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Making Yourself Accessible to Readers

be-accessible.pngToday I want to share a powerful principle of successful blogging… that I wish I was better at.

Accessibility.

What I Know

One of the reasons I was attracted to blogging as both a blog reader and as a blogger was the opportunity I saw it opening up for conversation and interaction between people sharing common interests. To be able to discover others to learn from is a wonderful thing – but that learning can be all the richer if it is interactive – where the person sharing their ideas makes themselves contactable.

As I look back on the growth of my own blogs over the past 8 or so years I certainly have benefited by putting myself ‘out there’ for people to contact. At different times I’ve done this by promoting everything from my email address, to my cell phone number, to my instant messaging details, to my social media accounts etc.

The results of being so accessible have been – in the main – very beneficial. It has deepened my relationships with readers, opened the doors for contact from journalists, other bloggers, publishers, potential business partners, event organizers and many others. Many of the opportunities that I’ve taken over the years to expand what I do have arisen simply out of being accessible.

It is well worth working hard on being accessible and interactive with your readers. It’s not easy – but the benefits will well outweigh the costs.

What I don’t Know

The problem with being accessible is of course that it is challenging to scale up as your blog grows. In fact almost every popular blogger that I’ve met have told me that this is amongst their biggest problems. The weight of incoming comments, email and social media messages can become quite overwhelming – some days I personally feel quite overwhelmed by it.

Please don’t hear me as complaining – it’s a challenge but it’s also great – however I’m just not sure how to scale it (or if it really can be).

Each blogger I’ve chatted with about the challenge has dealt with it in different ways.

  • Leo from Zen habits switched off comments and gave up on email (he did this for numerous reasons – he is a minimalist after all).
  • Gary Vaynerchuck has been famous for answering every email he gets (although managed expectations of those who emailed him by auto-responding to emails with a video explaining how many emails he gets and how long it takes to reply – interestingly he’s recently said he’s changing his approach)
  • People like Timothy Ferriss preach about the power of outsourcing and minimizing how much time one spends on things like email.

Other bloggers use a variety of tools to manage their communications, hire a teams of people to assist and use time management and organization philosophies to streamline their workflow.

What I Do

My approach is not perfect – it is something that I need to improve and on many days fail at miserably. Having said that – here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Limit the points of contact – as mentioned above, I used to put my cell number, IM accounts, email address and more on my contact page. While this had some benefits it also made things disorganized and messy. It also became unmanageable. These days I attempt to funnel people to my contact form and Twitter account as primary places for contact/interaction.
  • Outsourcing – I don’t outsource much but do have some help with comment and forum moderation. I have a number of people help with this. They don’t ever comment in my name but do, when needed, let me know where there is something I need to address and comment on personally.
  • Maximize the impact of personal contact – one of the best things that I do is try to get on Ustream for live video streaming on a semi-regular basis. I find that this type of contact is great because it allows individuals to make contact but because it is in a public setting my answers are heard by many. I find this more productive than one on one communication (email). In a similar way I try to use some of my private email communications as a basis for blog posts (with permission of the person of course).
  • Conferences – the best part of going to live events is that you get to meet people face to face. Getting to Blog World or South by South West (the two US based conferences that I try to get to) has been invaluable to me on this front. Each time I go it allows me to have personal face to face contact with hundreds of people.
  • Boundaries – in the early days of my blogging when I didn’t have much demand for my time I was able to put myself out there fairly liberally and without any real restrictions. As things have grown I’ve found it necessary to pull back. I don’t like this but I’ve found for my own sanity (I’m an introvert and need to watch my energy levels when I’m interacting with people too much) but also my own productivity that I need to set boundaries around when and where I’m contactable.

It is certainly not easy and I’ve not arrived yet. I’ve resisted outsourcing too much of this because I want to retain a personal approach – however every day the unanswered emails and messages that I receive grows and I’m approaching a point where I think I’ll need to get some help on this – after all some contact is better than none (or is it?)

Do Your Best – Some Last Tips

Lets come back to what I know – there are many benefits from being accessible so I would encourage bloggers to find ways to do it. A few quick last tips:

  • Set up a contact form on your blog. This is better than an email address as it keeps your email private from spammers.
  • Set up good expectations with readers – try to communicate on your contact page how you prefer to be contacted and what kind of response people might expect to get. If you can’t answer every email, try to graciously communicate that. If you answer them within 24 hours, let people know that too.
  • Direct people to where you’re most interactive – if you have a variety of social media accounts but are more active on one than others – let people know this. Again it is about setting up good expectations and funneling people to where you are most present and more likely to interact.

What tips would you add on being accessible to readers? How do you approach it?

Tips on Getting the Family/Blogging Balance Right

One of the things that attracted me to blogging as a way to earn an income was the flexibility that it gave me and the opportunity it gives me to work from home and be involved in the lives of my young family. While my wife is the primary care giver and I’m full time as a blogger I am pretty hands on where I can be and there are days (like today) where I look after the boys.

Of course working at home – whether the work is blogging or something else – is not only a great opportunity but also a challenge. The line behind work and family can sometimes blur.
[Read more...]

9 Critical Tasks Before Launching Your Small Business Blog

launch-thumb.jpgIn this post Mark Hayward shares some ‘must do’ tips for small business owners who are getting ready to launch a blog.

Are you getting ready to launch your baby? You know, your small business blog.

Blogging for small business is certainly not revolutionary anymore, and it has been well documented that it can improve your search engine rankings, increase your brand awareness, and ultimately bring you more customers.

However, after reading this CNN article, it occurred to me that many small business owners are still struggling with the basics. (Note: If you’re an expert or ProBlogger this post might be a little too introductory for your skill level. However, please feel free to add additional critical tasks in the comments.)

When it comes to blogging, sometimes getting your small business blog up and running can seem more of an actual pain than drafting the content itself. But, if you are at the pre-launch or just launched stage, doing things correctly now can save you from lost blog traffic, a decrease return on investment, and a world of other potential problems that might arise later.

1. Define your customer. Yes, before doing anything technical at all, make sure you know exactly who your ideal customer is:

  • Where do your customers come from?
  • What type of content should you create that helps them?
  • Where do your customers hang out online?

2. Determine if you’re going to create a blog within your business website or on its own. This is a serious decision and you need to give quite a bit of thought to determining if you want to setup your small business blog as mysmallbusinesswebsite.com/blog or if you want to keep it separate with something like mysmallbusinessblog.com.

When I started my small business three years ago, I made the conscious decision to keep my small business blog separate from my business website. I did this primarily because I was going to eventually turn the blog into a second business where I could sell advertising space to other local businesses.

With respect to your small business, you need to ask yourself some key questions.

  • What are the benefits to you if you create a small business blog that’s integrated into your website?
  • Could you get a blog that’s separate from your website to rank quicker in search engines?
  • Do you plan to launch a secondary business off of your blog?

3. Keyword research for domain name. If you are going to setup your small business blog separate from your business website then by all means you should do some keyword research.

As a simple example, if I owned a bike shop in Chicago I might check with Google Keywords for the generic term ‘bikes.’ Just to get an idea of what people are searching for.

broadsearch-thumb.jpg

And if I wanted to run a more targeted search that includes the additional keyword ‘Chicago’ I can run a phrase based query with ‘bikes Chicago.’

targetedsearch-thumb.jpg

Obviously, the search volume is less, but you can get an idea of what words you should include in your domain name. Keep in mind, if you are going to be using a lot of video, or incorporating a video channel, you might also want to use a resource like the YouTube Keyword Tool.

Above all, remember that you want to secure a domain name:

  • that is brandable and has easy recognition with respect to your small business
  • has the potential to rank well in various search engines
  • sets you apart from the competition and is as short in characters as possible

(Note: as an added bonus, your keyword research can also help you to come up with a list of blog post ideas.)

4. Choose a blogging platform and select a design or theme. Everyone has their favorite blogging platform. I myself am a fan of WordPress for both my small business website and my blog, but you might also want to look at some of the other options that are out there such as Blogger, Movable Type, and Joomla.

According to Matt Cutts (of Google), in his presentation ‘Straight from Google: What You Need to Know,’ WordPress has done a great majority of the SEO work for you (see video below), but have a look around at the other options and make a choice based on your preferences.

Once you’ve chosen a platform, the topics of design and SEO are way beyond the scope of this post, but for further reading see some terrific ProBlogger resources here, here, and here.

5. Register your social media accounts. If you haven’t done this already, before you have launched your small business blog is the time to get this task done. Places you might want to start are:

6. Measuring ROI, listening, and your blog’s feed. Many would be small business bloggers are extremely concerned about the time they will have to dedicate to producing content while still gaining a valuable return on their investment. After I launched my small business blog, one of the best ways I discovered to discern how my customers were finding me was to just ask them how they heard about my venture.

Free online tools like Google Analytics and Google Alerts provide you with additional knowledge that you can use to learn and track how your customers are finding you online.

Additionally, your small business blog’s RSS feed provides a convenient way for your customers to receive updates when you post new content. And if you offer an email feed option you can start the beginnings of a nice email list.

7. Draft at least ten posts in advance and have them loaded with preset publish dates. Whether you intend to post once a month, once a week, or once a day, having a little bit of a cushion built up before you launch can make your introduction to blogging much easier. As we all know, emergencies pop up all the time as a small business owner and having a stable of posts ready to go can ease the pressure a bit. If you’re struggling with what you’ll write about, here are 31 blog post ideas to help you.

8. Spend some time in forums. Online niche forums are like any real world social situation. You can’t just show up on the day you launch your small business blog with a huge announcement and expect to be taken seriously.

Building trust within forum communities is time consuming and is typically determined by how long you’ve been a member and the value you’ve provided. Spend at least a couple of weeks (or better a couple of months!) helping, engaging, and supporting fellow members.

9. Reach out to key influencers. All small business niches have industry leaders who are online and could potentially assist you with getting the word out regarding your blog. However, if you are going to seek the help of influencers, getting to know them has to be done well before launch day. I learned this lesson the hard way, so please learn from my mistakes.

10. Draft a web optimized press release. When you are ready to launch, you might want to draft a web optimized press release and let the world know your small business is now online. You can use a service like Pitch Engine to submit your release to and you might even get lucky enough to time your launch with some free publicity opportunities that you find through Help a Reporter Out. In order to help you with this final task, here is a great presentation by Brian Solis.

How to Write Social Media Press Releases – By Brian Solis

As a final thought, I always like to tell people that the first week of blogging is euphoric and the third month brings frustration, so remember to be consistent in your efforts. Now go launch your small business blog with a bang!

Want more ‘must do’ small business social media tasks from Mark Hayward? Then subscribe to his RSS or email feed and follow him on Twitter @mark_hayward.

image source: p_c_w

Blogosphere Trends – What Bloggers Are Writing About This Week

This column is written by Kimberly Turner from Regator (a great tool that gathers and organizes the world’s best blog posts). – Darren

Every week, we’re using the trending topics from Regator to show you what bloggers are writing about most during the previous seven days. Click any trend to see posts about that story. So far, we’ve used the trends to illustrate how you can break out of the echo chamber and solve problems for your readers.

This week, we’ll focus on crafting effective post titles/headlines. You can delve into the ProBlogger archives to find some great posts by Darren on this topic: “How to Craft Post Titles That Draw Readers Into Your Blog” is a must read for every blogger and “15 Ways to Rework Your Next Blog Title” is a useful follow-up. For this post, we’ll focus solely on the effectiveness the headlines, but as you blog, remember to deliver on what you promise–some of the posts behind these headlines do that better than others. Let’s see how a few bloggers handled the headlines for this week’s top stories:

  1. Twitter – Between buying Tweetie, archiving tweets in the Library of Congress, holding its developer conference, and unveiling promoted tweets, the service could not be ignored. The title of Gizmodo‘s “Inside America’s Secret Historical Tweet Vault” is almost as tough to ignore. As Darren points out, there are “power words” that, when used with care, can make your titles nearly irresistible. He lists words like: secret (used here) free, stunning, discover, and easy. There are plenty of others: exclusive,  shocking, new, etc.
  2. Goldman Sachs – “How to” titles are effective because they follow Darren’s #1 headline rule: Communicate a benefit. The Money Game‘s “How to Trade the Goldman Panic Right Now” does this well. My most widely read post ever was a “how to” post: “Seven Ways Social Media Is Ruining Your Life–And How to Fix It.” In large part, I credit the headline for that post’s popularity.
  3. Supreme Court – Personalizing titles by using “you” helps readers feel connected to the story. Queerty‘s “The 3 Supreme Court Cases Obama’s New Pick Will Decide for You” takes a larger story and makes the reader feel that it’s relevant to him or her.
  4. President Obama – Creating a keyword-heavy headline not only gives your readers a clear indication of what to expect, it also makes it easy for them to find your content in search engines or aggregators. Sometimes a straightforward, keyword-heavy headline is your best bet. i09′s “Obama’s Plans for NASA: Mars by 2030, $6 Billion Budget Increase Today” is long but will be easy to find in a search. CMT Blog’s “Garth Brooks Is Just Like Barack Obama” is even more effective. It has keywords but also draws on reader curiosity.
  5. Pulitzer Prize – Asking a question in your post’s title draws both readers who want to see how others answer and readers who are interested in sharing their own viewpoints. You might find that using this technique also helps you get more comments. “Sure, Online Journalism Nets Its First Pulitzer But Will a Blog Ever Win?” from Techdirt is a great example of a headline that provokes strong opinions and encourages discussion.
  6. Tea Party – Creating controversy with your headlines is one way to attract readers if you’re prepared for the consequences. Many bloggers enjoy igniting heated discussions. If you don’t mind disagreement, try stating a strong, polarizing opinion in your headline like AlterNet has in its post “The Tea Party Crowd Needs to Wake Up to Who the Real Villains Are.”
  7. Conan O’Brien – You’ve heard it before but I can’t do a post about titles without mentioning that people adore lists. Absolutely love ‘em. Lists quantify benefits and let readers know they’ll take away seven, 10 or even 99 new facts, tips, or tidbits. Take, for example, Vulture‘s “Seven Things Conan Can Do on Cable That He Couldn’t on NBC.”
  8. Record Store Day – If you’re covering something you have a very deep knowledge of, consider creating a “guide” style post. These posts are making a big promise to your reader–”guide” implies that you’ll be telling them all they need to know–so be sure to deliver. “Pitchfork Guide to Record Store Day” and “Flavorpill’s Guide to Record Store Day 2010 both went that route.
  9. PopeWSJ’s Law Blog chose to ask a hot-button question that would incite reader participation with its post “The Pope Can’t Be Sued Abroad…Is That a Good Thing?” and managed to elicit some comments nearly as detailed and lengthy as the original post.
  10. Iceland – Using humor in headlines is a tricky thing but, when done well, can result in clicks aplenty. City Room’s “Iceland Volcano Spews Consonants and Vowels” and HuffPo’s “Volcanic Ash Cloud Turns Out to Be Finale of Lost” both managed to make me smile…and get me to click to read the full post.

One last non-trend-related tip I’ll give from my own experience. Magazine editors labor for longer than you may think to craft the perfect cover line that’ll make you drop your hard-earned cash on their products. As a whole, they’re pretty good at it and the same principles apply to blog post titles. I’ve found that spending half an hour at a bookstore reading cover lines can be a great way to get inspired.

What makes you want to read a story? Please tell us about “power words” that have worked for you, humorous headlines you’ve crafted, question headlines that have elicited huge reader responses, or other techniques you’ve found to be effective. What works for your blog?

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com and Regator for iPhone as well as an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.

Poor Bloggers Focus Too Much On Blog Posts

Guest post by David Risley, of David Risley dot com.

What I’m about to share might be a little bit counter-intuitive for many, so I ask that you stick with me.

What if I were to tell you that blog posts really aren’t all that important?

OK, Mr. crazy man. Stop yanking my chain.

However, I’m quite serious and I’m saying this to you as a full-time, professional blogger who makes his living completely online.

The simple truth is this: Poor bloggers spend most of their time writing blog posts. PROBloggers spend most of their time on what actually matters – business.

Blogging Isn’t A Business

I’ve been quite direct about the fact that blogs are not businesses. I believe that so many bloggers get so hung up on their medium that they haven’t stepped back to look at the big picture. A blog is a promotional medium and a communications platform. And in order to really monetize a blog, you have to ask the question: To what end?

What is your real product? What is the thing that you can provide to others in exchange for some of their money?

See, what we do with blogs is nothing new. The platform is different, but it is essentially human communication and we’ve been doing that ever since the days men were writing on caves.

Then, people developed economies. Some people create things that others can use, and others buy it. Then, people learned how to use the art of writing to promote those products. Thus, people had the power to mobilize crowds of people into certain things. Economies got bigger. Media expanded the reach of promotions into TV, magazines, etc. The Internet then revolutionized the way we communicate. Now, any of us has the power to create and mobilize groups of people from the confines of our bedrooms.

All that being true, the rules haven’t changed. People still spend money on products that they need and want.

Want to Actually Make Money? Then, Answer This…

So, I ask you: What is your product, really?

Your product should be something which is valuable to your audience which they will be willing to fork over a little money for. When you have that, your blog is a promotional medium for an actual business.

Most bloggers today operate in a dream world of made-up business rules. They try to make money with their blogs when they have nothing to sell. They’ll try to monetize the eyeballs only by littering the blog up with banner ads to sell other people’s stuff. It doesn’t take long for most bloggers to realize what a freaking difficult way to monetize a blog that is!

So many bloggers seem to think of their blog as a newspaper. Newspapers are monetized by ads. Guess what? Newspapers are disappearing left and right last time I checked. The model is limited and broken. So, why try to perpetuate it in a completely different medium?

No, the REAL answer to full-time incomes from blogs is to answer that question: What is my product? And if you don’t have one, you need to create one.

In other words, build a real business, then slap a blog on top of it. :) Treat the blog, not as a newspaper, but as a promotional vehicle for an actual business. This isn’t to say all you do is pimp your products. On the contrary, you provide really great content in order to build the relationship up with your reader. However, you do it with the aim of converting into a sale of your own product.

So, Blog Posts Aren’t That Important?

Now, let’s come fill circle back to my original point. Blog posts aren’t really all that important?

Here’s my point: Blog posts are not your product. They won’t get you paid. So, spending all of your blogging time writing more posts isn’t getting you anywhere – IF you want to turn your blog into a revenue producer.

My suggestion is to regroup. Take whatever time you have available for your blog and divide it up. Spend part of the time thinking ahead by producing assets that will help you grow your business. Products to sell, content to use to build your email list, etc. Schedule this into your routine. Then, use the remaining time to write blog posts.

If you have a readership and still aren’t making much more than a few bucks per month from your blog, then something is wrong. And the answer is most likely to be found in the question, “What’s your product?”

David Risley is a professional blogger, which basically means he sits and types a lot and manages to earn a living at it. His blog is the Confessions Of a Six Figure Blogger, and you can follow his escapades on Twitter.

9 Things Bloggers Can (and Can’t) Learn from the Army

A Guest Post by Michael C from On Violence.

I know what you’re thinking, “No, really, what can I learn about blogging from the army?” The U.S. Army isn’t exactly known for its literary excellence. And ten years ago, I would have agreed with you. But now, in the midst of the blogging tidal wave, I can tell you that military blogging–milblogging as its known–is a growing, thriving niche.

Since the beginning of the Iraq war to today, Soldiers–with and without controversy–have blogged about their experiences. For the first time in history, Soldiers on the front lines can tell their stories to people thousands of miles away in real time, and even influence the political debate.

As a milblogger, I’ve learned plenty from how-to sites like Problogger, (by starting here). At the same time, I’ve applied a lot of tips and tricks from the military to my blogging. So without any further ado, here are 9 tips all bloggers can (and can’t) learn from the military.

The Things You Should Learn From the Army

1. Have a Point to Make



First, you need to have a bottom line. Finish this statement: “I contend that…” Bam, that’s your thesis.

It doesn’t even need to be political, it just needs to help your reader. It doesn’t even have to argue something; it just has to have a point. It can be something like, “you need to write well on your blog posts, use these ten tips.” Or you can provide news, like “here is an interesting new SEO development.”

Too many blog posts are aimless. In the Army, we have a point to every operation called the mission statement. It ensures that every patrol has a purpose. Look at this post on TwiTip. The writer isn’t arguing something complex, he just wants to provide 5 new ways to use twitter. This is his point, and it sharpens the whole post.

2. Put Your Bottom Line Up Front, or BLUF

Time constraints force commanders to prioritize the information they see, and they demand the best stuff first. When you are planning a movement of hundreds, or thousands, of men in battle, then seconds can mean the difference between life or death. Generals and Colonels want the point, and they want it up front.

Military planners learn early on to tell their bosses the bottom line up front, or as we call it, BLUF. Take that thesis/point/bottom-line you just determined, and put that in your first or second paragraph.

Use BLUF in your blogging. Look at this recent post by Darren. By the third paragraph, Darren explains what he is going to tell you, and where his post is heading. (Some astute writers will put their point or thesis at the end. If you want to do that, at least give your readers the topic in the beginning. Use this technique sparingly.)

3. Keep Your Writing Clear and Concise

Imagine the stereotypical Army Colonel, chomping on a cigar, and firing off questions to his subordinates. When this boss demands an answer, do you think he wants vague or unclear answers? No, he wants them clear and concise. The Army writing guide specifically asks that writers, “(1) Use short words. Try not to use more than 15 percent over two syllables long. (2) Keep sentences short. The average length of a sentence should be about 15 words.”

Your blogging should be the same way. Instead of embracing the freedom of not having an editor, and putting every word you’re thinking on the page, cut, cut, cut. Take your first draft and cut it by 10%. Then cut some more.

4. Back Up Your Argument

Let’s keep going with my analogy about the Army Colonel. Let’s say that, as one of his intelligence officers, you tell him that you expect an enemy attack in the next 24 hours. With such a bold assertion, he is going to demand one thing: proof.

So after you put out your BLUF, give your evidence. Find links, quote sources, give examples. Tom Ricks was a preeminent war journalist, and now he is one of the biggest milbloggers. In this post, he sets out a bold assertion, then provides several quotes and analysis to prove his points. He puts his BLUF in the first paragraph, then spends the rest of the time backing it up.

5. Plan For Comments and Questions

Most Army Colonels love peppering their staff with questions, so good briefers plan ahead for them. For example, if you say that your men will run out of water, you should be able to answer when and why. The good subordinate plans ahead to counter what his boss will ask.

As a blogger, when your post is finished, ask yourself, what will my detractors say? What will they argue against me? Figure that out, and then counter it in your blog post. In the Army, we call it “war-gaming” and we usually use it against the enemy. Smart planners use it on their boss as well. Your blog won’t please everybody, but you can at least figure what they will argue against you–especially if you have a controversial or political blog.

6. Write Mistake Free Posts

A mistaken order can spell the death of an Army unit, literally. In the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” immortalized in verse by Tennyson, a misheard order resulted in the tragic deaths of over a hundred cavalry men. In the military, accuracy is supreme.

Your blogging will suffer from careless mistakes too. Punctuation errors or typos will make your prose seem amateurish. Even worse, a mis-written title or thesis could rebound around the blogosphere if it doesn’t mean what you think it does.

I have a co-blogger, and we both read everything we put on our blog, and our first major guest post still had a typo in the bio. So embarrassing. If you don’t have a co-blogger, always read everything you publish two or three times.

The Things You Shouldn’t Learn from the Army

7. Don’t Use Acronyms or Jargon

The Army loves acronyms, from DFACs to IEDs to EOD to UAVs to METT-TC and so on. With acronyms and jargon, I can write posts that are virtually unreadable to the average person. Luckily, I have a non-military brother who keeps me in check, but not everyone has this.

As your blog moves from its niche–finance, business, self-help, milblogging, whatever–your writing needs to move away from jargon and technical slang. This will open your blog to new audiences. Also, when guest posting on a new site, use their jargon or style.

8. Short and Concise Does Not Mean Simple

A few points ago, I argued that we could all keep our writing short and concise. Too often, though, the Army mistakes clear and concise for short and simple. The difference is subtle but important. You can keep your arguments clean, but still use complex words. You can keep your writing concise, but still write compound sentences.

Army language suffers, like all bureaucracies, from a lack of creativity. Always look for ways to spice up your language. And if you hail from a bureaucracy, like the US Army, avoid your own bureaucratic instincts. A fellow milblogger, Starbuck, received a safety gram before Halloween warning that children in the Fort Bragg area will be conducting trick-or-treating operations.” Sigh.

9. Avoid an Email Addiction

The military embraces technology, but it embraces some technologies a little too much. Email is one example. A couple years back Darren went over how he kicked his email addiction by reorganizing his inbox. I wish that post were required reading in the military. Whenever possible, avoid email when doing business. If you can call, do so. If you can meet up in person, do that instead. Email is a tool, not a way of life.

And if I could give fellow bloggers one takeaway, it would be to check out the milblogosphere. If you want the low down about Soldiers experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, why not get it from the people who are there? Although most milblogs started out as a way to stay in touch with family, many have morphed into foreign policy and military hubs of knowledge. Start with milblogging.com and see what this niche can offer you.

Michael C writes for On Violence, a blog on military and foreign affairs. He is an active duty military officer who deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VIII with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Follow us on Twitter @onviolence

140 Characters and the Swing to Longer Form Content

“In a time of 140 character communication I’m sensing a shift back to longer form content”.

This was a statement I made in a presentation last week and it was one of the statements that I made that seemed to get the most reaction/resonance with those attending – so I thought I might expand on it a little and share a few random thoughts.

Are People Wanting More?

Tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn Status Updates… the short form communication that has dominated social media over the last few years is a wonderful thing. While I was initially sceptical that anything worthwhile could be communicated in 140 characters I now see the place of this type of communication.

However… I’m noticing a swing and I’d be interested to know if I’m the only one?

What I’m sensing is people starting to want more than they’re getting in 140 characters – something deeper, something more thoughtful, something more meaningful.

By no means am I suggesting that you can’t be deep, thoughtful or meaningful on Twitter or Facebook – but those are characteristics that I don’t tend to associate with most of the short bursts of content I see flying around in the social media space.

Keep Your Home Base

2-3 years ago I saw a range of bloggers giving up their blogs to get onto Twitter. I never quite got that move – giving up your own site, on your own domain, on your own servers…. a place where you had complete control – to go invest time in someone else’s domain, adding content that ultimately they had control over (while you might retain copyright they can switch your account off at any time if they perceive you to be breaking their terms of service).

My argument has always been to keep your Home Base and treat social media accounts as Outposts. I’m betting that those who gave up blogging to get onto Twitter are probably wishing they at least kept their blogs these days.

Don’t Give Up on Short Form Content

By no means am I calling for people to abandon their Twitter or Facebook accounts. They’re still incredibly useful, in fact looking at the stats on my own blogs they are becoming more and more powerful as places to drive traffic to my blogs, build the brand of my blogs, add to the conversation I’m having on my blogs etc.

As a publisher I can see some very tangible reasons to use Twitter – but earlier in the week I decided to ask those who follow me why THEY use Twitter. I started by asking those following my @ProBlogger account and got responses like these (see the full response here):

why-use-twitter-problogger.png

I then decided to check out what those who follow my @DigitalPS (photography) account would say (as I wondered if my @ProBlogger account might be a little skewed towards bloggers/publishers. Here’s what some of my photography Tweeps said (see the full response here):

why-use-twitter-dps.png

Looking over all of the responses a number of themes emerged among my followers responses including:

  • The idea of connecting with people and community both on a personal and professional level was one thing I saw again and again in responses.
  • Sharing and finding of information – news, tips, updates, links.

It strikes me that these two things are things that should probably grab the attention of bloggers. People are using Twitter to connect and have community (hardly rocket science as it’s called ‘social media’) but also to find and share information relevant to their lives.

Short Form content is powerful in driving traffic to and building conversation and community around your longer form content.

Join Me at the Social Media Success Summit 2010
[34% Discount Until Tuesday]

I don’t promote a lot of social media training courses as there is a lot of second rate teaching going around on the topic – however there is one online training event that I participated in last year that made a real impression on me.

The Social Media Success Summit – an event that is held purely online over a 3 week period. It features an amazing array of social media influencers – many of whom you’re probably quite familiar with.

Social Media Success Summit 2010

I’m participating again and am promoting this both as an affiliate, presenter and as someone who is going to participate as a learner.

Those involved in the teaching include:

  • Chris Brogan
  • Guy Kawasaki
  • Steve Rubel
  • John Bernier (Best Buy)
  • Marla Erwin (Whole Foods)
  • Sarah Molinari (Home Depot)
  • Tristen Walker (Foursquare)
  • Mari Smith
  • Ann Handley (MarketingProfs)
  • Brian Clark
  • Chris Garrett
  • Me

The list goes on and on (there are 24 people involved). There are 18 sessions (live but also recorded, with transcripts) plus 20 or so other bonus recordings from last year’s summit).

Last year’s summit was huge both in terms of the learning but also the number of people involved. This year it has grown further and it is well on the way to selling out.

The great thing about it is that until Tuesday 20th it is half price for early bird registrations.

The Social Media Success Summit is a teaching event best suited to those who have a business that they want to bring social media to – however much of what is covered is relevant to bloggers who want to make social media their actual business. Check out the extensive information page to learn more about who is involved and what the sessions will cover.

34% off until Tuesday

Until Tuesday 20th you can register with a 34% discount. I look forward to connect with you in the session I’m involved with (with Chris Brogan, Brian Clark and Rick Calvert) and learning with you as a participant in the other sessions.

Success [In Blogging] Is Made of Little Victories

small-victories.jpgToday I read a great post by Chris Brogan titled Success is Made of Little Victories (image by lintmachine).

“Everything we do to be successful comes from little victories. When someone takes notice of our success, it looks like something big. It feels like one big moment. But always, and I mean always, it comes from a series of little victories. Look at the successes you’ve had. Did they all come at once? Or did you build up from nowhere to somewhere to somewhere better to a quick fallback to a new success, and then pow? Right.”

Chris isn’t writing specifically about blogging with the rest of his post – but he’s describing what I’ve heard many successful bloggers talk about when they look back on how they’ve grow their blogs.

The Victories in the early days of blogging are often very ‘little’:

  • getting your blog set up
  • writing your first post (and overcoming the ‘this is weird’ feeling)
  • getting your first comment (usually from a friend)
  • getting your first comment from a stranger
  • being linked to by another blogger

These victories may indeed be ‘little’ – but they each are significant and can (and do) lead to growth, opportunity and ultimately bigger victories.

The Toughest Question I Get Asked

I am often asked about the ‘tipping point’ in my blogging – that moment where something happened where my blog went to the next level.

The problem with this question is that there was no such moment for me. I’ve no doubt that other bloggers will identify key events that ‘tipped’ their blog in terms of success – but for me it’s been much more of an evolution or chain of events – a series of little victories if you like.

The key for me has been in using the victories to build momentum towards the next victory rather than seeing them as an end point.

The Key is to Use the Little Victories to Create Momentum

Over the years I’ve learned that each time I have a ‘little victory’ that I need to look for how that victory might be used to propel me forward towards the next one.

This might sound a little ‘new age’ but the way I see it is that victories create ‘energy’. When we have them we as bloggers feel energised and inspired but other opportunities often open up which can be taken advantage of to spring to the next level.

An Example – I remember the feelings associated with the first time I was mentioned in mainstream media. A citywide newspaper here in Melbourne ran a short spot (and it was only 30-40 words) in their tech section about my blog (it was a ‘blog of the week’ type column – a tiny screenshot, the link and a few words).

Despite the smallness of the spot I was completely over the moon with the mention – it was something I could show my parents (to prove I wasn’t a complete lunatic for spending all my time blogging) and it just made me feel good to get that kind of acknowledgement. I was energised and inspired and it gave me a personal boost of momentum to keep growing my blog – however it also created a number of other opportunities.

Here’s what followed:

  • I emailed the journalist to thank him for the mention and to offer any help if he ever needed the opinion of a blogger. This in itself led to being quoted in 5-6 future articles and in the long term a longer feature article about my blog.
  • I used that small mention in the newspaper to reach out to a radio station where I was in the next week interviewed about my blogging.
  • A couple of months later I was approached by someone who had heard the radio interview to speak at a local conference.
  • I used speaking at that conference as an example of what I could do when pitching an overseas conference organiser – this turned into my first paid speaking gig.
  • At that event (in the US) I met 3-4 bloggers who I’ve either entered into partnerships with, employed or built fruitful relationships with.

I could continue to follow the sequence of events to other opportunities that came.

Some of the opportunities were things that came a little out of the blue (like someone who heard the radio spot ringing to ask about the conference) while others were more about me taking initiative (like me contacting the radio station) – however none of them would have happened without the first little victory.

The key is to celebrate your little victories but not to let the celebration of them get in the way of where you’re headed next.

An Anti-Example – a few years back I witnessed one blogger do the exact opposite of what I’m talking about. He’d built his blog up to be a fairly successful blog and was approached by another company who wanted to acquire it. He accepted the six figure offer and was quite naturally over the moon about it.

I remember chatting with him after the sale and him saying that he was going to take some time off before starting another project. I wondered at the time whether it was a wise move. Sure he’d made some nice money from the sale but it wasn’t enough to set him up for life and I wondered whether there was opportunity in selling his blog to announce the next thing. The sale had created some great buzz and talk around the blogosphere – but he then went and took a year off.

When he came back to blogging with his next project the buzz had died down completely and all momentum that he’d had was gone. While I understand the need to take time off I wonder what would have happened if he’d announced the next project alongside the sale of his first blog – if the victory he’d had had been leveraged to bounce him toward the next victory.

Further Reading:

I’ve come back to this theme a number of times over the years. Back in 2007 I wrote about it for the first time in two posts – Blogs as Launching Pads (in which I shared my own sequence of launching projects from what I’d already built) and in How to Leverage Your Blog for bigger Things (some more ‘how to’ stuff).

Early this year I wrote Leverage What You Have and Take Your Blog to the Next Level as part of my Principles of Successful Blogging series.

What little victories have you had recently?