5 Blogging Tips For Newbies

This is a guest blog post by Fenella Saunders, managing editor at American Scientist, who attended the Back to the Blog conference at Duke University on October 13, 2012.

If you’ve opened this post, you’ve probably already seen the attractiveness of one major blog tip for newbies: Use a number in your title that will give people a list they can scan quickly and take away some pithy information about how to do something. (And apparently odd numbers are more attractive than even ones.)

That was one of the points brought up at the “Back to the Blog” workshop held at Duke University on October 13. Anton Zuiker and Cara Rousseau organized some great information and guest speakers for those who don’t know much about blogging. (See more links and details).

And, another source.

1. Sticking Around

Dave Thomas of Radian6.com talked about why one should blog in the age of social media. As he says, “Blogging is for Google, Facebook is for friends.” Their blog traffic is 2:1 from search engines over social media, even when they share posts over all the networks (Twitter, etc.).

The point is, social media is ephemeral, but blog posts last. They are resources that are still accessible and you can link back to things you have previously written when they are relevant.

On a related note, Thomas says that organizations who blog need to understand their own business goals. For example, his company’s blog has the main purpose of driving people to their ebooks.

(Their most popular blog post?)

The stream of information is so great, Thomas says, that you can “recycle” posting on social media about the same blog post several times and get the same number of hits each time.

Thomas also pointed out that Tumbler is a blog platform with a built-in network of people, making it more like social media, and something that WordPress lacks.

Copyblogger and Problogger are good sources for blog questions. For example.

2. Show Me

Thomas pointed out that video is currently the way to share with the world, and that’s easier on a blog. But the skill is to make a 3-minute video that is interesting, more than one that is of top-notch video quality. There is a 10-second dropoff time after which most people stop watching. Have a YouTube channel and link to it, as that’s the second largest search engine after Google. He gave an example of the Mayo Clinic as a place that is great about getting up video quickly, without spending weeks on editing.

Other resources: Xtranormal.com to make instant animations of a script you provide.

A boom mic for an iphone to get better sound with quick video.

3. Style Matters

Anton stepped in to bring up some resources next.

Woothemes.com and Themeforest.com have premium blog themes for $35-70 that include tools built in to embed video, audio or pictures. They also are responsive so they look good on mobile or big screens.

Speaking of style, a lot of blogs are moving from cluttered to clean. See angryrobot.ca for an example. It’s one single column of text, without a lot of links and distractions. Most blog readers find a post from a search engine, and all they want to do is read that one post, not everything else. So you want landing pages without a lot of distraction. Use a different stream (FB/Twitter) to conglomerate all of your posts into one index. Twitter is now more about linking to other content rather than firsthand posting.

Another example is om.co where there is a nav swipe on the left to pop out a menu but it drops off for mobile size screens.

Which is another point: Design for mobile first. WPTouch is a plugin that will make any WordPress blog mobile-ready.

Some blogs have gone the opposite way and have a long front screen with a very long scroll. Because of touchscreens and FB/Twitter, people now have less of an aversion to scrolling down and down a page.

A platform to watch is Medium.com from the creators of Twitter. It has a simple design and a network effect. There’s also svbtle.com, creating a network around a tool or topic.

Blogs can help to make event coverage highlight your interests. Take Newsjacking by David Meerman Scott. The idea is to have the first paragraph talk about the event, but the second paragraph is the angle that you can inject into a story, and it’s possible that others will pick up that content—as long as what you say adds value to the story.

4. Other Voices

How to deal with comments and possible trolls? Two mentioned plugins are Disqus and Gawker’s Kinja, which aims to “make intelligent comments easy to read.” Example:  You can also use Branch.com to set up a moderated/invited conversation that others can ask to join.

Several speakers pointed out that it’s ok to have a blog and not allow comments. If you do allow comments, it’s important to set up clear boundaries (no threats, harassment, racism etc.) and to remind people that this is your living room, not a public square, so they don’t have the right to comment. They can go off somewhere else on the Internet and set up their own posts if they want to have their own say in a way you don’t want on your own blog.

As a side note to the communication issue, regarding email one of the speakers, Paul Jones of UNC’s j-school, says “email is a horse and social medial is a car” so he’s completely given up on traditional email.

5. Join the Crowd

So how to get the world to even know your blog exists? Enter Bora Zivkovic, who runs the blogs at ScientificAmerican.com (a network of 47 different blogs). Blog networks such as scienceblogging.com can provide an index where people can go to see what’s new (but make sure you know the history of PepsiGate about the perils of corporate intrusion into blog networks.)

Bora emphasized that successful networks are ones where each blogger has an expertise and passion about a topic, but NOT an obsession. The difference is that in the former case, the posts are informative and are within a particular topic, but in the latter case the posts are always on EXACTLY the same thing. Blog posts are more in depth, but not manifestos. Bora advised potential bloggers to focus on what you understand well, but don’t spend days on it.

Getting contributors or guest bloggers for one post or a series is also a good way to network.

Connect with people who are already well connected, and follow early adopters to learn new tools.

Henry Copeland of blogads.com (who was such an early adopter of Twitter that his handle is simply @hc, giving him massive tech cred) pointed out that another way to use crowd assistance for mutual traffic driving is to add topics to a debate going on online, which is kind of like joining a team.

Henry’s final comment is a great summation of why blogging is still relevant: “If you think you’re late to blogging, there’s another train leaving tomorrow, and you can get on the new train while we’re all still on the old one.”


12 Responses to “5 Blogging Tips For Newbies”