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Think Twice Before You Use News as Inspiration

This guest post is by Greg McFarlane.

If there are already 100,000 posts out there that express a particular viewpoint, what’s the point of adding a 100,001st?

Look for a different angle. If you can’t find one, then resist the temptation to rehash conventional wisdom, and go unearth yourself some unrelated subject matter.

When you’re desperate for ideas, the default method for finding something to blog about is, of course, to read the news. It’s not the most organic way to inspire a post, but sometimes it’s necessary—especially if you’re on a deadline. The problem is that hundreds of other bloggers with writer’s block are doing the same thing. Follow everyone else’s lead, and by definition your blog will become correspondingly less fresh and readable. Or as legendary baseball player Yogi Berra put it, “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

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Here in the United States, our latest political scandal featured a narcissistic, libidinous, and ridiculously aptly named politician who thought that he could send erotic self-portraits to minors on Twitter and not have to deal with any ramifications.

A good number of bloggers felt obligated to discuss Representative Weiner’s indiscretions. Understandably, most of those bloggers felt that the kind of person who tries to get with women half his age while embarrassing his semi-prominent wife on the national stage isn’t fit for office. Others added that anyone who would initially claim that his Twitter account “was hacked into” should lose his job for showing so little respect for his constituents’ intelligence.

On the other side, the minority (mercifully) opinion was that this was a distraction and we should all just move on and concern ourselves with bigger, more prominent things.* But regardless of how you felt about how suitable Weiner was for his job, the very act of expressing an opinion on his peccadilloes lumped you in with the unimaginative blogging masses.

That’s the downside to blogging about an ephemeral news story, especially one that inspires such strong opinions. The story surfaces, then it quickly gets picked clean, leaving a meatless skeleton. There was little that was truly insightful to say about the scandal, and few arguments pro or con to make that weren’t obvious.

Worse yet, bloggers who wrote exclusively on their non-political subjects of choice tried to shoehorn the scandal into their efforts in an attempt to seem relevant.

Like everyone else, I wondered what I could do to gain attention and capitalize on the moment. A story that was so absurd on so many levels doesn’t come around every day, and you can’t exactly predict when the next one will appear.

My blog is about personal finance, the second-most unsexy topic in all of human endeavor (quilting remains #1). Was there a way to tie the biggest national news story of the day into something Control Your Cash subscribers could get value out of, without forcing it?

Absolutely there was, and it was seamless. I studied Weiner’s list of financial assets and liabilities—which America’s federal elected officials are required to disclose some of the details of—and found dirt far more ignominious than anything in his sex life (at least to an audience of personal finance enthusiasts).

Weiner’s credit card balance equaled about 10% of his annual salary, and was growing faster than he was paying it off. He’d spent years amassing and failing to pay parking tickets throughout Washington. He owned more cars than there were people in his household, and committed the minor fraud of putting the registration sticker for his cheapest car on his most expensive car to save himself a few dollars. On top of that, he was paying monthly processing fees on the credit card balance, which my blog’s readers understand is something of a mortal fiscal sin.

In short, he was yet another in the endless series of bad examples that we could poke fun at on Control Your Cash. But unlike the welfare mother with nine kids from seven fathers, or the lottery winner who celebrated his fortune by spending it all and then some, Weiner held the distinction of being partially responsible for taxing my readers and spending their money. That gave the post a potency that the bloggers who wrote merely “Should Weiner resign?” couldn’t hope for.

I blogged about the scandal only because the opportunity presented itself. Granted, I had to look for a way to fit it into my narrowly topical blog, but it didn’t take much effort to find one. Had there been no angle, or only an awkward one, I wouldn’t have. A far more famous politician found himself in far greater trouble a couple of weeks earlier, but Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t have any money problems that I could write about (forthcoming retroactive child support payments notwithstanding).

When everyone else is zigging, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should zag. It might be your cue to find your own unique tangent—to para-zig, if you will. Even the road less traveled can get congested at times.

*Oh, grow up.

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected]

WordPress Plugins that Make Your Blog Comments Social

This guest post was written by Neil Matthews of WPDude.

Have you noticed a decrease in the number of blog comments you get and an increase in Facebook likes and Twitter tweets about your posts?

Are you worried that you are loosing social proof about the validity of your posts to the social media conversation, rather than as direct comment on your site?

There is a way to get the best of both worlds and aggregate comments and social media responses on your site.

The problem

People are building social media presences, and part of that is sharing great blog content and their opinions on those posts.  It’s more public and gives better results to share on Twitter or Facebook than it is leave a comment.

Curating is the new black at the moment. Adding links to your own social media conversation adds great value to your followers, while leaving a comment on a blog where no-one but the avid readers will see it does not add any value to your social media stream.

Fewer comments seems provide less social proof that people like your content, but this is not necessarily true. People stil love your stuff, it’s just that they’re expressing their emotions in different places.

What’s the solution?

Th solution is to bring the comments made on social media into your comment stream so you can maintain all of that social proof in one place.

There are a number of plugins that will aggregate social media and traditional blog comments into one stream on your site. This post will focus on these plugins—specifically I will be focusing on WordPress plugins (sorry Joomla, Drupal and Tumblr people! Some of these pugins will work with your platform but I’m focusing on WordPress today).

Disqus

This is a cloud-hosted comment system, wich means that your comments are hosted on the Disqus platform, and by adding a plugin to WordPress you can show those comments alongside your posts.

Disqus is a complete commenting system that offers a number of social media functions including authentication using your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the ability for people to add a comment to your post and their social media profile of choice. But more importantly it has a Reactions feature, which will search for and aggregate into your comment stream off-site comments from social media conversations about your post.

Intensedebate

Intensedebate is another hosted comment platform brought to you by the people behind WordPress Automattic.

Intensedebate has something it calls Social Commenting features.  Using these, users can log in with their Twitter or Facebook IDs, and post comments that are synced to their social media profiles.

LiveFyre

LiveFyre is another fully featured and hosted commenting system. Please note that this is a premium solution with  a free option for less than 20,000 page impressions per month.

This  plugin has the ability to post the comment onto your site and the social media platform of your site user’s choice.  It also has a neat function that lets them tag their social media friends in your comments.

Check out the social media options for more information.

A note on hosted comment systems

When you host your comments on a third-party site, you’ll need to export your comments into that service’s car. If you breach the service’s terms and conditions, there’s a chance you could be kicked off the platform and loose your comments.

I’ve not heard of this happening but it is a possibility, so think long and hard before you chose to have someone host part of your site.  I wrote about the same concept in my last post here at Problogger when I talked about loosing your email addresses in Are You Protecting Your Blog’s Most Valuable Asset?.

Facebook Comments for WordPress

If you want a solution that replaces your traditional blog commenting system with Facebook-only comments, then this plugin is for you.

It is a self-hosted solution that replaces traditional blog comments with something akin to a Facebook wall. People log in to Facebook, leave their comments on Facebook, and they’re replicated back on your site.

Twitter Mentions as Comments

This final plugin is again a self-hosted extension of WordPress. What is does is scan Twitter for any mentions of your posts, and pulls those tweets into your existing comment stream as if they were additional comments on your posts.

Other options

These are just some of the options available to you—there are many others. Check out the plugins under the Social Media tag on the WordPress plugin repository to see how vast your options are.

Make your comments social

Don’t worry that you’re losing blog comments to social media. Using these handy plugins, you can bring the conversation back from the social platforms, and retain social proof on your blog.

How is your blog faring with comments and social media? Could these plugins be helpful to you?

Neil Is  a WordPress coach and consultant, see his work at WPDude. He has also created a WordPress group coaching program called the WP Owners Club.

An Interesting Blog Business Model

This guest post is by Kevin Muldoon of WordPress Mods.

Most of you will be aware of the most popular business models for blogs. A large majority of blogs rely on revenue from advertising such as banner ads and paid reviews. Once a blog is very successful, its owners usually branch out and sell physical and digital products too such as books, membership courses, and premium content. Many successful bloggers simply use their blog as a platform to promote their own consulting services.

It’s important to do a little research into what business model suits you and your blog, as it’s going to be the way you make money through blogging. When I launched my WordPress blog a year or so ago I decided to adopt a magazine model and make money through banner advertisements, adding paid reviews once the site is more successful.

Once the site is established I will be in a good position to sell products through it, too, in the same way that Darren has launched his fantastic blogging workbooks through ProBlogger and the hugely popular ProBlogger book.

A business model with a twist?

The majority of blogs fall into the 10 Blog Business Models that Skellie spoke about a few years ago, however there is nothing stopping you doing something a little different.

A great example of this is WP Candy (one of my favourite blogs about WordPress). Well designed and updated regularly with great content, its owner Ryan Imel adopted the magazine model for WP Candy, though he did things a little differently. Instead of selling banner ads, WP Candy has managed to stay ad-free by using a so-called “Powered By” system.

The “Powered By” system is quite straightforward. Every blog post has a small link at the bottom stating who “Powered” the post. It is very similar to those who allow advertisers to sponsor a post, though there’s one main difference: instead of the link going to the sponsor’s website, it goes to a thank you page on WP Candy that tells you more about the website and lists the number of posts the sponsoring company has sponsored (Have a look at the biggest contributor for an example).

Advertisers have a number of ways in which they can gain exposure on the site. Just $5 a month will get you a link in a thank-you post every month, while a one-off payment of $50 will give you a permanent “Powered By” link on a post and a thank you in the weekly podcast.

Skeptics may look at the business model WP Candy has adopted and say that all they are doing is selling text links instead of banner ads. Perhaps this is the case, though they haven’t broken any rules—they are simply linking to a dedicated page for sponsors and the links on that page are coded “nofollow”.

So what they have managed to achieve is provide a unique way for advertisers to promote their products and services whilst removing all banner ads from the site, making the reading experience more enjoyable for the reader (something that Leo Babauta also did with Zen Habits).

Think outside the box

I’m not encouraging you to adopt the “Powered By” system that WP Candy has created. What I do encourage you to do is be more creative with the way you make money through your blog.

  • Build a more personal relationship with your advertisers and encourage your readers to interact with them.
  • Develop high-quality products and services that are related to your blog.
  • Grow your newsletter subscriber base so that you can interact with your readers more.
  • Do something interesting—something that no other blog in your niche is doing.

I’d love to hear of the interesting ways you generate income for your blog. Have you grown beyond the magazine business model and developed alternative ways to make money through your site?

Kevin Muldoon is a webmaster and blogger who lives in Central Scotland. His current project is WordPress Mods; a blog which focuses on WordPress Themes, Plugins, Tutorials, News and Modifications.

How Compendium’s Web to Post Generates Content and Community

This guest post is by Jenny Dean of Business Blog Writers.

You might have read my article about a business blogging platform called Compendium. Today, I wanted to share with you a fantastic Compendium tool called, Web to Post that allows customers or clients to tell stories about your products or services.

Web to Post turns your consumer’s advocacy into web content.

Of course, as Business Blog Writers, sometimes this writes us out of the picture, but at the same time, if we are used to supplement the Web to Post content, then we can also get a lot of content ideas from what customer or clients submit.

In addition to my blog writing business, I also have a Ragdoll cat blog and all images of Compendium’s Web to Post form come from that.

How does Web to Post work?

A Call to Action is put in the sidebar of the blog. The CTA usually says something like, “Share Your Story”.

This call to action can also be put on your Facebook fan page, in your newsletter, on your YouTube Channel or in an email to an existing database.

The customer sees the CTA and decides to submit a story. They click on the link and are taken to an online form that asks them things like their story title, the story, and their first and last name. They can also choose to upload a photo to include with their story. The forms are totally customizable to fit your campaign or story needs.

Once the stories are received, the administrator of the blog is sent an email letting him or her know there is content waiting in the system. The stories can be edited, approved or declined from there, just like internal blog posts on Compendium’s system. So in other words, the story isn’t instantly on your company website the second the customer or client hits “submit”. Rather, it has to go through an administrative layer for final approval. This is awesome, because it turns your advocates into your bloggers! [Share Your Story Submission on Dashboard.jpg]

Once the administrator has checked out the post and added a keyword rich title, then the admin approves it. At that point is the Compendium algorithm automatically categorizes or tags the story to the relevant, targeted keyword pages on your blog . The admin can also choose to promote it on your company’s social networks, like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Then, the viral effect kicks in. Each story is published on your company’s blog, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages.

The customer who submitted the story also gets an automatic email that says their story has been published on your company’s blog. Another link encourages them to share their featured story on their own social network profiles.

How Web to Post helps business blogs

Lee Jorgenson, an Account Manager at Compendium recently pointed out that Sears Outlet has generated over 5,000 posts in just three months by gathering content from five different channels.

Sears Outlet sends a great transactional email after someone purchases from their website that invites customers to share their stories. This email is timely and helps harvest stories while they are fresh in the customer’s mind. The email has a link that drives the customer to a web to post form to submit their story. They also use the Web to Post forms to capture stories from blog and website visitors. They also have one embed on their Facebook fan page tab and collect stories from Facebook fans that way.

The process is simple: Content → Exposure → Referrals → Sales

Another Compendium client, The College Network, was able to launch a contest asking nurses to share their stories. The prize? An iPad. They received nearly 100 user generated stories (that’s 100 free posts!). The stories got over 40 comments and over 1,500 Likes. They drove 3,500 unique visits to their story page and tracked an average of 35 additional Facebook fans per day from the campaign. It also increased their organic search traffic by 25%—all for the cost of an iPad.

How Web-to-Post helps smaller bloggers

As far as my site, Floppycats.com, is concerned, Web to Post has made my life incredibly easier. When I run a giveaway, I tell people that for an extra chance to win the prize, they can submit a photo of their cat as well as a description explaining why their cat needs to win the product.

This approach not only generates more activity on my site, but also creates more content for my blog. And readers love to see photos of their cats on my blog!

I also use Web to Post for Ragdoll breeders who want to advertise kittens for sale. It saves me the time involved in uploading them to the site, and entering all the information—and they’re hosted on Compendium’s server, not the one I am paying for.

I also use Web to Post to accept content from people who need to rehome their Ragdoll cats, and cat rescue groups that need to get the word out about cats available for adoption.

I give a lengthy explanation of what I want (this eliminates time-consuming emailing back and forth between the poster and me) and provide examples so readers know what information they need to submit.

So while Web to Post is great for sales and boosting social media buzz about your company, for the blogger who wants an active online community on their blog, Compendium’s Web to Post can also make your life a lot less busy. Just say “no” to too much right- and left-clicking!

What if you don’t have compendium?

If you don’t have Compendium, you can probably still put something like this together, but it would require more manpower and coordination to get it done.

Frankly, I don’t like to spend my time on the technicalities and would rather have it right from the get-go. Compendium’s business blogging platform simply takes care of the strategy, process and technology so your business can focus on the content and stories.

Jenny Dean is a 31-year-old-business owner and entrepreneur from Kansas City. Jenny is currently working on Business Blog Writers, a company that supplies blog content specifically for company’s blogs, Floppycats.com, an informational website about Ragdoll cats and Antioxidant-fruits.com, an informational website about the antioxidant powers of fruit. Follow Business Blog Writers on Twitter or on Facebook.

Is Shared or Dedicated Hosting Best for You?

This guest post is by Jesse of Professional Intern.

Blog owners have a lot of decisions to make if they want to be successful. What will my blogs focus be? What audience do I want to target? Should I use a formal tone or a more personal one?

One of the questions to which blog owners rarely give enough thought is what kind of web hosting solution they’ll use. In this article, I’ll explain the differences between shared and dedicated servers, as well the benefits that each can offer you and your blog.

Shared hosting

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Shared web hosting is the lowest cost hosting option available. With this type of hosting, your server is basically one of many server programs run on a single piece of hardware. You share physical resources with other clients whose servers also inhabit the same machine.

This spreads out the cost of hardware, bandwidth and maintenance among all of the hosts clients, but it also means that each client only gets a portion of the power and speed of the server, which can significantly degrade performance if one or more of the clients starts using more resources.

If, for instance, your site is hosted on a shared server and begins attracting significantly more visitors than normal, the performance of the other sites on the server will be degraded and, eventually, your site may be temporarily deactivated to reduce the strain on the server and its impact on other clients.

Customizing a shared server

Most shared web hosting services offer simple, one-click management options for their servers. While this makes it easy to set up a basic WordPress or Drupal blog, the options are often limited to whatever the host decides to support and, often, more extensive customization is not available.

With this specialization, however, often comes better customer support. Because the host carefully chooses the programs and options available, they’re better able to serve their users.

While shared web hosting can be a great choice for blogs that are intended to be personal and small, if you want to grow your blog, host multiple blogs or begin offering additional content, like forums, you’ll need to start considering a switch to a dedicated server.

Dedicated hosting

Dedicated servers offer a wealth of benefits you can’t receive with shared servers, but they do have one major drawback: increased cost.

Even a moderately-priced dedicated hosting package can cost upwards of $99 per month. If you add on management, technical support, a firewall or upgrade to a more powerful server, the price can increase dramatically. A powerful, fully-configured, managed and serviced dedicated server will often cost over $1000 per month.

How can that kind of expense be worth it to a blog owner?

Reliability and security

The biggest advantages of dedicated hosting are increased speed, reliability, security, and control. If you’re not sharing resources with other clients, you won’t have to worry about their sites slowing down your site’s load times and degrading your site’s user experience.

Further, because the server won’t be split among multiple clients, there’s less of a chance of it experiencing a critical failure that could take your site down.

Hosting your site on its own server also results in fewer security vulnerabilities. If you share a server with someone who doesn’t practice good security measures, your site is vulnerable, too; on a dedicated server, however, your site’s security rests on your choices, not those of another user you may never meet.

With a dedicated server, you’re in control

Having a dedicated hosting plan gives you far more control than a shared plan would. After choosing your server’s operating system, you may have as much or as little control of the workings of your server as you desire. Unless you wake up every morning excited about server administration, you may want to look into either hiring someone to perform those duties for you, or look into a managed hosting plan on your server.

Many hosts will give you several levels of management options, ranging from little user intervention to full user configuration. The more control you give someone else over your dedicated server, the more you’ll end up paying, but it can definitely be in your best interest to let someone with experience in server administration handle those tasks for you.

In addition to multiple levels of control, you’ll be able to choose which features you want to include on your site. Generally speaking, the more features you want on your site, the better off you’ll be with a dedicated server.

When to switch to dedicated hosting

If you already have a shared web hosting plan, you might be wondering when it would be most beneficial to switch to a dedicated host. If you’ve noticed an increase in user complaints about slow server response times, degraded performance or an inability to access your site reliably, that’s a good indication that it’s time to start looking into alternate hosting.

Also, if you’ve been experiencing a marked increase in traffic, you might want to switch to a dedicated server to head off any capacity problems you might experience if your growth continues. As I previously mentioned, if you plan on adding more advanced features to your site, you should definitely consider a switch from shared hosting.

Who needs a dedicated server?

Basic shared web hosting is a great choice for a new or amateur blog, but if you’re planning on getting serious with your site, you’ll probably end up needing a dedicated server at some point.

Shared servers often end up slow, crowded and vulnerable, in addition to leaving you with few options for control. Dedicated servers, while the more expensive option, feature none of those drawbacks and give you as much performance as you need. You also have a wider range of options for control over your site’s server.

If you desire a faster, more reliable site or want to add many advanced features, you should seriously consider switching to a dedicated server. Your users will have a much better experience and you’ll likely end up dealing with fewer performance issues.

How’s your blog hosted? Have you transitioned from shared to dedicated hosting? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Jesse L. is a recent college graduate who blogs at http://www.professionalintern.com and enjoys all things social media and Apple-related.

What Drama Musicals Can Teach Us About Great Blog Writing

This guest post is by Achim “Chef Keem” Thiemermann of MusicalWorkshop.org.

As the US webmaster and social media manager of Europe’s most successful musical librettist and lyricist, Dr. Michael Kunze, I am intimately familiar with his unique brand of storytelling: the drama musical. To this day, Michael’s combined works (original musicals and foreign-language adaptions) have sold 33 million tickets for a whopping $1,012,000,000! He must be doing something right. Right?

Just a few weeks ago I started thinking about the similarities between blogging and writing a musical play: in both instances we are striving to elicit emotion from our audiences, which in turn shall motivate them to take some kind of action.

Whether they are theater goers or blog visitors, it is the art of telling a good story that makes all the difference in their response to our pitch.

Michael Kunze has some intriguing insights on storytelling:

“I am a storyteller by profession, although I started out as a songwriter. When I had stories to tell that would not fit into the tiny format of a song, I became a dramatist for the musical stage. By studying the elements of successful musicals, I soon found out that they all were based on the same kind of structure.”

“And I discovered something surprising … the story is primarily told through its structure. Quite a blow for someone who believes in the power of words and sentences!”

“Over the years I’ve developed a very distinct structure for my drama musicals. So far I’ve written five original shows, and each one has become an international success. Altogether, they have reached more than 15 million people. I have no doubt that I owe this success to the fact that my musicals are better structured than most.”

Let’s take a closer look at Michael’s method of telling a good story.

The basic structure of a drama musical

  1. In the beginning we learn about the protagonist’s (hero’s) desire to achieve a certain goal.
  2. Facing powerful antagonistic forces, our hero initially descends into a “hole” with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
  3. To recover from all kinds of setbacks, and to continue on the path to fulfillment, he must overcome one or more of his character flaws.
  4. As the story unfolds, the protagonist encounters a number of dramatic turns and surprising twists, which further illustrate his or her different stages of progress.
  5. After a key experience toward the end of the story, our protagonist has learned his lessons and thus become a better person. He is now ready to complete his journey.

So, what if you applied the principles of successful musical dramas to your writing?

You are the protagonist in your blog posts!

In writing as protagonists and describing your experiences with products, travel tips, online tools, recipes, personal growth issues, or whatever topic you’re blogging about—your stories must fascinate the readers through an emotional ride from a troubled beginning to a satisfactory ending.

Help your audience identify with you—the hero of your story. Ask these questions:

  • Which obstacles had originally kept you from achieving your desired end results? Was it shyness, ignorance, pride, indecisiveness, procrastination, or lack of self-esteem?
  • What did you have to do to remedy your situation? Stand up against nay-sayers (including yourself)? Put in some extra work through research and courses? Let go of old habits? Push through your “dip”?
  • What were some of the milestones signifying your continuing progress? What motivated you to keep going in the face of adversity? Which insights confirmed that you were on the right path?
  • What major personal break-through did you experience in the end? What did you learn about yourself that took you to the desired level of success?
  • Now that you have achieved your goals, how can your readers benefit from your efforts? How can you solve their problems or make their lives better and easier? What is your extraordinary gift to your audience?

Why story structure is important

Michael’s additional words of advice:

“Most of us tend to write as we talk—unstructured. But blogging is not so different from other forms of writing. To grab the reader’s interest give him a story. A story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

“Even better: A story with one or two surprising twists that keep the reader curious and wanting to know the ending. And, make sure that you know the ending before you start writing.”

Actually quite simple, isn’t it? Do you use storytelling structure in your blog posts?

Achim “Chef Keem” Thiemermann manages MusicalWorkshop.org, Michael Kunze’s English-language website. He is also a co-founder of the new revenue-sharing writers’ platform called Wizzley.com.

The Blog of Art

This guest post is by Tricia Lawrence of trishlawrence.com.

We’ve all heard the term “writer’s block” thrown around like it’s an actual medical or mental condition, and a few have attempted to coin “blogger’s block” even though it’s essentially the same thing.

It’s what happens when you open your laptop and as the cursor is blinking, your mind goes blank. Soon, you’re sure the cursor is mocking you and you slink away from the computer to eat some junkfood, play Nintendo, think evil thoughts about your ability to keep this blog going, and pretty soon, you’ve wasted four hours and the blog post is still not written.

Sound familiar?

We’ve all been there and we’ll all be there again. I, however, like to “light people up,” especially with regard to blogging, so here are some ideas to blow that writer’s block to smithereens and to get those fingers tapping away on your keyboard.

Make art by thinking about how you feel and how you want your readers to feel

This is a hard one, because most of us have numbed out to how we feel, so how in the heck are we supposed to know how we want other people to feel?

Art is where that edge is. It’s where you take a feeling and you explore it by creating something that takes people somewhere. A painting is like a blog. But too often, I think blogging has taken on this sort of half-robotic feel.

Too many of us recycle what has already been said, harp on someone doing something innovative because it makes us feel uncomfortable, or we hide from our readers and use our blogs to do it! We throw up all these fancy plans, or narcissistic “look at me” posts, when in reality, isn’t the goal of blogging to connect with readers? Isn’t it to share how you actually feel? Do you really feel good today? Do you really feel in control? There are moments we do not. That is where the art comes in.

Tell it like it is. Make art. Build it into the blog.

Make art by stepping away from the blog and actually creating something tactile

Cook something, sew something, paint something, or weld something. We’ve numbed out by sitting behind our computers and forgetting what it means to do anything else. Step away from the computer!

This activity doesn’t require the same blogging brain cells that have frozen up on you, and thus, as you make something awesome, those cells will begin to thaw out and suddenly, you’ll throw down the welding torch and rush to the computer. As they say, if you run a marathon, you’re more likely to also write a book. One thing begets another. But please take care! Don’t try to write a blog post while holding the welding torch.

Make art by dreaming big

This one fires me up. I can dream up huge results from my paltry blogging. Some days I want to be on America’s Got Talent because of a blog post, I want to get a book deal from the blog, I want to meet Richard Branson.

That sounds so huge and unreachable, but then if you put those goals in print somewhere, you are focusing yourself on them. Your brain will try to figure out how to make them happen. You suddenly see Richard Branson references everywhere. America’s Got Talent automatically TiVos every time it’s on and you have time to watch it, someone shows you a book that you swear you could have written yourself and the art begins to happen.

Perhaps you’ll hire a PR consultant, or you’ll outline the roughs of a book proposal. Perhaps we’ll one day see your welding-while-juggling (or blogging!) act scaring Nick Cannon half out of his wits! That’s doable! That’s making art!

The blog of art is more about you than about the blog. And that’s where the magic happens, I promise.

Tricia Lawrence is CEO of real/brilliant, inc. and blogs about the Create Now! Revolution at http://www.trishlawrence.com.

Going Gonzo, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Blog

This guest post is by Enzo F. Cesario of Brandsplat.

“We were halfway to Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

It certainly wasn’t the line that Rolling Stone expected out of sports and political columnist Hunter S. Thompson. He’d been sent to Vegas to report on a motorcycle race, and instead sent back a manifesto on the hollow glories of Sin City, the assorted pleasures of half the psychoactive drugs common to the American vocabulary, the inadequacies of the journalistic lifestyle, and of course the death of the American dream. Hard up against (okay, somewhat past) his deadline, Thompson resorted to pulling out rambling entries from the pages of his notebook and mailing them in directly. It was unprofessional, it was sophomoric, it was gonzo—and it worked. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a hit.

Opinions vary on just why it worked. I believe it was because Thompson was writing uncensored. He wrote openly about topics that still horrified American sensibilities. In the same year that the phrase “war on drugs” would first be coined, he boldly declared the incompetence of the politicians and police who would be prosecuting it. He mused about the death of the ’60s-style revolutionary zeal, the illusion of a freewheeling town that Vegas maintains over an undercurrent of hard-won respectability and so much more. He wrote honestly and didn’t limit himself, even managing to comment that the original assignment, to cover the motorcycle race, confused and bored him.

Had he been writing the same stuff today, it would have made a series of fantastic blogs.

The world is full of dull, sterile writing. A blog’s strength lies in its ability to be personal, and its ability to update at any time. Get on, log in, pontificate, click submit and it’s there, ready for the reader. People read blogs for the style as much as for the content—they want to know how, as well as what, the blogger thinks. They may show up for the content, but they stay for the personality.

Personality is where Gonzo thrives. Asked about the format, Thompson said, “I don’t get any satisfaction out of the old traditional journalist’s view: ‘I just covered the story. I just gave it a balanced view,’” and “you can’t be objective about Nixon.”

Well, that sounds like political blogging to me. There’s nothing wrong with being fair, but sometimes you have to be able to say, “The leading candidate reminds me of the worst qualities of my math and science teachers—boring, dry, inaccessible and rambling about subjects I couldn’t care less about while ignoring the ones I was interested in.”

So put that style into your blog. You don’t have to turn it into a gin-soaked journey through your chosen topic—in fact, there are very few writers who can actually write well while inebriated (Thompson happened to be one of them). No, what I’m talking about is writing something unedited and uncensored.

Let your inner lion out to play, the writing part of you that says, “I absolutely do not care what people think about this piece,” and go to town. Write hard—present your worst opinions, the strongest way you feel about things. Don’t set out to shock, just set out to be absolutely honest in a way that people cannot mistake for soft-pedaling or going easy on the subject.

Second, don’t edit. This may sound like sacrilege to the profession of writing, but it’s a good tip when you’re writing. Get the content down, write in a stream and let your topic go where it wants to. Try the first-person narrative that makes Gonzo such a joy. Sink yourself into the story. What do you think, feel, want out of this piece? Get that feeling, those essences down on paper.

Writing honestly can be hard. “Is it brandable? Is it too different? Will it generate traffic?” I’m not going to lie: Asking “Is it safe?” is a deep-rooted part of our way of looking at the world, and there’s nothing wrong with it. We want security, and there are the legendary tales of a weird and wacky change causing someone to shoot a good career in the foot, never to be heard from again.

But far more common is the tale you never hear, of the person who writes two entries, gets discouraged and never puts down another word. Or the countless thousands who say “I want to be a writer, but” and allow whatever comes after but to keep them from ever picking up the pen and putting form to their thoughts.

So do it. Go nuts this one time, write something ecstatic or satirical. Skip the conventions for a bit and reinvent your writing, just to keep your readers on the edge of their seats. I’ve got news for you: You’re not going to write the next American manifesto, so now that you know that, you’re free to write a really fun, snappy piece of blogging content that will get your readers talking.

And maybe you can even do it on a road trip to Barstow.

Enzo F. Cesario is an expert on blogs and social media for business and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. For the free Brandsplat Report go to Brandsplat.com or visit our blog at http://www.ibrandcasting.com.

The Blogger’s Ultimate Guide to YouTube Success

This guest post is by Hasan of MarketingTheInternet.

YouTube, the second largest search engine right after Google, in 2010 broke the record of uploading more than 24 hours of video per minute! YouTube has also shattered the millstone of over 700 billion video views.

YouTube is an excellent platform for bloggers to build a brand, connect, and provide value to millions of people at once. It can ultimately help you increase traffic to your blog while quickening the process of building loyalty and trust between you and your audience.

After knowing all the stats and the potential, why don’t bloggers use YouTube more to build our blogs and to reach out to millions of people, free? It’s because most blogger are afraid to get behind a camera and show their faces, and share their voices with such a big audience.

Overcoming the fear of rejection

Most bloggers are afraid to create videos because of the fear of rejection—the fear that people will not like your video or think its not good enough.

The nasty thing about life is that you can’t be liked by everyone. Likewise, there are people in life who bring others down just because they don’t have the guts to do something themselves.

So to find success, you have to break away from this millstone and start believing in yourself and your work. Only then will you start seeing the fruits of success. There will always be a majority of people who will find your video interesting and will benefit from and eventually spread and share your work.

But how do you create an awesome, relevant, and interesting video that people share with their social connections, friends, and family? It all starts with brainstorming ideas that provide value to your viewers and get them to spread and share.

Step 1. Brainstorm and mind-map topics

To create a successful video that people will love and benefit from, you first need to sit down and grab yourself a piece of paper and a pen to start brainstorming topics you want to create a video on in the relevant niche you’re in.

Next, decide which format style you want to record your video on. For example: if it’s a screen cast recording, PowerPoint slides presentation or you talking in front of the camera.

After figuring out what topic and which type of recording you choose to use for your first video, you need to create a mind map of all the key points you’re going to talk about in your video. To create a productive mind map, first write down your topic in the middle of the paper and show arrows pointing outwards with all the key points you’re going to talk about.

Once you’ve drawn a simple, clean mind map of your main topic with the headline and all the key points you’re going to talk about, it’s time to gather the equipment required to record your first video.

Step 2. Gather your equipment

Depending on which type of video you’re creating, whether it is a screen cast recording, PowerPoint slide presentation, or you talking in front of the camera, these are some of the basic equipment you’ll need.

A video camera

To record your video, you need a camera. Any video camera should do the job.

A web cam

If you don’t have a video camera to record with, you can use a web cam to get the job done.

A microphone that’s compatible with your computer

You need a microphone to speak into for a clear recording. Microphones help block out all the background noises in your video.

Camtasia for screen casting

For a video tutorial or PowerPoint slides presentation you need screen casting software to record your computer screen from. The best software for the job is Camtasia. This is easy-to-use software with a very friendly interface for both beginners to advanced users.

Step 3. Record your video [draft version]

After deciding on the topic and equipment you need, it’s time to record your video! When recording your video, keep these tips in mind:

Rehearse your video

It’s a good habit to rehearse the whole video before actually recording, as it will eliminate the chances of things going wrong when you actually start recording.

Focus and speak clearly

Speak clearly into the mic while recording, and don’t go too fast. Take your time and speak with confidence.

While recording any video, it’s easy to get distracted and lose focus on what you’re saying. If your viewers realize that you’re loosing your focus and attention, viewers will loose interest in your video and end up leaving. So stay focused while recording.

Don’t be a perfectionist

Don’t think your video will be perfect. Nobody’s perfect and this is definitely not a “job interview”, so keep your video simple and just provide valuable content to viewers who can benefit from it.

Step 3. Edit your video [final version]

Once you’ve recorded your video, it’s time to edit it and create the final version. For Software editing I recommend:

  • Windows Users: Windows Movie Maker, which is an excellent free tool to edit and create high quality videos on windows.
  • Mac Users: iMovie, which is the best software for editing videos on your Mac. It’s easy and simple to create professional looking videos with ease in no time!

Three quick tips for video editing

  1. Create a simple Intro to capture the attention of your audience.
  2. Tweak and fix any mispronunciations and “muck ups” in your video.
  3. Create a logo of your brand on the top left or right corner of the video to get brand recognition (optional).

Step 4. Upload your video to YouTube

The final step is to upload your awesome creation to YouTube for full exposure.

First, log into your YouTube account and click on the Upload Button on the top right.

Now, click the Upload Video button to upload your video.

As the video starts uploading, fill in the form below it, describing your video with the relevant keywords.

Choose your keywords carefully—they’ll be used to rank your video in searches on YouTube. Don’t use any spammy keywords in your video, as this can violate YouTube’s terms and conditions, which could result in your video being suspended from YouTube.

Three tips for success

  1. Call to action: In your video always ask for people to comment, rate and subscribe your video as this will help your video to rank higher in searches on YouTube.
  2. Be active: Reply to every comment you get on the video to start conversations, as this will encourage more comments and interaction on your video resulting in a higher ranking on YouTube.
  3. Connect with others: After you have uploaded your video, connect and ask your social network, friends and family to watch, comment and share your video. Also start connecting with other YouTubers and ask them to watch your video to spread and share with their friends and subscribers on YouTube.

People love videos because it shows real people and real emotions, so start creating videos that people will benefit from, and build your online presence on YouTube by reaching out to millions of people who spread and share valuable content each day. Video is by far the best way to build your brand and increase traffic to your blog.

Share your experience with video marketing in the comments below!

This guest post is written by Hasan from MarketingTheInternet, Internet Marketing and Make Money from Websites Tips Blog. You can get started with his free Email “Make Money with Websites” Series. Stay in touch with him on twitter @Hasan_tw.