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Writing with Confidence or Risking Your Reputation?

A guest post over at John Chow’s blog today by Steven York titled Successful Blogging – 5 Tips for Writing With Confidence caught my attention today. The title was something that I was keen to read as I think that being confident as a blogger is important – however as I read it I found myself reacting against every point made.

The five points:

#1 – Don’t Ever Talk About Being Dugg/Reddited/Stumbled
#2 – Don’t Disclose Failure Unless It’s To Make a Point
#3 – Shout About Your Successes
#4 – Write with Authority
#5 – You Don’t Need To Tell The Truth All The Time

Now there is plenty of room for bloggers to blog in their own voice/style – but quite a bit of the advice in this post left me wondering what type of blog a blogger would build if they took all of the advice in it.

I was going to write a post on this topic – but ended up leaving it in a fairly raw form over on the post itself (I think my post is currently in moderation). I’ll repost my comment here in the hope that it’ll add to the conversation. I’ve added a few other thoughts to my original comments below (in italics).

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Steven – I respectfully disagree with most of your points:

1. Talking about being Dugg/Stumbled etc can actually be a good move strategically. By mentioning it you introduce your regular readers to social bookmarking. I did this a couple of months ago on my photography blog and mentioned that the day before I’d had a lot of new readers from StumbleUpon and Digg. What I found is that most of my loyal readers had never heard of StumbleUpon or Digg before but many signed up to them that day. The next day I had massive traffic as a result of loyal readers submitting posts from my archives. I didn’t tell them to do it and only mentioned social bookmarking in passing but it was enough to get a lot of new readers using the tools.

While I agree that you wouldn’t want to constantly go on about how your blog has been Dugg or Stumbled I do think that an occasional mention can actually help to build a culture on your blog where readers naturally use these tools – something that a blog could really benefit from.

2. Disclosing failure is something that I think is important on a blog for numerous reasons. It makes you more relatable, it gives you something to build on when you teach how things SHOULD be done and it can show real character and transparency to your readers. I find that when I talk of my weaknesses or failures that many readers email me and comment thanking me for showing that side of things.

Steven used the example of Shoemoney showing his big check instead of talking about his failures. I’d argue that while the check picture was crucial in his rise to fame that it was also his ability to talk about messing up. He’s written himself about this on numerous occasions. Check out his posts My Top 10 Worst Ideas to Make Money and My Advice to Connect with Your Readers.

3. Shouting about your Successes – I partly agree with you here but only to a point. If you don’t talk about your successes to some degree they might go unnoticed – but when you ’shout’ about them you can actually hurt your reputation. Constantly talking about how well you’ve done things can alienate readers who don’t achieve what you’ve achieved and it can come off as arrogant. I’ve seen numerous bloggers lose audience over being perceived in this way. I do agree with your words about using case studies to highlight your successes as this is a more helpful way to share them – but just be careful about doing it too often.

Again I’ll emphasize – that it’s not bad to highlight your successes – but do it in moderation and in a way that is relevant, relatable and on topic.

4. Authority - I agree with this point the most, although think that there is room for ambiguity on a blog. If you’re not sure about something – I wouldn’t recommend saying that you are or you could end up being caught out by readers. Authoritative statements that turn out to be wrong can hurt your reputation. It’s about being transparent – but also about covering your butt if you’re wrong.

Yes do blog with authority but only when you are an authority.

5. ‘You Don’t Need to Tell the Truth all the Time’ - Again I’m not so sure on this. While it is possible to write about something that you’ve never experienced I generally find that it’s more powerful to disclose your experience level on a topic. Again it’s about transparency – but also about connecting with your readers. Perhaps you’re different to me but I’d much rather read someone tell me how they’re trying something as a beginner than read something by someone who presents themselves as a know it all who obviously has little idea of what they’re saying.

Getting found out as a liar when you’re presenting yourself as an expert can have a lasting impact upon your reputation and blog’s profile.

I don’t mean to pick on your post – but what worries me about the style of blogging that you’re describing is that if people follow it they could end up hurting their reputation. While some bloggers might well get away with some of it – if you’re looking to build a blog with a long term profile in a niche and that is respected as a credible and authoritative source then I think a blogger needs to really consider the impact of taking this kind of advice.

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Perhaps I was being a little harsh or narrow minded with my comment. I do think that there is room for promoting your successes, being authoritative etc – but look at a lot of successful blogs and see people who are fairly humble and down to earth people. While there are certainly a few who follow the five points above and still get successful I’m not sure I’d be building a blog on these strategies.

To me blogging with confidence has more to do with knowing what you do know and knowing what you don’t. Blogging about your experience. Connecting with your readers. Building relationships based upon trust and blogging in a way that is true to your values. But that’s just me – what do you think?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. ImageGag says:

    Hi Darren. I read this post too and the point that stuck out with me was #5.

    I’m glad I got your take on it. Thanks.

  2. Evelyn says:

    I like when people give neat suggestions and I was prepared to defend and argue with this post… then I read it and couldn’t help but “gulp.” I’m not very good at tooting my own horn. I have found that the worst part of people who talk too much about how great they are, is that they’re usually NOT. I’m afraid that I have to agree with Darren too. Sorry Stephen. Right now I really can understand the “if I started a new blog I could be evil” thing (moving from PR 4 to PR 0 in just a matter of days, thank you frickin’ Google), but I’m afraid my personality leans more towards Darren’s stance.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t be pissed off! I’ve heard juuuuust a touch of acrimony in Darren’s “voice” in recent weeks. That’s not a complaint. On the contrary, it’s just an observation and somewhat of a compliment — he’s being honest and being who he is. I’ve refrained from saying anything on my blog about Google… because I haven’t gotten over being… hurt. Yeah, those “love letters” were very appropriate. It might sound dumb to some people, but I get it. Ouch.

  3. Tom says:

    You were not being too harsh, Darren. You were nicely balanced in your rebuttal. To put it simply, I would drop a blog immediately if I caught the blogger engaging in most of these “recommendations.” The last thing the blogosphere needs are more braggarts who lie while pretending to be the kings of their niche.

  4. Learn SEO says:

    And now I have to bookmark yet another post thanks to the comments (as I did at John Chows). The points are pretty much contradicting and Darren is right about writing in authoritative way when you are an authority (or at least you do have a deep knowledge or personal experience with the subject you are dealing).

    But in one or another way, Steve’s post on JC and Darrens response here sure do teach you some really nice things about blogging and on reading what a blogger has to say (write).

  5. Darren, as always, you hit the nail on the head. When it comes to writing, there really are no hard and fast rules, only very loose rules of thumb, which should be questioned at every turn. I think the gist of your post is that a blogger should know his audience. That, along with knowing what kind of reputation you want to establish, should be key factors in determining how closely to follow the five advice points presented here.

  6. Great post. Thanks for presenting it to us… and for not being afraid to publicly disagree with someone else.

  7. Etavitom says:

    Interesting point! Thanks for all the great wisdom.

  8. I too agree with you, Darren. In fact, I blog about my mistakes in order to let my readers learn from them, and personally, I think readers like to learn from your mistakes.

    Covering another point you disagreed with: shouting about your successes. I do agree that if you do this too often you will drive readers away from your blog. Last night I came across a post about John Chow, and in the author’s post, he talked about how Mr. Chow does this too often, as well as other mistakes he sees with John’s blog content. When readers of the author’s blog commented, many of them are leaving (or have left) John’s blog because of this and other reasons. If you have the time, you can read my take on the author’s post here: http://mistisandefur.blogspot.com/2008/01/john-chows-blogging-mistake.html

  9. I must say i totally agree with every point you have made their, i think you were right on the money! Well done.

  10. Richard B says:

    I think it a little funny that Steven has written this article and then admitted that he doesn’t do it himself.

    What it looks like to me is that he’s basically described John Chow’s blogging style which I find to be about sucking people in by telling them half truths. From what I hear on the grape vine he’s not quite as successful as he says he is on his other businesses. Today he linked to an article in Entrepreneur magazine which said he’s earning approaching $1m – that’s complete rubbish. He’s bluffing his way to success and everyone is letting him.

  11. Gillian says:

    Good points you make here.

    These five recommendations would appeal to a gold-toothed rat with a hare lip. Not someone many of us would want to hang with.

    There are probably some culture differences. Shouting your own praises is more American than Australian.

  12. David says:

    Interesting post . I don’t think it’s a problem adding a few things when you are telling a story. Maybe you say “she kissed me with a great deal of passion” when actually she just gave you a kiss and went back to her knitting. If it adds something to the story it’s alright in my book. As long as it does not test credulity. Writing about our lives is part fiction in any case. It always will be.

  13. Simple Mindz says:

    I agree with you on all points. I think you need to be honest. And if you don’t know what you are talking about – tell the readers that you are not sure!

    And as far as bragging? I Can’t stand people that go around constantly bragging at work. I sure as heck don’t wanna be reading about it! Nothing wrong with talking about ones successes…but not 24/7…

  14. Ben Barden says:

    Darren, I agree with your comments.

    Steven, one of your comments is rather… alarming to say the least.

    “This might not have been my best post and left lots of room for disagreement, but I’m sure John is enjoying the traffic.”

    John probably gets more than enough traffic – I doubt that one guest post will make much of a difference to his stats.

    More importantly though, if this wasn’t your best post then why submit it to John Chow? Guest blogging is not simply a link to your site that gets you loads of traffic regardless of what you write.

    Think about people who will have found your blog for the first time as a result of that guest post. What impression does it give if that’s the way people find out about your blog?

    I think you really need to consider what you want to achieve before you submit a guest post to a high-traffic blog.

  15. David says:

    Working in a bureaucracy for many years as I did for The VA Administration here in the US was very helpful to me when I started blogging. I knew instinctively not to get too far out on a limb. Don’t be certain about just about anything. Present options and always leave yourself a way out.
    I am still thinking about the truth telling point. If I relate something I did the other day and embellish to make it more interesting is that wrong? For instance in this post I added the fact that I brought a poster to the scene. Does that tarnish my reputation? I guess we will find out because here is the post and I admit some of it is made up….

    http://davidnotes.com/2007/11/23/bear-with-a-stick/

    You could say “Everyone knows that you made that up”. But this is just an example and illustrations are often oversimplified versions of a more subtle point.

  16. Jacqueline says:

    This is very interesting to read. I worked (for a very short while, thankfully) for someone who was like John Chow – embellished his successes, denied his failures, and greatly inflated his earnings because he seemed convinced that presenting an image of perfection of infalliability and perfection was the key to blogging success.

    Obviously, that didn’t work so well – and it blew up in his face when it turned out he couldn’t even afford to pay his contractors and writers! The emperor had no clothes.

    The lesson – make sure you can walk the talk and live up to the image you present! All the branding and marketing in the world can’t save you if your foundation has cracks in it.

  17. markowe says:

    Darren – thanks for presenting your view. I know that your Christian values are a large part of what informed this reaction and I think they were equally apparent in the measured way you responded to the points! I think I might have been rather more vehement in my reaction… :)

  18. jd says:

    > Yes do blog with authority but only when you are an authority.
    I like this point.

    I like to tell folks starting blogging that they are always an authority on their own perspective or experience.

  19. Thank you so much for this rebuttal, Darren! I completely agree with your points although your reasonings are not all inclusive. There are MANY reasons Steve’s tips made me wince.

    Confidence isn’t about making yourself seem bigger and better than you are. It’s about KNOWING YOURSELF and BEING YOURSELF.

    Readers connect with what is REAL! They need to know you’ve failed, they need to see where you began and watch the growth. No one magically just turns up on the web someday and produces a check like Shoemoney. He started small and grew. If you track his history back far enough you might even see mention of his excitement about a smaller check.

    When you’re beginning, accomplishing even a $100 check with google adsense is BRILLIANT! It is worth bragging about to your readers because those readers are following the little guy, they want to know about YOU, and reading that you did 100 gives them the confidence to do 100 or to cheer you on to do more.

    The same can be said about your social bookmarking and traffic accomplishments. While you are small, talk about small results. Don’t pretend to be an expert if you’re not. Be a learner, readers prefer to learn along with you anyway. Yes, we tune into the experts too but it would be a lonely journey feeling insignificant and looking at impossible goals if we couldn’t share the growth with others who are growing at the same time.

    Also, while researching can be a brilliant way to develop your topics if you simply regurgitate what you’ve learnt from other blog entries and articles online rather than sharing your unique experiences and personally gained knowledge then all your doing is writing what readers have already read or could read elsewhere. ADD VALUE! Not just for your readers but for the blogsphere in general. Link to those sources to share their information but in YOUR post, write about you and what you’ve learnt along your own journey.

    Yes, you can ‘fake it till you make it’, show more confidence than you feel but be REAL. I mightn’t FEEL like a professional 100% of the time but I strive to, so I do what I can to reinforce that sense. It doesn’t mean I know it all, it just means I conduct myself as a pro. ProBloggers (and pro anything) are those who have learnt to grow continuously, to continue learning, each and every moment.

    So, confidence? It’s all YOU! It is your belief in yourself and your ability to BE YOURSELF!