog for myself. I love to write - when you wrote about the buzz from writing what was important to you - I totally identify with that. I love to write. I am inspired by many things in my life, but to be honest, its the kids who inspire my writing the most. It's a total bonus if anybody else reads what i have to say. I am inching ahead slowly in this blogging world - it's a HUGE world out there and so many people have an opinion.

(ok stepping off my personal soapbox...........peace, out)

Posted by: Hadassah | Mar 17, 2008 3:43:07 PM

If you don't blog from work, do you write these from home and post during the day? Hmmm...maybe I shouldn't be asking you this here.

One great tip I saw from Lorelle on Wordpress (great blogger) is don't get addicted to statistics. When there's a sudden surge in traffic one fluky day, it can then be depressing to watch it fall back to earth. (The non-bloggers out there reading are thinking, "are these people freaks or what?")

Posted by: Benji Lovitt | Mar 17, 2008 4:02:02 PM

Hadassah... Don't thank me... I'm a giver. :-)

Benji Lovitt... Never, never NEVER blog at work. In almost five years I have broken that rule only four or five times... and then only because of something like terrorist attacks. I write either late at night or early in the morning and then sit on the post for several hours to make sure I really want to publish it. Often times the answer is no. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 17, 2008 4:15:51 PM

Benji -

But make sure to fill up your work day hours BY READING blogs instead!!! It sure makes the day go by faster.

: )

Posted by: Oops, Can't Reveal | Mar 17, 2008 4:46:37 PM

Interesting post. As a new blogger (I've been doing this since December), I feel tension between what I think might be interesting to others and what it is I want to write about. Sometimes I will spend a lot of time on a post, and no one will comment. But it's something that I wanted/needed to say. And sometimes I'll write something quickly and get a bunch of comments. I think I blog to connect on gut-level issues.

Also, before I even started, someone I know said successful blogs are ones that follow a narrow topic. So I almost didn't start. Because I just have a variety of interests!

Play nice is very important. I try.

Posted by: Leora | Mar 17, 2008 6:05:26 PM

Excellent advice, all of it.

I find that if I write to please myself, I'm happy - and my readers are, as well. Mostly.

I have also found that blogging creates connections. Some of them are surprising and unexpected...but they are, all of them, very real...because our writing reveals a lot about ourselves.

Posted by: Elisson | Mar 17, 2008 7:17:03 PM

This coming May I am going to celebrate my 4th blogiversary. It has been a great experience.

Elisson is right. If you are happy with what you write your readers probably will be too. He is also correct about the connections. I am consistently amazed by how many friends I have made through blogging.

Here are some thoughts about blogging.

Write often and be consistent in your writing.
Respond to comments.
Read other blogs.
Find your own voice and let your blog reflect that.
Don't be afraid to take some risks.
Send money To Jack at Random Thoughts and remember that by doing so you gain nothing, but he gains a lot. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Mar 17, 2008 8:54:26 PM

I will celebrate my 4th blogiversary in April and I'm still astonished that I have readers! that anyone would like to read what I write. Unbelievable. I never planned what to write. I just started.

I've learned much from my insightful readers, and if someone would have told me four years ago that one day I would really care what strangers on the Internet have to say, I wouldn't have believed it.

Reading blogs and comments has enriched my world immensely. And by writing down my muddy thoughts they get clearer. Well a bit. I have always loved to write and by now I find it nearly therapeutical. When I get angry at someone, I comfort myself by thinking "woa woa woa, what a blog entry I will get from this! I will lekatzetz him on the blog!"

I like to read bloggers who have their own voice. Even where I don't share their opinions, I respect them, and I learn from them.

Besides, there are the stories. David, one of the stories I have read here and couldn't forget was the one with the injured dog on your way home. Do you remember?

Posted by: Lila | Mar 17, 2008 10:54:41 PM

Trep, when I was slogging through every SINGLE post of yours way back when, I came across your original advice to bloggers. At the time I thought it all seemed to complicated, and I that I could never make that kind of commitment. But last July I decided to take the plunge and I am so glad I did. It's really much easier than you make it sound, although it does require a fair amount of time. I do agree you have to know yourself and be true to that. (I could never write a political blog, for example, but have so much admiration for the really intelligent posts I read here, at Seraphic Secret, and others.) But if you want to blog, just do it, don't worry about traffic, just write and you'll be surprised who comes to visit...

As far as being anonymous--sometimes I wish I had gone anonymous because there are certain things I want to say, that I can't, not because they are so juicy or anything, but because my family is a little nervous about being mentioned and I have to respect their privacy. On the other hand, I kind of want people to know it's me doing this and I do believe some credibility is lost when you're anonymous.

I also enjoy commenting almost as much as posting to my blog, and have made "blog friends" this way as well.

And Jack, (171 posts so far in 2008!!!!!) there's a controversy brewing around the blogosphere regarding certain waffles. Better watch your back.

Posted by: Baila | Mar 17, 2008 11:05:39 PM


Is it only 171? Wow, I must be slowing down in my old age.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 17, 2008 11:10:32 PM

great post. much better than many of the "howto" posts out there because it addresses the real idea behind blogging -- to tell our own stories.

Posted by: phyllis | Mar 18, 2008 5:11:35 AM

Sounds good to me. Regarding anonymity and privacy, I often tell friends that my largest blogging category is Things I Do Not Blog About.

Posted by: Rahel | Mar 18, 2008 11:29:27 AM

I agree. You should read and download John Chow's ebook. His site is www.johnchow.com. I'm not plugging him at all, I'm just telling you about this guy who is ridiculously successful with his "blog," not sure if I'd even call it that. I guess.

Anyway, I love that finally had the cojones to use the word "'tard" on a widely read blog. I mean, come on, how many 'tards are there reading this right now? It's the perfect word!

Posted by: Danny Brothers | Mar 18, 2008 3:39:16 PM

Oops, Can't Reveal... That's the spirit! :-)

Leora... Narrow topic? HAHAHAHAHAH. I guess I threw that one out the window from the start. :-)

Elisson... It sometimes reveals a bit too much about ourselves. If I ever go into therapy my shrink is going to have a field-day with this site. :-)

Jack... Nice! :-)

Lila... are you talking about the time I ran over a dog? Yikes that was a long time ago.

Baila... I like to comment on people's blogs but I never seem to have the time. In order to get to most of the sites i enjoy Ifind I have to give up on commenting. I feel like a total hypocrite.

phyllis... Thanks. Glad you liked it.

Rahel... I admire your self-restraint. :-)

Danny Brothers... Ouch! Sore subject. I was (quite correctly) taken to task by a friend for making the 'special needs child' analogy. I forgot I used the word 'tard here. That too is very un-PC and probably not what I should have used (in hindsight).

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 18, 2008 3:54:36 PM

I have always been a background reader, of yours and other blogs, and decided not to "publish" my blog on the search engines and such because it was more for me than for exhibitionism... but I am pleased by your down to earth what not to do list, so I am writing to say thanks - and also thanks for the reading material which makes the day go faster :)

Posted by: Deep in the City Walls | Mar 18, 2008 7:25:31 PM

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