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The Paint By Numbers Guide To Artful Blogging

A Guest Post by Greg Hayes from Live Fit Blog.

Do you subscribe to the idea that blogging is an art form? I do.

Britannica Online defines art as “The use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.”

If you’re a blogger, then by definition, you most certainly engage in the following activities during the creation of content:

  1. Creative Writing
  2. Web Page Design (Aesthetics)
  3. Idea Development (Novelty)
  4. Social Media (Shared Experiences)

When we start our blog, we read the A-list bloggers, and they repeat the mantra of blogging, “CON-tent, CON-tent, CON-tent!” Yet, its so easy to get caught up in the allure of unique visitors, page views, and keyword content. All the background noise distracts us from the core of what we do, which is, in reality, a form of art.

Creative Writing

Like all other forms of art, the gift of creative writing is enhanced through practice and study. Research into the habits of many successful authors shows that most are well-read people. Reading the work of others shapes your own creative writing skills. Being well read keeps ideas flowing, and prompts you to expand your skills.

In the online realm, read the works of Copyblogger, Write to Done, and Men With Pens. These are places to hone your writing skills. There are others as well. Seek them out.They are masters at the craft of writing, and just like any student, studying will hone your skills.

Web Page Design

The artistry of blog design can take many forms. For instance, what experience do you hope to provide for your readers. If you look at Zen Habits, you’ll find a very clean design, with a strong focus on core content. Leo Babauta’s page design clearly adheres to the theme of his content, which is minimalistic in nature.

By contrast, John Chow’s site is geared toward the process of making money online. Readers should expect to find more advertisements and promotional materials. This is consistent with the experience John Chow is attempting to create for his readers.

These are just two examples. The point here is to choose a blog design that is consistent with the experience you want to create for your reader. Within those constraints, the options are endless.

Idea Development

The odds of choosing a truly novel niche are slim. There are very few subjects around the net that haven’t been covered in some detail. But, the same holds true for painting. Paintings of women are a dime a dozen. But there is only one Mona Lisa.

The process of creating a work of art demands novelty. No matter how crowded your niche, the experience you provide for your readers is what will differentiate you from the crowd. So, whatever you do, DON’T try to copy the success of others. Instead, study the success of other artists. Learn from them. Then apply what you learn in your own unique way to provide something new and fresh for your audience.

Social Media

Works of art are meant to be shared with others. What value would the works of Van Gogh or da Vinci bring to the world if they were secreted away, never to be seen again? The same holds true for your blog. Get out there and socialize with others in the online community. Take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and all the others to share your work with the world. Revel in both the praise and critique of your works. It’s all part of the process.

Blogging is a unique art form. It blends aspects of creative design, writing, technical development, graphic media, and other skills to create something new and unique for readers around the world. It provides a novel, open platform for sharing new ideas. Take advantage and push the form to its limits. This is the essence of artistry.

About the author:  Greg Hayes writes Live Fit Blog, a blog with tips about living a balanced lifestyle, fitness, what it means to be a father, friend, husband, and much more.

14 Types of Stories You Can Tell On Your Blog

Yesterday we explored WHY stories can be such a powerful communication tool on your blog.

Today we’ll look at 14 types of stories that you might like to try on your blog.

14 Types of stories can you tell on your blog

  1. Personal Discovery Stories – tell how you discovered a lesson. These stories show your readers how similar you are to them and also might give some practical advice on how they might learn from your experience.
  2. Stories as Analogies and Illustrations – tell a story that on the surface has nothing to do with your topic but which illustrates a principle that is relevant.
  3. Success Stories – tell how you achieved something. These stories can be inspirational and motivating for your readers.
  4. Failure Stories – I find that these stories are incredibly powerful – particularly if you are able to show some lessons learnt through a failure.
  5. Tell Someone Else’s Story – sharing the journey of someone else and how/what they learned can be effective
  6. How I did it Stories – these practical stories can be effective because they talk your readers through a process in a relatable way
  7. Biographies – pick a key person in your niche and tell your readers that person’s story – pulling out useful parts that can be applied and used to enhance your readers lives.
  8. Autobiographies – tell your own story from start to finish. I’ve done this a couple of times (example) and find readers really respond well to it. It can also be something to link to from your About Page for further reading.
  9. Picture Stories – using images or video can be another great way of communicating a story because it engages the senses in a way that text can’t (similarly – audio posts/podcasts can do this too).
  10. Case Studies – quite often pulling apart someone else’s experience in a case study can be a powerful way to connect with readers. Similarly you can use your own story, or the story of a project, brand or company that you had something to do with can be useful.
  11. Fiction – if well written a made up and imaginative story can be a good way to lead into a post. You’ll probably want to come clean about the fact that it’s not true though :-)
  12. Reader Stories – ask your readers to tell you their stories/experiences on a topic. You might kick things off with a short one of your own but then quickly hand it over to others to share.
  13. Collective Stories – sometimes telling the story of a group of people, industry, niche etc can be very powerful. This might be presented as a ‘history of….’ your niche/industry which chronicles key developments over time. These pieces can almost become reference material for others in your industry.
  14. Imagine If…. Stories – another type of story that I’ve seen used well on occasion is one where you get your reader to imagine a hypothetical scenario that they are in. Here’s an example of this where I told a story in the 2nd person (with YOU the reader as the main character). These posts can be particularly useful for getting readers to FEEL something or to help them to understand that the problem that you’re writing about is one that is personal for them.

I’m sure there are plenty of other types of stories to tell. Feel free to suggest your own in comments below. I’d also love to see examples of where you’ve tried some of these story telling techniques (and others) as part of your blogging and to hear your stories of how they went!

Why Stories are an Effective Communication Tool for Your Blog

Screen shot 2009-11-02 at 9.56.45 AM.pngAs I write this it is the first Tuesday morning of a new month and I’m sitting in a local coffee shop going through my ‘start of the month routine‘.

It involves a large lattè (everything else hinges on this) and some delving into my blogs metrics to see how they’ve been performing.

While I do keep track of the traffic stats of my blogs each day I like to set aside an hour or two at the start of each month to go a little deeper and do some more analysis of trends on my blogs – I find that when I do this I notice things that I can build on to continue momentum on my blogs.

This morning as I was looking at the type of posts that had done well in the last few weeks on my blogs I noticed an interesting trend – many of them were ‘story‘ type posts.

Both posts got a lot of traffic, were linked to by numerous other blogs and were re-tweeted more than normal.

I’ve always known how powerful ‘story posts‘ can be on a blog but I decided to dig a little further to see whether this continued deeper than just the last month.

What I discovered was that story posts have been among the most popular posts on this blog over the last 5 years time and time again. They’re not the only type of post that does well (there are a few other types of posts that do well – we might explore these in a later post) but they certainly have performed very well for me.

Here’s a few more examples of popular story posts:

I could go on…. and on! Each month that I looked back on through my blog here at ProBlogger a story type post featured in the top 2 or three posts.

Why are Stories Effective?

A lot could be said about the reasons why stories tend to do well on blogs but here’s a few reasons that I’ve seen in my own experience:

  • Stories engage the imagination of readers
  • Stories go beyond facts and theories
  • Stories reveal something about yourself as a blogger (they’re personal)
  • Stories trigger emotions and the senses
  • Stories are conversational - they stimulate others to react and tell their stories
  • Stories provide hooks for readers to latch onto in your blogging (they’re relatable)
  • Stories grab and hold the attention of readers
  • Stories are memorable – while people don’t always latch onto facts and figures – a good story can be remembered for years
  • Stories illustrate your points in ways that can be much more convincing (and convicting) than other types of information

The key with stories on blogs is making them tie into the rest of your blog – ie make them relevant and ensure that they have some point to them that is useful to your readers on some level. While telling the story of how your dog dug up your vegetable patch might interest you, the readers of your blog about (insert your blogs topic here) may not be quite as fascinated – unless you use the story to illustrate something about your topic.

Now that we’ve looked as some of the reasons stories are effective on blogs – in my next post I want to extend the idea of story telling with a 2nd post that explores some of the types’ of stories that you might like to use on your blog.

This post is another part of the Principles of Successful Blogs series. Previous principles explored are Listening, Trust, Usefulness, Community and being Personal.

Thesis Theme for WordPress Upgrades to Version 1.6

One of my favorite WordPress themes – Thesis – has in the last week released an update with some pretty cool features.

My strategy with blog design is like this. I generally aim towards a completely customized blog design that will give my blog a distinct look and brand – but before I work towards that I almost always start with a more affordable option because I like to test to see whether the blog is going to work or not.

As a result I’ve always been on the look out for great themes and when Chris Pearson and Brian Clark started DIYthemes and released the Thesis theme I was keen to test it.

I used Thesis as the first theme on TwiTip and have been very happy with it.

I’m actually about to release a complete overhaul of the design of that blog (completely custom) but in the year or so since TwiTip’s release I’ve been more than satisfied with Thesis. It’s been easy to use, it’s set up really well by default for Search Engine Optimization and it’s been easy to add extra things in (like advertising spots etc).

I never did much with changing much of the default design on TwiTip but many bloggers use Thesis as the basis for quite impressive customizations. You wouldn’t know it to look at but blogs like Chris Brogan, CopyBlogger, Laughing Squid and Rae Hoffman all use Thesis as the basis for their blog design.

The new update for Thesis (you get all these updates for free if you’ve already got it) takes the version up to 1.6. It includes new navigation menus with drop down menus and the ability to change colors throughout the themes without having to get into the code.

I’m told also that Thesis 2.0 is also being worked on and promises to be a fantastic update.

PS: here’s a cool video that shows just some of what Thesis is like to use – in it Chris Pearson plays around with changing the default layout in a number of ways to shot you how you can begin to customize it.

PR People Getting Pushier with Bloggers Since the Recession

A guest post by Krizia from Eat Smart Age Smart

I’ve been blogging since June 2007 when I launched my beauty site . In April 2009, I launched a healthy eating site with the encouragement of my Internet coach Yaro Starak and in the last few months I’ve noticed a shift in the way I deal with publicists.

When I first started blogging, I actually went out and bought beauty products to review them on the site.

During a conference, an exhibitor told me that in my position (promoting skincare and make-up brands on the Internet at no cost to the manufacturer), I should never have to pay for products and I should be getting them for free by contacting the companies.

I didn’t need to hear that twice. On the following Monday morning, I started calling and emailing skincare and make-up companies to get review samples.

I crafted an introduction letter with the most important points about my blog and the reason why I was asking for samples.

In very little time, I started received samples and before I knew it, I became inundated with products from the U.S., Canada and as far away as the U.K.

It got so bad, that the guys at my pick-up area (I rent a UPS address) started complaining about the number of parcels (I’ve received several thousand dollars worth of samples) I was receiving and they were threatening to seriously increase my yearly fee. Luckily I received a few samples I could share with them and they quickly forgot about the idea of increasing my fees.

The samples were taking over my home and I couldn’t give them to friends and reviewers fast enough. In order to keep up with the flood of samples, I started running contests on the blog in order to give away products to 1) clear my home 2) put my readers to work so they could write reviews that I could post on the blog 3) secure some sponsorship dollars from beauty companies to keep up with these contests.

In 2007 and 2008, publicists (who I dealt with to get these samples) would email me to let me know they would gladly send me the samples I requested and asked that I email them once the post was up on the blog.

In many cases, publicists liked the concept of the product review so much that they would recommend my site to their marketing departments for paid reviews or other paid advertisement opportunities that were incredibly lucrative to me.

I still remember that in 2008, I got a really incredible contract via my ad service company (I have a company that takes care of selling ads on my blog) with a large pharmaceutical company to write six posts for them to try educating readers on the benefits of their product. The deal was to net me $8,000 for those six articles and the only thing I had to do was to get the copy reviewed by the pharmaceutical company to ensure that I wasn’t using any medical words in the wrong way.

This was an exciting point in my blogging career since that type of contract is far more lucrative than running site ads or Google AdSense ads.

Everything came to a stop in October 2008. As the stock markets were tumbling, panic was setting in, real estate prices were falling, companies were laying off workers and hard copy magazines were folding, I received an email from my media company informing me that the pharmaceutical company was ceasing the campaign I had started and that they had to cut back on the fees I was supposed to get (I only got $1,600 in the end for three features).

It was a devastating moment for me, but I thought things would get back to normal soon. I don’t think at that time that I understood how things were going to change.

Life as a blogger since the recession and my relationship with publicists

It took me some time to realize that things where changing; but because I was so busy working, I had not noticed the signs of change.

It’s only spending 90 minutes in one day answering emails from publicists that it hit me.

>>> Here’s what I was observing:

1) I was getting at least two to three times the number of pitches to review products. I was spending a lot of time emailing back publicists asking them to send basic essentials like photos, a press releases and price information. Some of these emails from publicists contained only a few short lines “we love your blog, will you feature our product, here’s a link.”… that’s not much to work with.

2) I was getting more requests from non-bloggers looking for link exchanges. These requests were coming from companies that had sites which sold beauty and hair care products on the Internet. They wanted me to add them to the front page of my blog, while they would give me a link on their blog on a page that was almost impossible to find and not visible from the homepage. This happened a lot and it floored me that these companies didn’t get that I didn’t want to give them free publicity while my site was buried somewhere on their site.

3) I was no longer receiving ANY offers for sponsorship opportunities on my site.

4) The few requests for free samples that I had sent were returned to me with a long string of questions:

  • “How long have you been blogging?”
  • “What’s your PR rank?”
  • “Are you on Twitter?”
  • “Are you on Facebook?”
  • “How many unique users?”
  • “How many page views?”
  • “How fast can you get our review on your site?”
  • “Have you won any awards in the past?”
  • “Send us links to past reviews you’ve written.”
  • “What angle will you take with this feature?”
  • “I need all your company details before we release any samples to you.”
  • “Will you promote this on social media networks?”
  • “Are you going to shot a YouTube video like you did for other brands?”
  • “You said the review would be up last week, WHERE IS IT?” … etc.

As you can see, I’ve started dealing with really demanding publicists and in some cases rude and impatient publicists. I was never asked so many questions in the past when I requested samples.

>>> Samples are being denied or scaled back:

I’ve contacted companies that in the past had sent me boxes and boxes of samples (and I do mean full-size products) and when I contacted them recently, they would say “sorry, we’re not sending any samples right now, but if you want we can provide you with information for you to write a review on your site”. Well, it’s hard to be excited about a product you’ve not tried.

In some cases, companies were sending those ridiculously small samples you get at your department store and it’s still unclear to me how they expect me to write a review when I can only test the product for two days (we usually test products for two-to-three weeks before writing a review.

Here’s a photo of products I received the same week for review:

Samples

As you can see one company sent me the smallest possible size while the other company sent me full size products.

Maybe it had to do with the niche?

The interesting thing is that I launched a new blog on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles in April 2009 (www.EatSmartAgeSmart.com) and my relationship with publicists is vastly different from one niche to another. The blog tackles healthy eating, but I also focus on fitness. The fitness publicists have not been really easy to deal with during this recession.

One company (which manufactures supplements) that contacted me to send products for review also wanted to know how much it would cost to sponsor spots on my site. They actually wanted to pay to have banners on my site and not only receive a free review!

I remember that when I sent them the finished post I wrote for them, the publicist sent an email thanking me for getting their company circulating in the social media networks. They were thrilled and I was thrilled.

In contrast, I’ve contacted a number of fitness companies who have said “NO, we don’t send samples to bloggers. We only deal with major media. If you want to test the product, you’ll have to buy it”.

In the cases where a fitness company was willing to send me samples, I’d be subject to daily or weekly emails asking: “When will our review be up?” to “The client is getting nervous and impatient, WHERE IS THE REVIEW?” to “I saw the review and there are things that you wrote that are wrong.” to “We don’t like ‘this word’ you need to change it in the review NOW”.

Most fitness reviews have been received with a string of negativity, while my healthy eating reviews are usually quite well received and the publicists or owners of companies jump for joy at the idea that I’m helping get the word out.

So how am I dealing with publicists since the recession?

  • In the case of negative backlash, I’ve decided to ignore those publicists and not let them affect me or affect my work. I usually won’t work with that publicist anymore.
  • When I get praised for a review, I quickly email the publicist and company back and thank them and I’ll usually get my traffic assistant to take that link to more social media networks.
  • I’ve created an auto-reply that delivers an email with a link that takes publicist straight away to a PDF they can download that gives them all the requirements we need to write a post. If we don’t get all those elements, I will pass on the review and will not chase after publicists. This also has helped cut back on the number of follow-up emails I send publicists.
  • I’ve set clear expectations in that PDF and do make it clear that a review will take eight weeks before it’s featured on the site. And that once the review is up, I will send them a link.
  • I’ve said ‘no’ many times to publicists who had a burning deadline to meet if I couldn’t make it fit in my publishing calendar and if that would be adding to my stress level.
  • When I contact a company for samples, if I feel that getting samples is hard work and I’m being asked loads of questions and am given tons of excuses why they don’t release samples to smaller media outlets, I’ll usually walk away and find another product to review or another topic for my blog post.

I’m not the only one finding it hard dealing with publicists these days

I’ve spoken to other beauty bloggers and editors of magazines (who were not bloggers) and they’ve also found that more and more publicists are being quite pushy, demanding and sometimes rude.

They also feel things are quite different since the recession and they’ve found themselves having to put their foot down and ask the publicist to no longer contact them on a daily or weekly basis and tell them that once the review is ready, they will be contacted.

My theory is simple: Publicists and companies now know that bloggers have a lot of weight on the Web and with the recession hitting advertising budgets really hard, publicists are turning to bloggers to get the word out about their products and also as quick way to getting into social media networks without having to spend any money.

Manufacturers realize that buying a full page ad in a magazine that would costs several hundreds of thousands of dollars will affect their profits if they aren’t able to calculate the rate of return on investment, while hiring a PR firm to get a few samples (that costs very little to the company) out to thousands of bloggers and demanding quick turn around on the features is much cheaper.

They get their new launches to circulate all over the Internet and thousands of bloggers telling their readers to go out and buy the product, and they don’t even have to write a cheque to the bloggers.

This situation could be quite specific to lifestyle bloggers, but I’d love to know if other bloggers also feel more pressured when dealing with publicists since the beginning of the recession.

How to Write a Blog Post That’s Stickier than Velcro

A Guest Post by Marelisa Fábrega. Image by drmama.

stickier-velcro.jpgDo you have a really good idea which you want to go viral? Is there a behavior you’re trying to modify in your blog readers, such as encouraging them to save, eat healthy, or start an exercise program? Are you looking for ways to persuade readers to purchase an affiliate product you’re promoting? If your answer is “yes” to any of these, then you need to make your writing stickier. In this post I’m going to share with you six principles which you can begin to apply right away to make your articles as sticky as urban myths, Aesop’s fables, the “Don’t mess with Texas” slogan, and JFK’s “man on the moon” speech.

In the bestseller “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die”, the Heath brothers, Chip and Dan, explain that sticky ideas–ideas that spread, that are remembered, and that people act upon–have six traits in common. Sticky ideas are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and they’re told as stories (the authors use the acronym “SUCCESs”, with the last s omitted). Here’s an explanation of each of these principles:

Keep It Simple: It’s the Economy, Stupid

In order to make your message sticky, it has to be simple. This means that it has to convey a single, core idea that is meaningful and easy to understand. You need to make sure that your core idea stands out clearly from the very beginning, instead of being buried under an avalanche of facts, details, and abstractions. Keep in mind that simplifying your message doesn’t mean that you dumb it down; it means that you strip an idea to its most critical essence.

In addition, you need to prioritize. Psychology research shows that choice can hinder decision making. In one experiment cited by the Heath brothers, researchers took a group of college students who were planning to spend their evening studying and offered them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a lecture by an author they admired. Almost 80% decided to skip the study session and attend the lecture instead.

However, when a second “fun” choice was added—watching a foreign film that was getting great reviews-only 60% opted for one of the “fun” choices and 40% chose to study. That is, when students had to choose between two “fun” options, more students chose to study as compared to the scenario in which they only had one “fun” option.

When you have several good ideas about a topic it’s difficult to pick the single most valuable idea and make it as sticky as possible, but that’s what works. Successful trial lawyers know that if they argue ten points, even if they’re all good, when jurors get back to the jury room they won’t remember any of them. James Carville summarized the most critical issue of the 1992 U.S. presidential election when he said: “It’s the economy, stupid”. Narrowing the issues to that one sentence stuck with voters and helped Clinton get elected.

Another way to keep it simple is by using analogies so that you can capitalize on what your readers already know. Think about the following movie pitch: Speed is “Die Hard on a bus”. How can you compare your idea to something your audience is already familiar with to help create hooks so that they will remember your idea more easily? Analogies allow you to say a lot with a little.

Make it Unexpected: Lose Weight by Eating Fast Food

With all of the information that’s available, one of the biggest hurdles you’ll have to face is capturing your readers’ attention. You can get their attention by taking an unexpected approach. Then, you hold their interest by making them curious. Behavioral economists argue that when we have a gap in our knowledge, we strive to resolve it. We’ve all stayed up late at night reading to discover who did it in a murder novel, or watching a movie to see how the conflict is resolved. Make your readers curious from the very beginning of your article by raising questions they don’t know the answer to, and then gradually filling in the gaps as they read along.

As an example of doing something unexpected, Chip and Dan refer to City Year. City Year is a nonprofit organization which offers 17 to 24-year-olds the opportunity to engage in 10 months of full-time community service. Here’s a slogan that they use: “We envision a world in which, one day, the most common question asked of a 17-year-old in this country will be, ‘Where are you going to do your year of national service?’” That’s a powerful, unexpected view of what the world could be like, and it gets people’s attention.

Another message that was unexpected was the one used in the Subway Guy marketing campaign. Jared was a college student who weighed about 430 pounds; he created a “subway diet” for himself and started walking every day to his local Subway Restaurant to have a subway for lunch and one for dinner. With this diet, Jared lost over 240 pounds. Subway came across Jared’s story and they turned it into a marketing campaign which was incredibly successful and which increased their sales dramatically. People were captivated by Jared’s story, in part, because of the unexpectedness of someone losing weight by eating fast food.

Make it Concrete: What Do 37 Grams of Fat Look Like?

In order to make sure that an idea can be grasped and remembered later, you have to make it concrete. If you describe something in a way that allows your readers to see, touch, or imagine it in their mind’s eye, the chances are much better that you’ll communicate successfully with them.

In 1961 U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced the following: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth”. This was a concrete vision: it was very clear about what it required—get a man on the moon and bring him back safely–and when it would happen. It captured the imagination of the American people for almost a decade.

The Heath brothers explain that Kennedy’s speech would have had much less impact if he had said something abstract like the following: “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry, using our capacity for technological innovation to build a bridge towards humanity’s future.” What does that even mean? Make sure that you make your ideas tangible, instead of delivering them in abstract, difficult to understand terms.

Here’s a second example offered by the Heath brothers of how to be concrete: A health organization was trying to convey to the movie-going public how incredibly unhealthy movie popcorn popped in coconut oil was. A typical bag of popcorn contained 37grams of saturated fat, nearly double the recommended daily allowance. But movie-goers weren’t interested in statistics. The health organization had to find a way to turn the abstract “37 grams of fat” into something concrete which would get the public to stop eating the harmful popcorn.

So what did they do? They called a press conference and laid out all of the following in front of the television cameras: a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings. Then they explained that a bag of popcorn had more fat than all of those meals, combined. If you think this was tangible enough to get the public to demand that movie theatres stop popping their popcorn in coconut oil, it was.

Make it Credible: The Surgeon General says . . .

If a message doesn’t seem credible it will be discounted, even if it’s perfectly true. Credibility can be achieved through status–such as citing a study conducted by a Nobel Prize winner–through prior performance, through the use of convincing detail, or through the appropriate use of statistics. When you use statistics, contextualize them in terms that are more everyday and human. A good example of making statistics more accessible is “The World of 100”, which presents different data about the world population in terms of a village of 100 people.

In addition, you can encourage your audience to test out your ideas for themselves. Chip and Dan explain that in the sole U.S. presidential debate in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics on the economy. Instead, he encouraged voters to test the effectiveness of the Carter presidency for themselves by telling them: “Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.”

Appeal to People’s Emotions: Make Them Care

Information makes people think, but emotion makes them act. You’ve probably heard of urban myths such as “the kidney-heist”and the Halloween candy tamperingstory. How do stories such as these spread across the country—and even the world–despite a lack of evidence? Why are they remembered and believed by millions? These stories are sticky. And one of the reasons that they’re so sticky is because they evoke emotion: in the case of urban myths, they evoke fear.

The authors of “Made to Stick” explain that in order for people to take action—donate money to your cause, buy your product, modify their behavior, and so on—they have to care about your message. You appeal to people’s emotions to get them to care. There are many different emotions you can tap into, such as a person’s “group identity”. When the Texas Department of Transportation was looking for ways to reduce litter on the Texas roadways, they discovered that most of the litter was being caused by truck drivers.

What was the best way get these truck drivers—characterized as “Bubba”—to stop littering? Applying threats and fines? Telling them about the impact they were having on the environment? What they did was much more effective: Bubbas love Texas, and the Texas Department of Transportation appealed to this pride. They cast Dallas Cowboys and Houston Astros in testosterone-soaked ads telling drivers: “Don’t mess with Texas”. With an emotional appeal to identity, the campaign managed to reduce litter on Texas highways 72% between 1986 and 1990.

Tell Stories – A Well-Told Story Jump-Starts Action

Research shows that when people swap stories they’re not just entertaining each other; they’re providing mental training. In “Made to Stick” the authors explain that when firefighters swap stories after every fire they’re helping each other create a rich archive of situations which they might encounter during a fire and the appropriate responses to these.

When we hear a story, we create a simulation of what’s happening in our minds. By providing a story in which the protagonist is in a predicament that is similar to our audience’s situation, we allow our readers to apply the story to their own situation.

In addition, Chip and Dan explain that a story is also important because it provides the context missing from abstract prose. Aesop’s fables—such as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”–teach their morals through stories. By telling the story of a bored shepherd boy who entertained himself by crying out “wolf” on repeated occasions and watching the villagers rush to his aid, and who was subsequently ignored by all when a wolf really did appear, Aesop shows his readers how liars lose all credibility and aren’t believed even when they’re telling the truth. Telling this story is much more effective than simply saying to people: “Don’t lie”.

As a further example of how to use stories in your blog posts, the best way to promote an affiliate product is to use it yourself. Then share a true story with your readers of how the product helped you to solve a problem that they might be having as well. Invite them to try it on for size and see for themselves.

Conclusion

To summarize, you can write sticky blog posts that get your readers to take action by making your ideas simple, unexpected, concrete, credentialed, and emotional, and by presenting them as stories. You don’t need to apply all six traits to have a sticky idea, but it’s safe to say that the more of them that you’re able to work into your writing, the stickier your idea will be.

Don’t just read this blog post and store it away as interesting, new-found knowledge: take the six principles presented by the Heath brothers and begin crafting your stickiest blog post yet. Incidentally, I tried applying most of the “sticky principles” to this blog post. How did I do?

Written by Marelisa Fábrega. Marelisa blogs about creativity, productivity, and simplifying your life over at Abundance Blog at Marelisa Online. Marelisa is the author of the ebook “How to Be More Creative – A Handbook for Alchemists”.