Monday, November 9, 2015

The Blogger's 10 Commandments

"Moses with the Ten Commandments"
by Rembrandt, 1659
The world changes quickly. Faster when you’re in PR. Even faster if you deal with online communication. Still, we have to keep up.

Think about how much has changed in just the last decade. Tweeting use to be something only birds did, “friend” is a verb now and around every turn you’ll find a variety of specialized blogs (which is short for “web log,” though it sounds like some species of monsters that lived in your childhood closet).

Blogs are great ways for organizations and individuals to communicate ideas to anyone interested in listening. The problem is that a lot of blogs suck...hard.

Bloggers commit several errors, usually because they write before they think. Blogging is like all other writing: it’s systematic, it’s rules-driven and it takes time to master. But rather than leave you to wander for years in the digital desert learning this stuff the hard way, I thought you could use some guidance. I give to you, my chosen people, The Blogger’s 10 Commandments:

I.) Remember your audience. Every blog reader asks the same thing: How does this affect ME? It’s sometimes okay to inject yourself and your personal stories into your posts, but make sure you offer a clear take-away for your readers. A blog caters to them, not you.

II.) Master writing headlines. This is the most important part of each post. Few people will make it past the headline unless you give them a reason. Create reader interest with your headlines. Some helpful headline techniques include: asking questions, using superlatives, creating intriguing analogies or employing numbers – particularly if you’re making a list like I am. How many “Top #” lists have you seen just today?

III.) Stay focused on your purpose. Every blog serves some purpose and every post should advance that purpose. Most blog hosting sites let writers clearly state what they intend to accomplish with their blogs, so follow the guidelines you set.

IV.) Be conscious of length. Posts should be long enough to cover the topic at hand, but not so long that readers lose interest. A good rule of thumb is to keep blogs between 200 and 500 words if you post frequently. Feature length blogs are sometimes appropriate, but be careful with those.

V.) Write like you speak. Blogs are meant to be conversational, so bend the rules of grammar to match your speech: end a sentence in a preposition, start sentences with conjunctions, even split an infinitive or two. But don’t get sloppy. And don’t, like, you know, take it too far, like, like...ugh.

VI.) Participate in the conversation. Speaking of conversation…you know those little comment thingies? They aren’t there to facilitate random rants. They exist to facilitate conversation, both among readers and between you and your readers. Shorter posts leave room for them to interject, and for you to respond.

VII.) Keep a schedule. Your readers expect to hear from you at certain intervals. Don’t disappoint. Keep a posting schedule. Usually twice a week is a good way to go, but depending on your purpose you might post more or less often. Different content requires different schedules. I find the 1-7-30-4-2-1 mnemonic pretty helpful.

VIII.) Think past words. It’s the internet! You have endless amounts of information to rely on, so don’t use only words. Embed photos and video. Link to relevant information. Just like any other medium, you want to make full use of this one. But be aware of copyright limitations or you can get into serious trouble.

IX.) Know the power of design. Everything about your blog communicates something. The template, style and background are no different. Select ones that advance your set purpose and speak to your audience. Usually these overarching design choices are done through cascading style sheets (CSS), but bloggers often introduce subtle design elements using HTML code. If you want to bold, italicize or underline something, there’s code for that. Similar codes are often used for photos, videos and links.

X.) Move the audience to act. Give readers something to do. Engaging them in your message is a means to an end, so provide an end. Prompt them to share the post. Ask them to make comments. Invite them to ask questions about products or services. Direct them to sites to buy tickets for events. Creating enthusiasm about your topic only takes readers so far. Show them where to go next.

This list is not a complete guide to blogging. I’m not sure there even is such a thing. But this list should at least get you started as you sit down to write your first posts. After some practice, maybe you can comment here and impart your wisdom on me. The learning never ends…not for anyone. 

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