God Save the Blogger
Last Wednesday, I heard Chris Brogan speak at Blog World. Putting aside for a moment how underwhelming the seminars turned out to be, Mr Brogan’s talk made the trip onto New York City and the walk to the Javits Center with all my bags worth it!
Brogan began with his answer to the question, “what platform do you use to blog?” He made light fun of Blogger and Blogspot users – they’re on those platforms because they’ve always been on those platforms – then addressed his choice: WordPress. He uses it (as do I) because “it works, and there’s a large community for development and support”. Other options are OK, but if you are serious about blogging, Brogan’s words confirm that WordPress should be your platform.
He also pointed out that no one asks writers whose work appears in print what “platform” they use. Imagine if Fitzgerald asked Hemingway what he used to write his novels. When Hemingway responds, “A #2 pencil”, Fitzgerald immediately rushes out to buy a pack of #2 pencils because he believes he will have more success with this “platform” than with, say, his #4 pencils.
Lesson #1: Don’t worry about what you use to blog, just blog.
Brogan spent the rest of his presentation on 4 topics:
- Finding time to blog
- Finding topics to blog about
- Making money from a blog
- Accepting the fact that a blog takes work
I loved his simple approach to finding time to blog. Brogan suggests “quilting” small amounts of time together to write a post. Twenty minutes while you wait to for your child at school, 10 minutes while you drink your morning coffee. Excellent advice that I immediately put into practice by typing a draft of this post on my iPhone while waiting for Purl Soho to open and then waiting to ride the shuttle back to the Javits Center!
I also have to take this approach with the podcast. I need to break down writing and recording into smaller chunks of time so I can get back to my biweekly schedule. I also have to let perfect recording go. After all, the most overused phrase at this conference was “It’s all about the content!” I used Audioboo for the first time this past weekend and posted a 3 minute update for my podcast listeners. It takes a lot of time to write and record a 60 minute podcast; it took me less than 30 minutes sitting on my patio with iPhone to record that audio file.
Brogan also pointed out that practice often replaces talent. Using an analogy to prove his point, Brogan compared the Sex Pistols to Wilco. The Sex Pistols had no idea how to make commercial music or even play instruments, but they wanted to form a band, so they did. They played all the time, beat the crap out of each other when they didn’t like the way the music sounded, did whatever they hell they wanted (with some deadly consequences), and didn’t worry about whether other people thought their music “good”. Wilco, on the other hand (at least according to Brogan), is technically excellent but lack the passion of the Sex Pistols. They’re polite about their differences and more deliberate in their styling.
Lesson #2: The best bloggers belong to the school of the Sex Pistols. Make the time to write it, trash it, write some more, and don’t worry if anyone but you likes it. (Obviously, don’t take the lifestyle thing too literally!)
With regard to topics, Brogan echoed what I hear a lot of bloggers say: it’s not finding topics, it’s finding time to get the topics out of you head and onto your blog. He pointed out that all his posts have a formula which makes it easier to go from topic to blog post. Start with an image and your response to that picture. It could be a photo you’ve taken or an image from Flickr Creative Commons. (His riff on the evils of Instagram and the creation of millions of fake album covers made me love Flickr all the more.) Either way, start with an image and build your post from there until you end with either a call to action or a question that inspires comments. Blogging 101, I know, but sometimes you need to revisit the basics.
Lesson #3: The Sex Pistols wrote about being angry working class British teenagers in the 70s, and let’s face it, their songs have a similar sound. If a formula helps you produce good blog posts, by all means use it!
I don’t know if the Sex Pistols made any money, but I know I’ll never quit my day job and support myself blogging. Brogan confirmed this. His blog is just one asset within his business model. The blog isn’t the end, it’s a means to an end. He cautioned bloggers to avoid pushing their own agenda; just like with Twitter, start with a conversation, involve the reader, and then hope they explore what else you have to offer that may generate income like books, workshops, speaking engagements, etc. Also, affiliate marketing and Google AdWords have come a long way, baby, but they’re not going to let you retire in style!
Lesson #4: You won’t get rich blogging, but your blog is an excellent way to let people know what else you have to offer that may in turn generate income for you.
Finally, Brogan explained that a blog takes work. It took him 8 years to reach 100 readers, although that was in the days before RSS. So if 100 people are interested in what you write or record, be happy! With so much on the internet to choose from, these people decided to spend their limited time with what you’ve produced. Value the people who support what you do.
Little people matter in the age of social media; don’t focus on the “big guy” or the power players.
When Brogan said that, I immediately thought of @johnbirmingham who I’ve mentioned often on this blog. He follows 10,000 people on Twitter; they are his 10,00o much like the Spartans’ 300. I’m one of that 10,000 which to me is an honor. When JB responds to my tweet or better yet DMs me after I comment on the cover art for the American version of his newest book, Angels of Vengeance, I’m not only beyond thrilled, but I will now buy just about anything this man writes. The connection that never mentions the sale actually does more to encourage the sale.
Lesson #5: Don’t sweat the numbers.
A few other observations of note made by Brogan:
- Your side bar should never drive traffic away from your site. This turns your website into an outpost rather than a destination.
- Ask yourself “What magazine is my blog?” This may help you generate topics, find new avenues to attract readers, and determine whether you are too general or too specific in your choice of topics.
- On the flip side, don’t worry about consistency. Write about what inspires you today.
I also received a copy of Brogan’s new book, Google+ for Business, which I’ll review on the next podcast. For now, I’ll take these 5 lessons to heart and blog like it’s the end of the world!