First a word on what a blog is (and isn’t). A blog is a publishing platform â€“ a rich, multifaceted and very easy one that’s search engine optimized, and easily linked to and from. It’s an easy way for anyone to control their own “press.” But whether that press is used for lengthy diatribes, scholarly analysis, running humor, video, audio, graphics, photos, breaking news, reporting, analysis, links to other things or myriad other possibilities is up to you.
Ways to achieve blogging success — whatever “success” means to you and your business:
1. Know your objective.
What are you trying to do? Brand yourself as an expert? Amuse people? Get a niche audience? Sell ads to a mass audience? Drive subscriptions to a newsletter? As with any editorial product, you’ll want to know what you’re trying to do, target your audience, and give it to them.
2. Be consistent.
Whatever you’ve decided, it’s best to be consistent. If you’re doing a blog about health devices, don’t diverge too often into the habits of your cat â€“ unless the cat is somehow a character you use to make your larger points, a way to bring people into the larger message of the blog. You can even be consistently inconsistent — sometimes scholarly, sometimes goofy, for example â€“ if that’s what you want to have as your blogging “persona.” But you’ll have to sustain it over time.
3. Be focused.
We’re well past the stage when people can get an audience to a blog just because it’s there. Experience and numerous examples show that success in blogging, at least from a business perspective, comes to those who focus on whatever the blog is about. If it’s a niche music blog, stay focused on that niche. If you’re a video blog making fun of Wall Street, keep doing that. If you’re about sex or book publishing or New York celebrity, stay on target. You want your audience to keep coming back, and for new people to find you and then be pleased with what they see, and want to keep coming back as well, and liking what they see time after time.
4. Have the energy.
I was recently speaking to best-selling business humorist Stanley Bing, who’s recently started a blog under the Time Warner umbrella. It’s very successful, with lots of content, and gets great fan participation from all over the country. Stanley’s terribly prolific; while holding down a “day job” in his other life, he continues to write book after book after book, and keeps his magazine column going in Fortune.
But even Stanley was lamenting to me how, once the blog got started, he had to find something to write in it every day. Professor Jay Rosen of New York University, who runs the noted PressThink blog, also recently talked about how it has to be fed again and again and again. I let my blog MediaFlect.com lay fallow for long stretches while working as editorial director at mediabistro.com.
It takes energy. And if you get an audience, they’re doing to want you to sustain it.
You’re going to have to “feed the maw.”
5. Choose your platform. But don’t sweat it too much.
There are a lot of good platforms out there — paid, free, ads, no ads, flexible templates, locked in to one design or multiple flexible designs. Any and all of them are valid, depending on your needs. If you’re after ad revenue from third parties, you’ll need a blog that handles those. Or maybe you want to be as simple as possible, and just get a blog up, so people can read it.
But also remember that whatever choice you make, you can change it over time to something else. The change is not without pain, but you can do it. I moved MediaFlect over from Blogsome to Blogspot and may move it again. PaidContent.org moved from MoveableType to a new software, Expression Engine. There are always hitches. And it’s a good idea to have software that will let you export posts en masse. But it can be done.
The main thing is to get going, and then refine it over time.
6. Comments or not?
A lot of publishers sweat over whether to allow comments, whether to allow commenting freely, how much to police them, and so on. Relax. Yes, you may be liable if someone posts something libelous and you do nothing to fix it. But you can easily set your blog to notify you every time a comment is posted, you can take action if you see something untoward, and the chances are that if your blog is a niche type of content without a huge mass audience the biggest annoyance will come from automated commenting software that can be filtered more than from belligerent individuals.
7. Don’t overdo the writing.
Say what you have to say — have your writers say what they have to say — and be done with it. Make your point, and go. Short is, generally, sweet.
8. Don’t force yourself into fixed lengths.
Yes, short is sweet, but you may have a blog where something needs to be explained at length. If that’ s the nature of your blog and the nature of what your audience expects, go ahead and write longer. Some blogs, especially ones by academics, can be long and complex discussions of complicated issues, highly nuanced and run on for a long time. You can post long if it’s called for. And your next post can be three words, if that makes sense.
This isn’t a magazine or newspaper where you have a fixed length to which you have to adhere. But you do need to be mindful of when you’re no longer giving value, and figure that over a certain length (200 words? 250?) you’ll start to lose readers unless what you’re writing is gripping.
9. Decide if look and “feel” is important.
Some blogs are very “raw,” pretty much just text on a page. If there are images, they’re pasted somewhat at random, links and bolds and italics are also inserted as the spirit moves. Others are highly composed, with colors balanced, photos uniformly sized with drop shadows, videos placed “just-so,” titles carefully chosen, so it looks magazine-like, carefully composed. Either is fine. But decide what matters to you and the face you’re presenting the audience. Then stick to it. The more composed, of course, the higher the cost, especially in time.
10. Start small, think big.
You can start with a single blog, a string of posts, about something you’re passionate about, the particular niche of your business, a subject that interests you — but if this is a business you should also from the start carefully make sure to tag and categorize and assume that, if you get an audience, you might launch all kinds of offshoots, niches within niches, related topics, maybe even other languages. You might add video, e-commerce, ads, etc, etc. Don’t let all the thinking keep you from getting started â€“ better to launch than wait. But do, where possible, think of how things will go if you do expand, and how much you’ll save later on by planning from the start.