Much is said of the great content that is required to become a great blogger.
None of it matters if you don’t have a great voice.
Great bloggers don’t settle for great content. Great bloggers understand that how you deliver your message is just as important as the message itself. Your voice has to resonate through a sea of white noise before its message will reach the market. You have to be memorable.
The opposite of being memorable is being forgettable. And unfortunately, many bloggers have this down to a fine art. They lack a voice that lends authenticity to their words.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If you pen the world’s greatest article and no one cares enough to read it, does it make an impression?
You may think that what you have to say is special. So special that the world should stand and marvel, but it won’t. It never will. Your voice—the charisma and authenticity that oozes from your words—is the difference between a reader that is engaged in your brand and a reader that nods at your post before disappearing never to be seen again.
Great bloggers lend identity to their work.
It’s the voice that readers fall in love with. Some bloggers have the knack of writing about anything and making it exhilarating on our eyeballs. That is because they’re in sync with their brand. We can hear their words as if spoken to us personally.
Position your brand correctly
How consistent is your voice? How easily can somebody, who may simply be passing through your blog, get a sense of your character, your position in the industry, and your value to the scarce few minutes in their day?
Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The first duty in life is to form a pose.”
We all create a mask, an identity in our heads that embodies what we hope to become, what we aspire to be. If you haven’t got this far, and if you haven’t assumed a pose, how can you expect your readers to remember what you stand for?
Great bloggers form a pose!
Your first job is to answer that pivotal question: “What do I stand for?” Once you know what you stand for, you must transmute those principles in to your writing.
How can we turn a blog in to a glowing beacon that relays our message to any passing mortal who stumbles across it? Well, there are four poses we can form that make this association easy for the reader.
- The industry expert
- The industry commentator
- The industry fun-poker
- The average industry joe.
Positioning your brand correctly means knowing the difference between each pose. I’m sure we’ve all seen plenty of examples of brand positioning gone wrong.
Have you seen the “expert” who can barely spell? He who takes more pleasure in bragging about his playboy lifestyle than in lending any information of credit to his chosen industry?
Or how about the comedian who tries to entertain readers with endless quips that are never funny? You can visit this author’s blog for plenty of that.
I’m sure some readers will object to the idea that their shtick needs to be pigeonholed. I hear it time and time again. “There’s no category for what I write about! It’s the noise that occupies my imagination! I can’t be stereotyped!” Well, no offence, but that’s just stupid. Stupid and wrong.
It’s not a crime to write about the unmoderated wackiness of your imagination (although I suggest you confine such brainfarts to a journal). But it certainly is a crime to expect somebody else to stumble across your erratic collection of thoughts and come away with a lasting opinion that isn’t, “Damn, what happened to the last 15 minutes? How do I get them back?”
Failing to moderate your own content is the fast lane to mediocrity. Your mother may still read it, of course. Whose doesn’t? But the rest of us? I’m afraid we’re too busy—busy watching paint dry.
If you want people to remember you, better yet to save a moment in their busy packed schedules to listen out for your voice, you must optimize your memorability. Now there’s a new industry!
Let me introduce you to four characters that are time-proven assistants to your readers. They help every reader that ever passes through your blog to make a snap decision about whether you are worth following.
The industry expert
The blogosphere would be a much better place if every fledgling writer didn’t attempt to achieve expert status from day one.
I’ve noticed that many new bloggers just love to brand themselves as experts. Nine times out of ten, it is completely without merit. Some of the worst offenders are music bloggers.
Take Pitchfork as an example. Pitchfork is considered to be an industry expert for the alternative music scene. It has a very distinctive voice.
Have you ever read a Pitchfork album review? It’s like a scrabble contest to see who can pluck the most pretentious sounding adverb out of his backside. Somehow it works because Pitchfork—for better or worse—has carved a reputation as an authority source. The writers are qualified to deliver what we expect of them: fluffy, metaphorical nonsense.
However, take your typical unwashed 17 year-old kid who thinks his English C grade qualifies him to preach to the music industry from a holier than thou pedestal, and it’s not going to be pretty. It’s going to get downright “LiveJournal” in here, and fast.
Posing as an expert in a field where you are quite clearly just a fan is not going to win you any blogging awards. You will instead become a living, breathing case study of Mr. His Own Biggest Fan, the pompous know-it-all. That guy we read from time to time to laugh at, but never with.
Let me give you a tip. The secret to posing as an industry expert is to have some bloody credentials to begin with. You don’t need to be the smartest mind in your industry. But you do need to know more than 95% of your readers, which is surprisingly easy if you dedicate time to your craft.
The best tool for the industry expert, besides promotable credentials, is social proofing. Has your writing been featured on major sites that you can slap under a banner labeled “As seen on…”? Are you making any radio or podcast appearances that can be crowbarred in to a Media section to suggest noteworthiness?
The industry expert must leverage the psychological tools at his disposal to make us look up to him. Before we ever subscribe to an industry expert’s blog, we must respect him. Without respect, his pose is worthless.
The industry commentator
We have grown very used to our information sensors being bombarded on a daily basis. Information is constantly at our fingertips. It’s on the web, on our mobile devices, on television, in the newspaper, and spewing from the mouths of our friends and family.
There is a growing demand for The Industry Commentator. He is the soul brave enough to sift through all the news and views at our disposal, and then condense them in to a bite-size portion that we can devour in one sitting.
Curators of great content and interesting information are worth their weight in gold. They save us time, energy and eyeball fuel. We cling to their blogs because we can’t bring ourselves to confront the overfilling RSS reader of all those sites we promised to keep up with.
So, what makes a great industry commentator?
Once again, the voice is crucial. Industry commentators have a special skill for taking the goings-on of the world and rephrasing them to provide a simple resolution: “What’s in it for me?”
All of the most popular tech bloggers have carved their reputations not by reporting what is happening in Silicon Valley, but by telling us why it matters. How might it change our lives?
In 2010, Mike Arrington sold TechCrunch, the world’s largest and most influential tech blog for a figure upwards of $25million. TechCrunch was (and still is) a success because it condensed and curated the madness of Silicon Valley in to small posts that somebody sitting on the other side of the world could live through.
Did we have to sift over hundreds of startup pitches and press releases to find the one nugget of information that meant something to our lives? No, because TechCrunch did it for us. This form of curating is vastly under appreciated, and yet it is the driving force behind many of the world’s most successful blogs.
If you want to build a blog as an industry commentator, you must be in touch with the core concerns of your market. What matters in their lives?
This question, and only this, should determine what gets published on your WordPress and what gets trashed for another day. If you attempt to curate your industry with information that means nothing to the people that matter, your value will be remarkably similar: Mr. Who?
Selective, interesting insights are the way forward if industry commentating is your calling.
The industry fun-poker
I often wonder why bloggers take their work so seriously. One of the easiest ways to slice through the white noise and produce content that matters is to poke fun. There is a constant demand for fun content that offers us a brief moment of escapism.
It’s fun-poking content that so often ignites virally and ends up plastered across our Facebook feeds. Why is that? It’s because people have enough serious in their day already.
Is there a better example than The Oatmeal? Penned by Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal taps in to the public frequency with sketches that satirize popular culture—and inevitably end up slapped across our Facebook walls. One look at popular posts such as “What it’s like to own an Apple product,” and “How a web design goes straight to hell,” and it’s clear that Inman is a master of poking fun.
Inman hasn’t even confined himself to a single industry! 20 million page views per month say it all. The hits don’t lie. Laughter sells.
Regular well-crafted content that stirs a smile, or better yet a laugh, is tough to write. It demands a voice that is both powerful and authentic.
Whether it’s satire, sarcasm or slapstick brilliance, very few writers have the ability to pull off humour and make it work. Perhaps more importantly, a bad writer who walks the fine line and tumbles is likely to ruin his reputation in doing so. Badly timed humour ranks up there with our wannabe expert in the cringe worthy stakes.
I strongly recommend you avoid becoming the industry fun-poker unless you have a razor-sharp wit and a thick skin (others will be quick to take aim at you).
On the flip side, those who are talented and skilled at poking fun in their industry make for some of the most entertaining reads in the blogosphere. If you have the talent, you will make a name for yourself quickly.
The average industry joe
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all successful bloggers adopt expert or aspirational status. Often the messages that touch us most dearly are those penned by the Average Joe.
If you can pinpoint the archetypal reader in your market, you can then turn your blog in to an ode to that character’s hopes, concerns and dreams. By doing so, you will leverage the power of being “one of the people.” You need only look to every presidential race in history to see what lengths politicians will go to in pursuit of the “man of the people” tag. It’s worth its weight in gold.
As much as we enjoy being sucked in to the leader-to-many relationship that guru bloggers thrive by, we are just as susceptible to those who do a fantastic job of branding themselves as voices of the crowd.
Do you remember the controversial flurry of “fake blogs” two years ago where marketers would write user-submitted tales of “how I dropped 30lbs in 4 weeks“, or “how I make $497/hour working from home“?
These blogs, scandalous as they were, tapped into a timeless psychological flaw where we place more value in what people just like us are saying. It means more when it comes from somebody who lives across the street, than it does from an expert who we share no common ground with.
I’m not suggesting you adopt a voice of outright deceit. But remember that there’s only one thing more inspiring than the rags-to-riches tale of an Internet stranger, and that’s the rags-to-riches tale of an Internet stranger who looks, acts, and thinks just like yourself.
There is an entire industry built around the concept of Work At Home Moms that stands as testament to how “ordinary” you can be while still speaking for a huge and significant crowd. The most successful WAHM bloggers are famous not because they set out to change the world, but because they relate to a huge number of readers and provide inspiration for everyday living.
You don’t need to be spectacular to be widely read. Spectacularly engaging will do.
One particular word of advice that will fare you well: those who can put in to elegant words what their peers can only feel intuitively in their heads will always inspire and captivate. If you possess this gift, use it. Let your blog become the voice of expression that readers can link to and say, “I agree with that guy.”
The average industry joe fights the corner of his market so that the crowd does not have to. They need only link to his thoughts. He is the beating heart of the market. He knows what makes his readers tick and he has a voice that spells their thoughts better than they ever could in a Facebook status or tweet. That is a powerful voice.
Finding your voice
An expert, a comedian, a curator, or a conveyor of public sentiment, it matters very little what position you decide on for your brand. Your objective remains the same:
Form a pose and hold it.
Decide on the message you want to promote and dress your blog for that purpose. Every personality trait, every post written, every hastily scribbled comment at 1am must align to the image you want the world to embrace.
It’s only when you find a memorable voice that your readers can decide whether they want to hear more of it. And guess what? Not everybody will. That’s okay. It’s a compliment!
Will you be stereotyped? Absolutely.
Will you satisfy everybody? Let me put it this way. If you do, not enough people are reading.
If your writing is so personal that it comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee, you should probably stick to a bedroom journal in the dead of night. There is not a recognised blogger in the world that can claim to be so special that everybody loves his work.
The truth is, the blogosphere is growing fast. Competition for eyeballs is getting fierce. Our attention span for unknown bloggers is fleeting like never before. I’m pretty sure even my next-door neighbour’s cat can be seen taking time out of chasing mice to update WordPress. Everybody is doing it!
If he’s blogging, and I’m blogging, and you’re blogging, and 321,000 ProBlogger subscribers are also blogging, who is going to read any of what we have to say? People don’t have time to read between the lines, assess your character, weigh up what it means, and invest in whatever that might be. There’s enough decision fatigue in the world already.
Readers want your past, present and future handed to them on a plate. They want to know what you can do for their lives, and how quickly you can do it. For that reason, a stereotype driven by a powerful memorable voice is your best friend.
I challenge you now to answer, in one sentence, “What does my voice stand for?”
And if you don’t know, why should I? Why should anybody? Find your voice and you will find an audience.
Martin Osborn is the editor of the affiliate marketing blog, Finch Sells. He is a 24-year-old entrepreneur with over 10 years’ experience in the fine art of wasting time online. You can download his Affiliate Marketing 2012 Survival Kit for free.