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Wide White: Rules for bloggers

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rules for bloggers

I've been blogging for over 5 years now. The first blog I ever read was political and I was working in politics at the time, so when I started blogging it was all politics all the time.

I soon left the world of politics with a bad taste in my mouth. For the next few years, I blogged a few times a month, but with no consistency, and the subject matter varied widely, from a video I made for my brother's wedding to an in-depth analysis of the actions of a Northern Minnesota county attorney. I debated giving it up a few times, but whenever I voiced that to anyone I was encouraged to keep going.

I've made a lot of mistakes along the way and thought it might be worth sharing a few rules I now try to follow since I decided last October to blog more regularly again. These are listed in no particular order (actually, the 5th is probably the most important).
  1. Write like nobody's reading. This rule will cause most of you to ignore the rest of the rules. I guess that's okay. I ended my very first post with, "Let me hear your thoughts." No one ever commented on that post. I kept going anyway. When I became disengaged from politics, I quit blogging about it, moved to Minnesota and lost 75% of my readers as a result. While the direction of my blog underwent a major shift, the readers who stuck around have said they like it better now. And for those who care about the numbers, I now have more readers than when I was expressly political anyway.
  2. Be kind. This doesn't mean you can't be passionate or denounce what you believe is wrong or enter into the fray of politics and religion. But write as though you're talking to a friend who disagrees with you on the subject. When you write about the politician or religious leader or neighbor or family member you dislike, write as if they're sitting next to you reading it. I've broken this rule before and it's not good.
  3. Be consistent. You should set a course that maintains a fairly consistent pattern of frequency content. If your blog is political, stick to that. If it's photos, stay consistent. If it's random (like mine has become), at least make sense out of it. Jumping from a post on your favorite TV show's latest episode to a gardening tutorial to a scathing critique of your mayor may leave your readers a bit bewildered. Your readers are coming back because they like the content you've been posting. Changes will confuse them and cause them to abandon you. If you're going to change course (as I did in November 2006), at least communicate that to your audience.
  4. Set expectations for your readers. Each blog post's title should help the reader decide if it's relevant to them. This is a tough balance to find, but reading your blog is one of many things people can spend their time doing. If your titles don't adequately reflect the content, it's tough for them to decide what's worth reading for them and what isn't, and they'll shut you out completely. Also, your blog's description or "About" section should be informative. My blog's subtitle description has evolved over the years. It began with "Unfair. Unbalanced. Uncommon Sense." It was a corny play on a well-known political news slogan, which set the tone for the content of the blog. When I abandoned an exclusively political tone I switched to "Thinking out loud since 2/11/2006." The current subtitle of "Daily brain dumps" is similar but includes an expectation of frequency. (I'm not a big fan of my current subtitle and will probably just use an "About" page for this info when I switch to WordPress.)
  5. Respect your readers' time (and yours!). I like the way Jon Acuff put it:
    We'll say, "Well, they're just reading my blog or my Twitter feed, why should I worry about the quality or why should I be consistent with it?" The reality is it's free from a money point of view, but you're charging them the most expensive thing they possess: their time. ... So when you create whatever it is you create, create it understanding that this is going to be expensive for them. They're going to give me 30 seconds or 30 minutes that they'll never have back again.
    My goal is to post once a day at 6:45 AM. I came to that frequency and time based on what I thought my readers expected and what I could keep up with, but that frequency is different for every person based on their content and time commitments. If I happen to write a few posts in a day, I just schedule them to go out in the future. I don't want to bombard people with a lot of posts at one time, especially if they're longer posts. But if I don't have something worth writing, I'll let a day pass without a post. Yesterday I didn't post until 2:00 PM because I couldn't think of anything worth writing the night before, so I didn't write anything. It's not worth your time to publish something that doesn't matter or doesn't really interest you and it's not worth wasting your readers' time just to say you met your quota.
There are other rules but they are less significant to me. These are my 5 primary guiding principles.

What about you? Did I leave anything off this list? Do you disagree with any of the points here?



Blogger Reuben declared,

I think these are good rules, but I think some are less applicable than others for certain types of blogs. Professional blogs, for example, benefit much more from consistent topics than some guy's personal blog (like mine).
I've struggled with my blog being random, especially when I was writing a lot more about Mormonism. It definitely threw some readers off.

Still, I think personal blogs are something you have to do for yourself, not the readers. If a blogger breaks these rules and as a result never has a large readership, I don't think the right answer is always to change the blog or the blogger. Sometimes the best answer it to keep breaking these rules, but simply realize that you're probably going to alienate some readers in the process.

RE: being kind... This is the sort of rule that someone somewhere's got to break it sometime or else we'll all go insane, but it rarely feels as good as you think it's going to - at least in a public setting like the interwebs.

3/30/2011 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

If it's a "blog" then you write for yourself and not your readers (IMO).

I don't disagree with much of anything you say as I do almost all of those things myself.

I have to re-up my domain for a couple of years as .org prices are going up on 4/1.

3/31/2011 8:14 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Reuben, I agree with your distinction between professional and personal blogs. I do think it's helpful even for personal blogs to have some consistency though. Randomness counts for consistency and you don't have to schedule posts for a given time. But having some consistency is helpful. Going a month with 15 posts and then three months with none is frustrating for readers no matter the type of blog.

4/04/2011 12:04 AM  
Blogger Reuben declared,

You're right. Some type of consistency is still important.

I read a friends blog. She posts maybe twice a month, and it's just a typical Blogspot mommy blog w/ pictures of kids, funny anecdotes, and vacation recaps.

Then every so often her husband gets ahold of the keyboard and posts some totally off-topic tea party rant quoting esoteric books about liberty or something. The point is not that I don't like his ideas, it's that it's totally bizarre within context.

4/04/2011 12:13 AM  
Blogger kristi noser declared,

I'm all for kindness. Also, sentence fragments. And misuse of apostrophe's.

Kidding aside, I would add one point.
Be brief. Nobody wants to be reading your post for the next twenty minutes. People have short attention spa
gotta go do the dishe.

4/04/2011 6:02 AM  
Anonymous Brent and Lisa declared,

Good points. We're still trying and failing. Hoping to get beyond the few FB friends and family that frequent the site. We try to log in and take time to read our favorite bloggers and develop that regular presence and build relationships.
We haven't been as consistent with the frequency of our posts, but rarely have we gone beyond a week. One of our unique features is that we're a dual blog, so you're hearing from both me (Brent) and Lisa, and our niche is drawing out what it's like to get married late in life (we're both over 45...and I'm getting closer to 50!)

4/04/2011 10:30 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Kristi, great point on brevity. I walk a fine line on that one. Even with a long post I try to keep paragraphs down to 2 or 3 sentences. It seems to make it easier to read. However, my most popular posts have been the ones that took me a lot of time and energy and were long. I think they're the ones that tend to get shared, whereas the short ones are good for regular readers.

Brent, these are by no means hard and fast rules, but having said that, you guys have done a good job on the consistency part and with having a theme.

Someone asked me tonight what my blog was about. I had trouble answering that question. That's not good. I need to have a better answer than, "It's random."

4/04/2011 11:46 PM  

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