No fewer than five former colleagues and friends have lit up blogs since the New Year, starting down a road that is remarkably rewarding if you have an affinity for it, but can also be frightening if it’s a forced march being taken on because someone suggested a blog is a smart career move (it is, done right). Thankfully for me spreadsheets haven’t migrated into the social domain – I’d be tongue tied if I had to communicate in cells and formulae, and I expect some new bloggers are more accustomed to communication through a Powerpoint slide than they are through a paragraph. I guess ex-journalists will have the easiest time in this medium, with quants and more analytical types a little more tongue-tied.
I sense a lot of these efforts are being launched because of the rising need to market their skills in an uncertain job market, to establish new ventures, and to put their expertise on public display. All, I might add as an aside, were launched on WordPress.com (and that is good). I wish the best to all, and regard their first posts with the same nervousness I felt when I started blogging. If I have any advice from those years, it’s this: it is all worthwhile when someone comes up to you and says those ego-stroking words: “I read your blog ….”
A blog is (to borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman) a song of yourself, a constant give and take between privacy and exposure, sharing and guarding, safety and risk. It’s not a printing press for cash, but there are those out there who feel compelled to launch blogs as businesses, and to that subculture there is a bleakness of affiliate marketing, PPC, linkbaiting, and SEO gaming techniques ripe for the picking but which never seem to yield much in the way of honor or cash. I understand when people in tough financial straits need to do what needs to be done to make a living. If blogging is your best idea of an at-home business plan, let me refer you to Dan Lyons – The Fake Steve Jobs — and his recent column in Newsweek on the futility of chasing $$$ from a blog.
For those who manage to stick with it, a blog can be an interesting ego exercise – a public diary and soapbox that needs some weekly tending before it withers. The following big issues will emerge.
- Your “about page” is your new bio. If you optimize anything, try make sure the about page encapsulates your bio as succinctly and accurately as possible. This is the new resume. This is a freeform space for you to paint the picture of you. Add LinkedIn ties, Facebook, twitter accounts, photos, and a link to your actual resume.
- Focused: there are highly focused blogs that mine one specific vein of expertise. This is a tried and true tactic to establish one’s self as a subject matter expert. For some, particularly those with a technical skill, a highly focused blog can work wonders in building reputation. Particularly if the blogger is actually smart. These blogs thrive in their niche by being social with other experts in the same niche. Web analytics is a perfect example.
- Unfocused: there are blogs, like this one, that cover the gamut from professional to personal issues. I have wrestled with the idea of launching a separate blog or two, but in the end have decided to stay consolidated and veer from one area of interest to another.
Courage is the toughest issue. I get the most traffic and comments when I go out on the limb and say something provocative. Sometimes I regret going too far and not moderating my opinions. I launched my first blog in 2002 and gave up because it felt too weird writing polemics and highly opinionated pieces in public after a career as an objective journalist. It still feels weird. I won’t ever feel comfortable stating a political or religious opinion in public out of an old habit of trying to remain as neutral as possible. This is a curse, not a virtue. Then again, I know a novice blogger who was just shown the door because of some ill-considered blog posts.
Drafting and knowing when to just hit the publish button is an art. I am a sloppy grammarian, punctuater, and copyeditor. Some people are picky about those errors, I just go back and correct them as I find them. Blogs are not nuclear fission. The world won’t end if you publish a mess.
And one final note: you will look and look for some verification that the blog is worth the time it takes. If you start collecting scalps and measuring your net worth in terms of followers, subscribers, readers or page views, I feel sorry for you. It’s not about the numbers. For the Dour Marketer, a blog is a reward unto itself. Do it for the experience, not the followers, and certainly not the cash.