In today’s guest post Trisha from Ideas for Women shares some lessons that she learned from the US Presidential Election.
I followed this year’s U.S. presidential election pretty closely on T.V. and also volunteered for one of the candidates. Over I time I began to notice some parallels between running a successful campaign and a successful blog.
I don’t plan to ever run for president – but I would like to have a more successful blog. I would also like to share what I learned and hope that it will be helpful to other bloggers.
Image by BohPhoto
1. You need a story
Both of the presidential candidates and their running mates had a story. John McCain was a P.O.W., Sarah Palin, a hockey mom. Joe Biden was from Scranton, Pennsylvania and stuttered as kid. Barack Obama’s story is that he is the “son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas”.
The details of the stories don’t really matter. What matters is how they /framed/ their story – their story had to be everyone else’s story – a story people could relate to.
John McCain was a guy who loved his country and was willing to do whatever it took to defend it – just like many Americans have done or would be willing to do. Sarah Palin, a mom with many of the same concerns of other American moms across the country. Joe Biden had many obstacles growing up – but overcame them and is still a down to earth guy that people could relate to. Obama’s story is a little more complicated – most of us don’t have fathers from another country, etc. But as he said – his story could only happen in America and that while “we may have different stories we hold common hopes”.
He even had a flyer that said: “His story is our story – an American story.”
It’s the same way with blogging. You need a story (I’m still working on this myself) – it has to be uniquely about you, but it still has to be something your readers and potential readers can relate to. It has to somehow be their story too.
An example is Wendy Piersall – her story is about “one little mom who wanted to start a blog as a hobby” and now has grown to 14 bloggers that are “willing to do what it takes to make a great living while also living a great a life.”
Many people can relate to her story – struggling with finding a successful career path and juggling that with raising kids.
Each of the candidates did a good job of telling their story and framing it so other people could understand and relate to it. That isn’t enough to win an election, just as it’s not enough by itself to make a blog successful. But it’s a good start for letting people know who you are so you can begin building relationships with them.
Once you share your story on your blog you give your readers a chance to share in a part of your life – your struggles and successes can be theirs too. And once you build those relationships, the resulting community that forms can share their struggles and successes with you also!
2. You need a community
Obama had a huge number of people volunteering for him – millions – literally millions across the country. The volunteers created a grassroots effort that helped to get the word out about him being a great candidate for president. They helped to recruit even more volunteers and convinced even more people to vote for him.
Together the paid workers, the volunteers and other supporters created a huge and powerful community. Huge communities of enthusiastic followers attract even more people.
He not only had an offline community – but an online community as well.
His website had groups you could join based on geography, political issues and many different interests or hobbies. You could find groups in your own local area or based anywhere in the world. You could add people as friends or search for old friends. You could have a blog at his site. You could find out about offline events through his site. In short – his site brought people together to promote a common goal.
Communities are created by lots of individual relationships between many different people with similar interests. In Obama’s case, his community’s common interest was in him and in helping him win the election.
Blogs are similar. You need to create a community of readers.
One expert on building blogging communities is Liz Strauss who specializes in relationship blogging. She is great at creating a blogging environment that makes people feel welcome and encourages them to participate. As she says on her blog: “You’re only a stranger once”.
This is very vital to making a blog successful – identify a common interest of your readers, invite them in and let them participate in the conversation.
Another thing I noticed when I was volunteering – I was always welcomed by the other volunteers and paid people. They always appreciated any effort you made, so matter how small. Liz does this too – whenever you stop by her Tuesday Open Comments Night – you always feel appreciated.
Probably the most important thing to remember about blogging is this:
Establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships is a big part of why Obama won the election – and is also why the top bloggers are so successful!
3. Pay attention to the numbers, but don’t take them too seriously
It was difficult to keep from checking all the polls everyday for this election. Some days it looked good, but you could never feel too confident. The next day things could change. And you never know until the actual day of the election how it will turn out.
Obama even warned his supporters about getting too confident and that he still needed them working for him on Election Day – and every day leading up to it.
With blogging it’s easy to get caught up with checking your subscriber numbers, your Page Rank, Technorati rankings, etc. But in the end, those numbers don’t mean that much.
Subscribers can unsubscribe just as fast as or faster than they subscribed in the first place. And many subscribers don’t actually read all the blogs they subscribe to. Page Rank doesn’t contribute as much to the Google algorithm as it once did, etc.
There’s nothing wrong with checking these numbers and being aware of them (what blogger wouldn’t want to be able to display FeedBurner numbers like those of Darren Rowse: over 66,000 subscribers!) – but what really matters is real people – not numbers.
Who are your readers? What are they looking for? Are you meeting their needs?
To build the community I wrote about in Part II – ask yourself: “Am I making my visitors feel welcome? Have I created an environment that encourages them to participate?”
Always, always keep working to improve your blog. Don’t let yourself get too confident or complacent. Work on your content. Tweak your design. Reach out to and build relationships with other bloggers. Keep your current readers engaged. Always look for opportunities to attract new readers to your blog.
But do take a break now and then! I realized after a while that I needed to take a break from watching all the polls and election coverage on T.V. It’s too overwhelming after a while. It’s good to walk away a bit and get some perspective.
It’s the same with blogging. Sometimes you have to take a break for a little while. Do something else. Read a book or talk to people offline. It can help to get you recharged – before you completely burn out – and to come up with new and creative ideas to write about!
4. Everyone has an opinion
Everyone has an opinion and has the right to express it, in politics and in everything else in life. When I was out doing door to door canvassing I was quite often surprised by some of the responses I got. Some supportive, some not and some just way out there about issues you never would have thought about that would leave me scratching my head in disbelief.
Sometimes I would come up to a house and think I had a pretty good guess at which candidate they were supporting and be completely wrong. Sometimes I would guess right.
On a blog if you want to create a community you should let people express their opinions in your comments sections even when you don’t agree with them. Of course if the comment is threatening or filled with hate speech you should moderate it. But as long as the person is polite, differing opinions can be enlightening and stimulate more conversation and are sometimes quite entertaining!
If the conversation gets too negative – try to turn it around and make it into a positive. When people booed as Obama mentioned McCain at a rally he told people not to boo – just vote.
On the other side of things – you the blogger, are expressing your opinion whenever you write a post.
Both politicians and bloggers need to really believe in themselves and the ideas they are promoting. If not, people will see through what you are saying and it will be more difficult to be successful.
If fact if you aren’t getting much of a response with your blog it may be that you are not being opinionated enough. According to Kelly McCausey guest posting at Remarkablogger:
Some rules she included for being opinionated apply well to both politicians and bloggers:
Accept that you will alienate someone.
Step up and justify your opinions.
Expect and respect opposing opinions.
I’m pretty shy and am surprised at myself that I was brave enough to knock on the doors of total strangers and express my opinion in favor of Obama. Yes, some people were rude – but I kept knocking anyway. And yes, I had Obama signs stolen from my yard three times – but I kept putting more out there anyway. And yes some people will disagree with what you write on your blog – but keep writing anyway!
Some people will never agree with you – on politics or what you blog about, but that’s ok – don’t let it stop you or slow you down!