I have been asked by a few people about starting a blog – why, how, what? Most of this applies equally if you want to promote a business, have fun or win self-publicity.
1. Just do it. It takes about an hour to get set up on the easiest platforms, and there is no substitute for doing it to give you an idea of the issues. It is best to have a vague idea of what you will get out of it, which might be various things: a way of publicising your ideas, a shop window for a business, a continuing link with media, an outlet for writing… Don’t expect to make money. You won’t.
2. Decide what you will do it about. This is tricker than you might think. There are a gazillion blogs out there already. Be very niche and targeted (“Belgian agricultural machinery”) and you will find an audience but it might be small; go big and general (“Food”) and you might not have much to distinguish yourself. Think about what you know (supply) and what people might want to read (demand) and get them to match. But read point no. 1 again: get started and you will have a better feel for this equation.
3. Find a technology platform. In other words, a thing to do it on. I use WordPress. Others use TypePad. Or Blogger. Blah blah blah. Probably doesn’t matter that much. As long as you are reasonably technologically adept it won’t take ten minutes. Ask a friend to look over your shoulder while you do it, and help point out problems. But again, do it: once you get started you will see the difficulties (don’t paste from Microsoft Word) and the advantages. You will probably move to a different platform after a while anyway.
4. Set aside some time. Half an hour a day, or an hour a week. Get into a rhythm. This is critical for most writing. If you don’t post anything for more than a month you aren’t really doing it; but two or three days or a week off don’t matter much. You need time to follow the subject (reading “What Flemish Tractor” magazine) and to write, and to edit; and you need time to fix the thing when it periodically breaks and to clean it up, and maintain it. My guess: half an hour a day, four hours a week.
5. Keep it short. Write short entries with short headlines, short paragraphs and short words. People like short writing anyway and they like it even more on the web. Most entries are around 250 words long. If this seems philistine and vulgar to you, you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Get good at headlines because they REALLY MATTER and don’t use capital letters like that too much as it looks shouty and amateur (see?). Be chatty but not overfamiliar. Personality is good – it helps sell – but in small doses.
6. Don’t be rude. There is no need to populate your blog exclusively with nasty putdowns and ill-informed sarcastic jibes at others. This is a myth of the non-blogger about the blogger. To take my example, it just isn’t appropriate to Belgian farm machinery; people want to know what’s going on in this (doubtless fascinating) world, and to stay informed. Snippy comments will not attract them. And: blog safe. Don’t say nasty things about people you know even if you assume that people can’t find out who wrote them. They can. They will. A good rule of thumb: never write anything you wouldn’t be happy to see your mother read, or that couldn’t be put on the front of a daily newspaper with your name on it.
7. Get read. Email links to people. Put a link on your Facebook or Linkedin page or whatever. Tell colleagues. Send them articles that might interest them. Link to other peoples’ sites so they will link to you. Post comments on other sites that interest you. Write in such a way that search engines can find you (short, clear, unambiguous). Offer articles to bigger publications. In general, the web is about connection and so the more you do to get connected the better. Comment on other articles, for example. But also: read other sites and react.
8. Monitor your stats. Your blog platform will provide really detailed info on where readers come from and what they read, and where they went afterwards. This is great, especially if you come from an old media background and never knew why people read you (if they did). Golden rule: see what works, and do more of it. So if people really like your longer pieces, write longer pieces; if they want read about combine harvesters, give them combine harvester pieces. If they all come from other sites (“Agricultural Systems of the Low Countries”) link more to those sites, and work out why they go there first.
9. Support your business: Whether you are self-employed or other-employed, think about how the blog can support what you do: support your career, or your company, or both. Is it helping you meet new people? Is it helping you stay in touch with people you knew already? Is it introducing a new service? Is it demonstrating knowledge of what you do? Can you send links to people to let them know about a service or an idea? Sell training, consulting, someone else’s product? Have a simple strategy (“create new contacts for my company”) and measure it (“met five new people this month, and sold to one of them”).
10. Nil desperandum. It is unlikely that after the first month you will have built a mass audience. Or indeed the first year. Or ever. It doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your goals, and it doesn’t mean you can’t hit the “top five websites on Belgian farm machinery” list that Le Soir runs once a year (even if you only get in as number five). I won’t say “it can be fun!” because so can lots of things.
How to blog – overviews
MasterNewMedia on how to get started: http://www.masternewmedia.org/independent_publishing/blogging-how-to-blog/guide-to-publishing-first-blog-20071104.htm.htm
Slate on blogging: http://www.slate.com/id/2207061/
BadLanguage with some useful tips: http://www.badlanguage.net/how-to-blog-like-a-pro
Roy Clark on writing short: http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=78
About.com on how to make it scannable: http://weblogs.about.com/od/writingablog/tp/ScannableBlogPostTips.htm about.com
Jakob Nielsen write this in 1997 and it was right then and it’s right now: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9703b.html
Don’t be rude
The Electronic Frontier Foundation on blogging safely: http://www.eff.org/wp/blog-safely.
Reporter Sans Frontieres on blogging anonymously: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=15012
Paul Bradshaw on what to write about: http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2009/02/04/starting-a-blog-12-ideas-for-blog-posts/
Promoting your blog
VirtualBuzz Assistant on how to sell, online and offline: http://virtualbuzzassistant.com/how-to-promote-a-blog-86.htm
Using your blog to support your business
Some nifty business models for the advanced from ProBlogger: http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/09/22/10-innovative-blog-business-models/
SF Chronicle on using a blog to promote: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/05/05/BUG41CGI4K50.DTL&type=business