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5 Ways Facebook’s Discussions App Will Make You a Better Blogger

This guest post is by Tommy Walker, Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name.

“Build a community.” You hear it all the time. “Comment on other people’s articles, guest post, and join the conversation.”

One of the problems with the way most online communications systems are set up is that they’re top-down in nature. A blog requires posts before people can comment, Facebook’s Pages require updates if they’re to stand out in the News Feed … the list goes on and on.

And while these methods are essential to community building, getting more comments or tweets or Facebook shares on an article is not an act of community building. You’re building a successful broadcasting platform—sure—but broadcasting to a bunch of people is not community.

Community isn’t defined by a high number of comments, either. Community is defined by the conversation that’s happening between the people leaving comments.

If you want to be an authority, creating killer content is only the first step. A true leader has the ability to embed ideas, spark conversation, and inspire others to rise to the occasion. The next step is to give those you inspire the resources to communicate with each other about the ideas you’ve implanted.

This is where the Facebook Discussions Application comes in.

The Discussions App

1. Facilitate lateral communication

Think of Facebook’s Discussions Application as a poor man’s forum. While it lacks the ability to share photos, link with anchor text, or even give users a signature, it does one thing that’s vital to community building: it allows members to communicate with each other.

Find a healthy balance of topics that you can discuss, and invite readers with whom you have a relationship to start topics on their subject of expertise to help out. Topics can be started by any person who “likes” a Page—they don’t have to be started by the Page administrator.

At first, it’s likely you’ll have to get people into the habit of checking the Discussions tab through status updates, because conversations in the Discussions Application are not published to the News Feed. However, once you’ve got people communicating with each other, your Discussions application will take on a life of its own.

2. Have exclusive conversations

Have a favorite book, tool, or other secret weapon that you’d like to talk about, but it doesn’t quite fit into your content calendar?

Instill a sense of comfort among your community members that encourages them to start conversations that apply to their specific situations. Use the Discussions App to share resources with your community and keep the information exclusive. In other words don’t tweet it, post it on youtube, or blog about it: keep it exclusive to the Discussions tab.

Of course anyone can “like” your Page and gain access to it, but the idea here is to keep little gems tucked away so your loyal and most active readers gain a feeling of exclusivity.

3. Field questions

If all of your content surrounds a specific theme, but a member of your community has a question about something else you’ve established your authority on, the Discussions Application is a great place for them to have a side conversation with you.

One of my clients runs a regional restaurant chain. Fans of their Page frequently use the Discussions App to ask questions about a new stores opening in their area, vegan/vegetarian friendly food, and upcoming events.

Hubspot, an online marketing agency and technology firm, sees frequent queries on their Discussions tab ranging from questions about their products and reports to blog-and-website-101 type questions.

By encouraging your community to ask questions in this setting, you do two things:

  1. If they’re asking a Frequently Asked Question, you can address it in a public setting so others may be able to see it.
  2. You make it possible for other members of your community to show their expertise on a particular subject.

Of course, sometimes not everyone will agree on a particular answer, which brings us to our next use for the Discussions App.

4. Discuss incendiary ideas

Can’t we all just get along? Well, quite honestly sometimes the answer is just plain “No!”

Discussions can be a great tool to either spark or facilitate debates on incendiary topics. Sometimes when a conversation has the heat turned up on it, people come out with their best stuff, so every now and again bring up a topic on which you know people will have opposing and strong viewpoints.

Just a word of warning, though: a good debate can bring a community together—or tear it apart. Your job as the authority is to keep debates respectful and to prevent people from crossing the line.

5. Extend the conversation

Don’t let the conversation die simply because it gets buried in the News Feed. Start a topic in Discussions to extend the conversation further.

One of the perks of being a Page administrator is that all participants of a comment thread are notified when you respond to that thread.

So let’s say for example you publish a status update that, for one reason or another gets a ton of feedback. Chances are that the conversation won’t die simply because it’s no longer interesting. More likely, they’ll die because it’s no longer visible.

Why not start a Topic on the Discussions tab to allow members to continue the conversation? Though the conversation won’t be published to the News Feed, it does bring people a little deeper into the overall experience, giving more meaning to your relationship. Also, depending on the topic, the thread could become a resource that you can link to from time to time.

These are my preferred ways to use the Discussions App to build community around a blog. Have you tried the Discussions App yet? What tips or advice can you add?

Tommy is an Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name. He is about to release Hack The Social Network, the ultimate guide to Facebook Marketing, and is currently developing a “mind hacking” course.

How to Create a Membership Program that Rocks

This is a guest post by Mary Jaksch of A-List Blogging Bootcamps.

Many bloggers dream of adding a membership program to their blog. And with good reason. A membership program can create raving fans, will make your blog stand out, and can even create a great revenue stream. But most membership programs fizzle out because the creator made one or more of five critical mistakes in creating and running it.

In the last couple of years I’ve set up two successful membership programs, the A-List Blogger Club, with over 800 paying members, and the free Goodlife ZEN Fitness Challenge, with over 350 members. And I’ve helped quite a few bloggers to plan and set up successful membership programs. I’ve learned what works, and which mistakes to avoid.

Initial questions

Before I share my tips with you, let’s consider a few important questions.

Is creating a membership program really worthwhile?

A membership program is a lot of additional work for a blogger, so it’s important to think carefully before you establish one. The upside is that a membership program boosts a sense of community on your blog, creates goodwill, and can be a great source of income. The downside is that it’s hard work to maintain a membership site. In other words, you have to work your backside off in order to make it a success.

Paid or free?

Whether you want to create a paid or unpaid membership is a decision you need to make before you start. It’s hard to convert a free program to a paid one without losing most of your members. If you are dead keen on starting a free program, make sure you have a plan of how to monetize it in the future. Otherwise, it will become a drag on your time and energy. (You’ll find some suggestions on how to monetize a free program further down).

What’s your offer?

If you want to create a paid membership program, you need to make a crushing offer in order to get people to join. And you need no-brainer benefits in order to get people to stay.

If you start a paid program, just creating a forum isn’t enough. If you offer some kind of training as well, you’re off to a good start. Because people expect information on the Internet to be free, and they don’t want to spend money in order to just bitch and moan about their life on a private forum. But many are willing to pay for new skills.

For example, for membership of the A-list Blogger Club (which Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and I run jointly) we offer free access to any future A-list Blogging Bootcamps, as well as to all the material of past Bootcamps. Members get a monthly interactive masterclass, plus members-only monthly training seminars. All this for an under-the-radar price of $20 a month. Members regularly tell me that we’re giving away too much. True. It’s our intention.

How can you over-deliver?

Take-home tip: offer “too much” for a price that’s “too low”. It’s not enough to have a crushing offer. There are some important pitfalls you need to avoid if you want to create a successful program. I’ve sighed over many new programs that were doomed to fail, just because the blogger made one of the following mistakes.

5 Critical mistakes that can kill your program

Mistake #1: There isn’t enough momentum

You need momentum in order to start a membership program. That is, you need a bunch of people who are ready and eager to join. I reckon that you need at least 50 members in order to make it work. If you have less than that, the program will most likely fizzle out. Nobody likes hanging out in a dead forum where zilch happens.

When Leo and I started the A-List Blogger Club after our first Bootcamp, we started with 45 members. The first month was touch and go because we had barely enough momentum. I used to post on the forum about ten times a day, just to keep the thing alive. Then, as soon as we hit over 100 subscribers, the forum burst into life.

When I created the Fitness Challenge on Goodlife ZEN, Leo Babauta suggested creating a forum so that members could report how they exercise each day. Over one hundred readers had expressed that they wanted to join the Fitness Challenge in comments on my introductory post. So, from day one, I had over 100 members in the program. Now numbers have swelled to over 350 and the forum is a lively place.

Make sure you have at least 50 people who will start your program from day one.

Mistake #2: You start because you think it’s a good idea.

Many bloggers tell me that they want to start a membership program. I applaud the idea in principle. But warn that it’s not you, the blogger, who needs to think it’s a good idea. Your readers or participants need to clamor for an ongoing program. My suggestion is to create something on your blog that creates a buzz – and only then start a program.

Let me give you an example: Project 333—which was started by Courtney Carver of Be More With Less—is the kind of project that’s begging for a membership program. The project is about creating a wardrobe with only 33 items that you can live, work and play in for three months. The project has had a huge buzz on Facebook, and Courtney is now developing the project on her blog. I see that her latest post about the project has over 100 comments. That’s a sure sign of enough momentum for starting a membership program.

Mistake #3: Your program lacks clear benefits.

You need to give prospective members a good reason to join. I’ve seen a lot of limp programs especially in the self-development field that offer this kind of “benefit”: This program is a place where you can share your journey of development. Boring, right?

What’s important here is to think about what aspirations members share. Common aspirations are the glue that holds members together. For example, fans of Project 333 want to experience practical minimalism, the participants of the Goodlife ZEN Fitness Challenge want to get and stay fit, and the members of the A-List Blogger Club want to become better bloggers.

Once you’ve got the handle on the common aspiration, it’s easy to formulate clear benefits. Just make sure you don’t use what copywriter Clayton Makepeace calls “faux benefits”, that is, features masquerading as benefits.

Mistake #4: You let spammers and ranters into your forum

People who join a membership program get hacked off if they read spam comments in the forum. To scan the forum for spam is one of the necessary tasks of maintaining a good program. Make sure that only registered forum users can post. And assemble a group of moderators to help you with the task of keeping your forum clear of spam and rants.

Set the culture of the forum by responding in a friendly, supportive way to comments. Create guidelines and make sure members adhere to them. If you get nasty people in your program, don’t hesitate to give them a warning, and block them if they continue to flaunt your guidelines.

Mistake #5: You pluck a name out of thin air.

I’m often amazed at the names bloggers come up with for their programs. Take a name like “Cut Your Coat”. You might think that “Cut Your Coat” is a dress-making program. Wrong. It’s about self-development—but who would have thought that?

Make sure that the name of your program clearly states what it’s about. The purpose of the program needs to be self-evident. If you need to explain the name, bin it immediately.

How to monetize a membership program

The best way to monetize a free program is to create digital products that are tailor-made for your ‘captive’ audience. For example, I’m in the process of creating ebooks and podcasts about fitness and motivation for the Fitness Challenge at Goodlife ZEN. The key is to create products that can help your members to participate successfully in the program.

If you run a paid membership program, you can create courses or digital products to sell to your members. Survey your members to find out which relevant skills they would like to develop.

How to set up a membership program

Setting up a free membership program is easy. All you need to do is to add a forum to your blog. I use the free WordPress plugin Simple:Press. It may not the best forum software, but it’s easy to install, and it preserves the appearance and branding of your blog.

If you want to set up a paid membership site, I suggest using the WordPress plugin Wishlist Member. It’s a premium plugin and costs $97—but it’s worth it. Wishlist can be adapted to many different program structures. And it’s easy to integrate with payment processors, such as Paypal or 1Shopping Cart, or with email responder services, such as AWeber, or Mailchimp.

So should you create a membership program right away?

Whatever your plans for a membership program may be, don’t be in a hurry to create it—especially if it’s going to be free. Wait until you have enough momentum, as well as a real reason for setting up a program. Then think carefully about the structure you are aiming for. You need to know exactly what you want to offer, and how you are going to deliver it in your program.

Don’t settle for mediocre. Instead, create something of real value. Most of all, be insanely useful. Create something that can change lives.

Over to you—if you’ve run a membership program, what are your tips?

Mary Jaksch has created the Great Fitness Challenge on her blog Goodlife ZEN. She is passionate about blogging and is co-founder of the A-List Blogger Club.

How to Break Your Blog Traffic Addiction

This guest post is by John Burnside of MoneyIn15Minutes.

My name is John Burnside and I am a recovering traffic addict.

I got sucked into the analytics quicksand, and barely got out alive! I used to wake up in the morning and check how many hits I had over night. I used to stay up until after 12, even if I was tired, because that is when the day’s Google Analytics results came out. As soon as I got a mobile phone that could access the internet anywhere and everywhere I wanted that was when I was truly lost to my cravings. I would check at least once an hour and sometimes twice.

The thing with traffic addiction is that checking up on your traffic then leads on to more procrastination. ‘I’ve had one more person on my blog. Maybe they sent me an email or a comment?’ Then you go and check your emails and log in to your admin area. The list could go on and on and you can make that cycle last all day (I know because it’s been done!). This means that you will actually do nothing towards getting more traffic and you will end up just watching your traffic get smaller and smaller which is exactly the opposite of what you watch traffic for.

Hopefully these techniques that I’m about to share will help you, just like they have helped me, to actually get on with something that will help your blog.

Method 1. Rigorous planning

Now I know the nature of the traffic addict is not to plan. That is how I got stuck in the rut in the first place. I would say to myself, “I’ll just check this while I am thinking of what to do.”

The way to get around this is to plan out your day to the letter the day before. Give yourself tasks and time limits for the next day that you are going to work on your blog. If you are part-time, then plan when you are going to work and what you are going to work on during that time. Do not use the excuse, “I only have a couple of minutes.” A couple of minutes is enough time to get a bit of exposure for your blog.

Go to another blog and write a comment or have a look on a forum to see if anything interesting has been talked about that, day and if there is anything you can help with. That only takes a second, but that work will stay online helping you for a long time with a backlinks and, we hope, relevant traffic.

Method 2. Restrict the times when you look at your statistics

This method is very basic and reminds me of dieting or quitting cigarettes. Simply do not allow yourself to look at your emails or your analytics outside a certain time of the day. Write down all of the things that are included in your “procrastination list” and then give yourself a small window of time during the day that you are allowed to check them.

This is the method I use to restrict myself from checking all day. I have allowed myself to look at them first thing when I wake up and then after I have finished my work for that day. Also for the morning check so that I actually start work I actually time myself and give myself a 15-minute limit. I realize this sounds a little extreme, but when I look back over how much time I have wasted when I could have been expanding my blog, I know the restriction was worth it.

Method 3. Replace the cravings

This method is very simple and I think of it a bit like shocking the system out of the habit. As soon as you think of going to check up on your stats, redirect your activity. By this, I mean change that thought into something constructive. For example, every time you have that bad thought of wasting time, do something else like write an article or socialize on your networks (yes, this can also be a form of procrastination, but that’s another article entirely!). After doing this for a little while, you will soon get into the habit of doing constructive things.

Once you employ these methods, you will start to see results very soon in your traffic rankings. Keep in mind that everything you are doing instead of checking up on your statistics will stay online and help you for a long time. Checking your stats does nothing to help you.

My name is John Burnside and I am an internet entrepreneur. If you want to learn more about blogging or making money online then please subscribe to my feed.

How Your Blog Can Score You Free Travel

This guest post is written by Anthony from The Travel Tart.

When I first started my travel website in 2009, I just wanted to get my travel writing out there, because I was frustrated with the way traditional media worked. Little did I know that having an online presence would lead to opportunities for press trips to all corners of the globe, and I did this from scratch!

Fiji's Coral Coast (image is author's own)In 2010 alone, I went on press trips to Fiji, the United Kingdom and South Africa. I have also recently become partners with a major adventure travel company that will provide more opportunities for press trips in the coming year.

When I talk about press trips, I mean trips where all expenses such as flights, meals, accommodation, and activities are covered. Considering I only started my blog in 2009 with virtually zero knowledge of how the Internet worked, that’s pretty good!

Would you like to use your travel blog to travel the world? This is what I’ve learned from my experiences.

Blogging has advantages over traditional media

Traditional media such as newspapers, radio, and television have a scattergun approach: they broadcast all sorts of information to everyone, but this information isn’t relevant or interesting to all of these eyeballs.

However, being a blogger with an online presence means that one can use multimedia such as writing, photography and video for the website. These media can be used to portray the same story in different ways.

The blog media offer numerous benefits over traditional media:

  • Speed: bloggers can post something about an experience on the day, and start attracting traffic immediately. Traditional media people have to write the story, submit it to an editor, wait for approval, and then have the piece published—a process that can often take weeks or even months
  • Using photography and video footage can show an experience, instead of telling it. Newspapers and magazines can’t do this. For example, try writing about an experience such as bungee jumping off a perfectly stable rock ledge for a 70 metre freefall. This video communicates the experience much more effectively.
  • You can create multiple articles from one trip. I normally do a blogging campaign for these press trips by producing numerous posts, with each one focusing on something different from the trip. The number of posts per trip varies depending on what I experience. As an example, I’ve created 15-20 posts for a two-week press trip, and scheduled these to publish over time.
  • The biggest benefit of being a blogger is that you can attract targeted, long-term Internet traffic that has an indefinite shelf life. For example, if someone is Googling “South African Adventure Travel”, you can be sure they’re specifically looking for information on that topic. Also, because people are specifically searching keywords via search engines, this means the traffic consists of people who are interested in these topics, and are therefore more likely to take notice of the information you provide. It’s laser-focusing for your content!

Now I’m going to assume you already have a travel-related blog, or a blog with a strong focus, so I’m not going to tell you how to write travel posts. Instead, I want to explain the techniques I’ve used to build my profile as a travel blogger with the organizations I’ve approached and had sponsor my trips.

Get started

I sell the above benefits of having an online presence, and promote what I can do for a company or tourist commission—and back it up with evidence.

For example, I’ve turned up to travel exhibitions in my town because there are usually tourism commission and other travel industry stands there. Then I start talking to someone at the stand, as they’re usually a public relations employee. This is how I scored one of my press trips.

Also, I use business cards and hand them out as they’re relatively cheap, and I’ve found they’re a great icebreaker.

On the press trip itself

I’ve often been the only travel blogger for most of the press trips I’ve been on—and that means I can be a writer, photographer, and video production person all at the same time!

However, the trips provide exposure to other travel-related contacts, which expands my network and opens up more opportunities—ironically—in traditional media! I’ve also received great feedback from these guys about how video can capture a travel experience so well.

Be proactive and follow up

I have followed up all of these press trips with a report that details the Internet traffic my reports have attracted, video views achieved, and Google Keyword positions for the organization that paid for my trip. Along with this information I include traffic strategies the organization might like to consider, such as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon etc.), and so on. This all builds up a body of evidence for my clients, and an even strong track record for me.

Your blog is your advantage

Having an online presence can give you a number of huge advantages over traditional media.

I feel that the biggest advantage is that the Internet is quantifiable. You can provide clients or trip sponsors with traffic statistics, information on where traffic comes from, and even data on how long visitors stay on your site.

Getting on the first press trip is the hardest. But if you can demonstrate a track record of attracting targeted Internet traffic beforehand, your chances of scoring that first one will be much higher. And once you have that track record, you’ll be invited on more press trips! This is how your blog can create opportunities that lead to free travel.

If you’ve managed to score free travel thanks to your blog, what other tips can you add?

Anthony writes about the funny, offbeat and downright weird aspects of world travel today. For more information, you can visit his Facebook Page or sign up for his RSS Feed.

8 Tips To Launch Successful Challenges at Your Blog

This guest post is by Celestine Chua of The Personal Excellence Blog.

Earlier this year, I launched a challenge called 30 Days To Live a Better Life (30DLBL) on my blog. This is a 30-day challenge where participants complete one task a day, for 30 days in the month, that will help them live a better life. When I created 30DLBL, it was breath of fresh air—I’d not seen any such personal development challenges around at the time, and it was fun to do something different rather than just write articles every week. I was very excited about my challenge, and thought I’d probably get about 100 people joining in, or 200 people max.

I was proven wrong. The minute the post went live, there were already a handful of participants. By the end of the day, there were over 100 participants. The number slowly exploded to 200, 300, 500, 800 … to over 1,200 excited participants all over the world, all ready to transform their lives in the next 30 days! Not only that, but people were tweeting about 30DLBL, blogging about it, sharing it on Facebook, and telling all their friends about it. Some readers even specially created new blogs just to blog about their 30DLBL experience. Needless to say, the response totally blew me away!

The 30-day challenge was extremely successful, and many participants’ lives changed in unimaginable ways that month. Many of them rediscovered themselves on a whole new level, set new goals, and created new plans for their future. It was so successful that I later launched a guidebook and a workbook on the upgraded version of 30DLBL. The book sold over 200 copies in less than two weeks of launch, and last month I did a second run of the challenge, with many more runs planned in the future.

Some bloggers have also been inspired by the success of 30DLBL and are launching their own 30/31-day challenges, and it’s great to see them getting down to engage their communities.

Why run a challenge?

First off, you might wonder, why run a challenge? There are four key reasons:

  1. Create a breath of fresh air: At that time I launched the challenge, I’d already been running The Personal Excellence Blog for about 1.5 years. After 1.5 years of writing article after article, I wanted to have a 30-day challenge as a breath of fresh air, as Darren did with his challenge, 31 Days To Build a Better Blog. The challenge was designed to complement what I write at the site. It was very much welcomed by the readers.
  2. Help readers apply what you teach: Even while we may be writing down the most important insights in our articles, it’s a whole different thing altogether to apply that advice to real life. Some readers may not fully comprehend what you’re writing, while some readers may not know how to apply your insights. A challenge helps them take action.
  3. Engage readers: A challenge lets readers become involved. It makes them feel like they’re a part of your site. Launching 30DLBL helped me get up close and personal with my readers in a completely new way. At the end of the 30 days, I’d developed a very close bond with many of my readers.
  4. Form a community: With the launch of 30DLBL, I saw the first signs of a true community forming around my blog—a community where readers interact with each other, care for one another, and really help each other grow. This made me very excited about what’s ahead.

Eight tips for running a successful challenge

Here, I’ll share with you eight tips to help you run a successful challenge on your blog.

1. Evaluate the role of a challenge in your blog

Some bloggers may prefer to write articles, which is totally fine. Challenges are not necessarily for everyone. Figure out whether you do want to run challenges as part of your blog, and how regularly you want to do them. It can be a once-in-a-while project—for example, Darren runs 31DBBB at Problogger about once every few years. Or it can be a regular affair, which is what I’m planning for my blog.

I love interacting with my readers, getting up close and personal with them, and growing side-by-side with them, and I see a challenge as the perfect platform for me to know them better. Last month I finished a second run of 30DLBL with great success, and it’s now part of my plan to have three 30DLBL challenges every year. On the other hand, I launched a new 21 Days To a Healthier Me challenge in January ’11, where people all around the world get together to live a healthier life for 21 days. I’m planning more new challenges in the months ahead, to get more readers to join in and participate. Through these challenges, I’ve gotten to know my readers on a much personal level than I had previously with just writing articles.

2. Ensure you have a sizable reader base

Before you kick off a challenge, you’ve to ensure that you have a sizable reader base. The last thing you want to do is to have a challenge that no one’s participating in! Bear in mind that there’ll always be dropouts throughout the challenge, so if you have 100 people signing up, you might very well end up with only ten people towards the last week, and that will pull down the momentum. So the more participants you can get starting the challenge on Day 1, the better.

When I kicked off 30DLBL, I had almost 10,000 subscribers. I believe you’re good to go if you have at least 5,000 active subscribers, though I’ve seen people launch challenges with only 500 subscribers and they went well. In those cases,  the outreach was smaller by comparison, and the community, while small, was tight-knit.

3. Offer a tangible, compelling benefit

Your challenge should have a tangible, compelling benefit that draws people to participate. Since people have to dedicate time to the challenge, the benefit has to be something attractive. For 30DLBL, the benefit is about living a better life, and that’s something which was very compelling to many. After all, as growth-oriented people, we’re always looking for ways to grow and improve our lives.

Your challenge should be relevant to the topic of your site. It’s going to be quite strange if your blog’s about cooking and you run a challenge that’s on making money! Since I run a personal development blog, 30DLBL was a great complement to what I’d been writing at the blog. It was a great way to reinforce the ideas and concepts I’ve been sharing since the blog started.

Besides it being a direct complement, your benefit can be a subset of your site’s offering. Think about what your site is about, then brainstorm on the various sub categories that fall under the theme of your site. Are there any noteworthy topics worth starting a challenge on? The Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days challenge I just ran this month has been a great success. While some may think that health and personal development are unrelated, it works as healthy living is part of living a better life. People who are interested in personal development are the same people who want to pay attention to their health and fitness too.

4. Allow enough time for people to join

I posted the announcement post for 30DLBL five days before it started, which provided enough lead time for people to find out about the challenge, share with their friends, and join in. At the same time, I think it would have been better if I posted it earlier. Overall, one week should be more than enough time for you to promote the challenge and spread the word.

5. Set a proper duration: 30 days, 21 days—whatever suits

It’s up to you to design your challenge the way you want. I recommend making it a daily challenge, since it’ll be easier to follow. Duration-wise, I recommend 30 or 31 days (where participants can dedicate a whole month to it), or 21 days if you think 30 days is too long. 30DLBL was, of course, 30 days long, whereas my healthy living challenge was 21 days long. Anything longer than one month will be too long—participants will be likely to lose steam before it finishes.

6. Create channels for participants to engage with one another

A successful challenge is one that allows the participants to interact with one another—not just to interact with you. Establish channels for them to engage with one another. With 30DLBL, I initiated a twitter hashtag of #30DLBL, so that participants can connect with one another. I also created a new forum, with a sub-forum dedicated to the challenge so readers could have their own space to interact with one another. This approach worked very well. Participants used these platforms to give each other support and encouragement, and at the end of the process, many new friendships and bonds had been formed. Many of them added each other on Facebook afterward, and stayed in touch through the forums and Facebook.

7. Make your challenge tasks easy to follow

If you make your challenge tasks daily (which I recommend), you want to make them easy to follow. Don’t set tasks which take a week to complete. If your challenge is too tough, your readers may get discouraged and give up mid-way. This will defeat the whole purpose of the challenge to begin with! Make the tasks easy to process—break them up into mini-steps and spell everything out in layman’s terms.

For example, when I first ran 30DLBL, there were several tasks that made the participants feel discouraged, because they couldn’t finish them on time. Subsequently, they kept putting off the tasks and eventually disappeared off the radar. Hence, in my upgraded version of 30DLBL, I revised the tasks such that they could be completed in 30 minutes to one hour, if the person made an effort to do so.

8. Be in tune with your participants’ needs

Your participants are the backbone of your challenge, so stay in tune with their progress every step of the way. Observe what’s happening at ground level. If there’s something going awry, step in to help out. Throughout 30DLBL, my site received over a thousand comments from readers. I read through as many comments as I could and replied to all the questions that they asked. I also made a point of responding to as many participant comments as possible, so that they would be encouraged to share more. This created a tightly-knit community around my challenge.

I also noticed after four or five days in the challenge, some participants were falling behind. Hence, I introduced a three-day break after the first week, so the participants who were falling behind could catch up. It was very much welcomed and many participants were able to regroup themselves and get back into the challenge after that.

Moving forward

Challenges can be resource-intensive, but they definitely pay off. Your readers become more engaged, you help to make a positive difference in their lives, and you can build a community for your site. It’s up to you whether you want to create one, and what you want it to be about.

For me, running 30DLBL has been an extremely rewarding experience, and it’s not going to end there. I’ve planned a series of new challenges which I look forward to completing with my readers. Have you ever run, or considered creating, a challenge for your blog? Tell us about it in the comments.

Celestine writes at The Personal Excellence Blog on how to achieve excellence and live your best life. Check out the life changing 30DLBL program and live a better life in the next 30 days. Get free ebooks 101 Things To Do Before You Die and 300 Inspiring Quotes of All Time now by signing up for her free newsletter.

Fundraise $1000 with Your Blog in 3 Days

This guest post is by Eric Kim of Erickimphotography.com.

When I first got into blogging about street photography, I told myself that I wasn’t going to sell out to the man, and that I would keep my blog as ad-free as I could. The reason I decided this was to keep it more of a passion and a hobby, rather than a job. I enjoyed writing my blog posts for my audience, as well as engaging them with questions while even getting some people to write guest posts for me.

Eric with the workshop team (author's own image)

One day, one of my blog posts, titled “101 Things I Learned About Street Photography”, went viral and brought 3,000 visitors to my blog in one day (I averaged about 100 visitors a day at that time). Then, a photography workshop director in Beirut, Lebanon, emailed me to ask me to teach a street photography workshop.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic and very excited about the trip. However, there was a problem. I didn’t have the $1100 at the time to afford a round-trip ticket to Beirut. The organization holding the workshop was able to fund my lodging and expenses, but not my flight.

When all hope seemed lost, my girlfriend suggested that I reach out to the community on my blog and try to fundraise for my air ticket. I thought it would be nearly impossible to fundraise the necessary funds for my trip, but I thought it would be worth a try.

Fast-forward three days. I had $1100 in my Paypal account for a round-trip ticket to Beirut to teach my street photography workshop. I ended up having the trip of a lifetime, meeting some of the most cordial and amazing people, and taking inspirational photos as well.

Now, perhaps you’re not looking to finance a trip to boost your career. Maybe you want to raise funds for a charity or cause that’s important to you. Or perhaps you want to be able to donate money to a specific appeal. Using your blog to raise funds for a cause you care about is a very fulfilling, enjoyable thing to do. Here’s how I did it.

1. Have a personal connection with your community

Well before I started fundraising for this trip, I had a very strong and personal connection with my community. On my Facebook fan page, I regularly ask for my audience’s input and opinions about certain issues, and try my best to address everybody by his or her first name. Not only that, but I also try my best to reply to every single comment I get on my blog personally.

I genuinely believe in human generosity and kindness. People want other people to achieve their dreams. When I asked people to donate, I asked them to help be a part of achieving my dream—which was to go to Beirut. Also, the fact that my mission was not selfish, but sprang from my wanting to spread my love of street photography to other places, helped tremendously.

2. Chart your progress

Whenever I got a donation, I charted my progress on my blog. I made a percentage bar in Photoshop, and would update it every time somebody donated to my cause, helping me get closer and closer to that 100% mark. This way, I relied on game mechanics to spark action; people wanted to see me reach that 100% mark and had a reason to donate. Making the experience much more visual helps out tremendously.

3. Use various social media platforms

When I was asking for donations, I accessed all of my social media platforms. This included Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and my blog. Being able to effectively leverage each platform helped me reach different audiences, all of which believed in my cause. Only utilizing one social media platform is selling yourself short, as kindness is very wide-spread on the Internet.

4. Thank your donors personally

Once somebody donated to my cause, I gave him or her a heart-felt and personal response, thanking them for their generosity. This way the person who donated to your cause feels great in helping you, and motivated to spread the word. Which goes to my next point…

5. Ask others to spread the word

It never hurts to ask other people to support your cause. Simple things such as updating their statuses on Facebook or sending out tweets truly helps out a lot. Imagine if you had 100 fans, and each of them updated their Facebook statuses, asking for their contacts to help. Now let’s also assume that the average person has around 200 friends on Facebook. That means that your message is being broadcast to at least an audience of 2000, which can continue to ripple outwards if other people believe in your cause as well.

6. Make a video

When I asked my donors to support my cause, I recorded a video, uploaded it to YouTube, and spread it far and wide. Why use a video rather than just writing? Well, when you record a video, people can truly see the face behind the computer—the person they will be donating to. Also, in hearing you ask for support in real life, people feel more secure donating to you, as they know you aren’t some random scammer on the Internet. Show your spirit, personality, and charisma. It truly goes a long way.

7. Have a “donor list”

People love to be honored, and to see their names in public places. Think about all the famous memorials you have been to, which have the names of donors embedded into the bricks that make the memorial. I did the same with my blog. Whenever somebody donated to my cause, I wrote their name in a “donors list” which was proudly displayed at the front of my homepage. Importantly, I made sure not to display how much money they each donated, as I saw that to be a bit too intrusive.

8. Have a minimum suggested donation

Most people love donating to causes, but aren’t sure how much to donate (which prevents them from donating altogether). For my campaign, I asked for a minimum donation of $5. I did end up getting many donations worth $5, but surprisingly enough, the majority of people who donated either gave $20 or $25. If you set a minimum suggested donation, people will know what the standard will be, and will even donate more if they truly believe in your cause.

9. Go big

During my fundraising campaign, I was able to net $300 in donations in the first two days via Paypal. However, what really got me over to Lebanon was a $800 donation from a Swedish street photographer named Thomas Leuthard. He heard about my cause through Twitter, and after seeing my passion and how badly I wanted this trip, he offered to sponsor the remainder of my trip. He also told me that he was looking for some adventure as well, and asked me if he could accompany me to the workshop.

He actually ended up being the guest speaker for my street photography workshop, and after meeting in person overseas, we made a strong friendship and relationship.

10. Share your experiences

People who donated to your cause love to see the fruits of their labor. When you come back from your trip, share your experiences! I took many photos of the people of Beirut, Lebanon, and shared them in this post. Not only that, but I also shared the slides from the workshop that I did for free—for those who wanted to attend but couldn’t.

Have you ever used your blog to raise funds? How did you do it, and what tips can you share?

Eric Kim is a street photographer based in Los Angeles. He shoots, blogs, and tweets about everything street photography. You can check out his work on his blog, and also connect with him on Facebook.

My 5 Favorite, but Often Ignored, Analytics Features

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

The wonderful thing about working online is that our work is just so measurable.

In just about every other industry, a lot of decisions are based on sample data, or assumptions, or just on gut feel. But online, we can measure just about everything for 95%+ of our visitors—yay for us!

In our world of pretty graphs and statistics, we have are a stack of options to ensure we’ve got our eyes on the numbers. But when it comes to bang for buck (i.e. lots of value for no outlay) there really is no equal, in my opinion, to Google Analytics—and it just keeps getting better.

I’m sure a lot of you are already feeling the Google love with Analytics—and if you’re an addict like me, you’re using it on a daily basis. So I thought I’d share my five favorite, but often ignored, features of Google Analytics.

1. Custom Reports

There are so many levels, layers, and measures in the Google Analytics interface that I often used to waste time attempting to find my first stop in the system: reports.


Custom Reports changed that. Not only does this feature allow for a myriad of different perspectives and data, but you can also save each report and head back to it at a moment’s notice. This video is a good starting point to understanding how to make the most of custom reports.

2. Scheduled Reports

Actually remembering to jump into Analytics to make sure you’re across everything can be a challenge. Scheduled Reports make the job much easier.

You’ll probably have certain reports you’ll look at more often than others. If you click on the little email icon on the top-right of a report, you’ll be able to set up a schedule so that that report’s delivered to you via the inbox.

This is a great way to ensure that your busy schedule is not getting in the way of you knowing what’s happening on your site.

3. Navigational Summary

In December I wrote about the concept of sales funnels, and a lot of you asked how on Earth you can manage to measure all those steps. Well, the Navigational Summary report will get you started.

It covers the essential details for each page view, including where the user came from (another page, external site), and then where they went to (exit, another page)—plus everything in between. This is a key report to start understanding browsing behaviors on your critical pages. You can access the navigational summary through the Content section. I tend to use the Content Drilldown report to find the specific pages I’m after, then click the Navigational Summary for their specific metrics.

4. eCommerce and the $ Index

When you set up ecommerce tracking in Google Analytics, you open up a whole new world of insight. It’s a feature that’s only useful for those selling online, but it’s scarily accurate and amazingly insightful.

Goals Overview

With eCommerce set up, not only can you see reports on the products you’re selling, and how much money you’re earning, but you can also start to track them back to other pages in your site. You might find that particular types of blog post generate more revenue per page view—and that’s where the $ Index kicks in.

With this metric you’ll know the average income per visit to each page or collection of pages on your site. Unfortunately setting this up is not straightforward, and you might need a little help. There’s a good article on the Analytics blog that will help get you moving. Sorry I can’t show a good screen shot of this—the information was too sensitive for the other sites I have access to.

5. Goals and Funnels

Almost all websites have some sort of desired visitor action. It might be to buy something, to fill out a contact form, to download a sample, or even just look at a bunch of other pages. Setting up goals in Google allows you to track these goals like a fox. You get insight into the overall performance of your site, but you can also track back every step of the way.

Unfortunately, like eCommerce, this feature can be a little tricky to set up and is something you might wish to get help with. I won’t go into too much detail on how to do this—it’s all covered on the Analytics blog.

Warning: Analytics is Like Quicksand

I often tell people that Google Analytics is a little like quick sand. Once you make that first step, it starts to really suck you in, and a short time later you’re stuck for good. More time passes and all of a sudden your head goes under—everything goes dark and you have no idea where you are.

It’s at that point that too many people go back to assumptions and guesswork, murmuring something about leaving “all that statistics guff” to the eggheads. If you’ve fallen into the Analytics quicksand, my recommendation is to keep things simple. Identify ten key metrics you want to measure, create a report or set of reports that deliver you those metrics, and review them over time. Once you’re comfortable, move a little deeper.

The more you understand about your business, the better-informed decisions you can make—and it’s the decisions that will make or break your business, not the numbers.

As I mentioned, Google Analytics in my favorite stats package, but I’d love to hear about any other stats packages you’re using and how you’re finding them in the comments. Or perhaps you can highlight your favorite functions of Googe Analytics that I’ve not covered…

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger.

My Dad Held the Keys to an Untapped Niche Market

This guest post is by Ainslie Hunter of CoursesThatMatter.com.

When entrepreneurs start online they usually blog about what they know. For me, that was study skills. It is not the sexiest thing to talk about, and actually a hard niche market to crack, but it my first website and has led to some paid blogging jobs in education.

But I was making no money and very few students are interested in commenting on such a site.

So I had a beer with a ProBlogger!

Have you ever seen a tweet from Darren that says “Come over to Ustream and let’s have a chat”? Well I did and one comment really captured my attention. I’m paraphrasing, but Darren was asked whether he thought he could start a successful blog in any niche market. He thought it was an interesting experiment and believed it could be done.

Enter: My Dad!

My dad owned supermarkets. And now he owns cutting horses. Cutting is an amazing horse competition that originated in the US. Here is a short video that explains cutting better than I can (there is no blood involved, just a horse and a rider trying to keep a cow away from a heard).

Dad had spent the last nine months listening to me banging on about blogging and social media, connecting through stories, and making money online.

So one day we sat down and he showed me some very popular websites for people involved in the sport of cutting. And I was shocked! They were truly ugly flash sites, plastered with awful advertisements and outdated content.

But they were all making money.

The Site is Born

Cutting Horse Link is the newest cutting horse website online, created by yours truly and her dad. Dad writes the posts, and I edit them. Dad turns up to cutting horse shows on the weekends and hands out our flyers. I hustle online, interact through horse forums, and connect via Facebook.

And together we have created a successful online business. Yes, business! In four months we already have a loyal following of members who are approaching us and asking for us to promote them. We have major advertisers and are paying our first writer.

We’re making money quicker than we expected.

How Good Bloggers Stand out in the Crowd

I believe good bloggers can be successful in any niche market. Here’s why.

Our sites will stand out in the crowd

Blog-based sites look different from others. And that is good. It was obvious as soon as a cutting horse fan clicked on our site that we had something different. Cutting Horse Link focused on personal stories, while the other sites put the Sales Barn right out in front.

We know stories are more important than sales

Our site also speaks differently than our competitors’ do. We are more personal in our stories. We link to other people (including our competitors). I post photos of professional horse riders playing tennis in their spurs. I have a section called “Gooseneck Gossip” and we shoot videos of ourselves and post audio interviews from key industry personalities.

We understand wait time

Bloggers know that community takes time to develop. Within this niche market the most common question I have been asked is “What is in it for me?” Because I wasn’t selling anything, the community didn’t trust the site. But that was okay. I knew that if I kept to our writing schedule that people would come to the site. Surprisingly, they came very quickly.

We know connections are the key

Straight up, dad and I knew we couldn’t do it all by ourselves. So we developed connections with various groups in cutting—youth, parents, trainers, riders, photographers, and even other websites. We took the time to promote them and then asked if they would do the same. This is really important if you are considered an outsider in the niche market. Connections matter. We were able to convince a pro trainer and one of the largest horse breeders to be interviewed by us, which led to more traffic—and more trust.

We nail the technical stuff

From the beginning, I had an editorial schedule for the blog. I made sure I had a newsletter from Day 1. And I took the time to make sure that the posts and titles were SEO-friendly. I am surprised at how much traffic we get just from search engines. If I didn’t know SEO strategies, we would certainly be struggling.

Don’t forget the first rule of blogging

If you are going to attempt to write a blog in a niche market you are unfamiliar with, you mustn’t forget the most important rule: content is king! So you need a partner, someone who knows the audience. There is absolutely no way I could do this site without my father. He knows our audience, and knows what stories will interest them. He can pick the trends before they happen and he knows the correct language to use.

My role in the partnership is more as editor or online strategist. I do the technical stuff and model strategies from other successful online businesses.

And together we are having so much fun. Dad now walks around quoting Crush It, and is a big hit on Facebook. Sure, he doesn’t know how to use WordPress and I can’t get him to consider tweeting yet. But he writes great stories and understands that online connections are just the same as those we make in real life.

So next time you are at a family dinner don’t hide in front of the TV or spend the whole time tweeting on your iPhone. Sit and listen to your aunt as she describes her new patchwork quilt or ask your grandfather about his model train collection. You might just find an untapped online business gold mine!

Ainslie Hunter is a busy blogger of Study Skills and Cutting Horses. You will also find her transforming ecourses and writing about why teaching matters Find her on Twitter @ainsliehunter

How Cancer Changed My Blog

This post is by Karl Staib of Work Happy Now.

I was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer. Yes, the dreaded c word. It’s probably not what you are thinking. I don’t look at this health issue as an anchor. I look at this as an opportunity for growth.

I’ve been blogging for over three years. Each year I’ve gone through unique pains.

The pain of no one reading my blog eventually transformed to Forbes.com contacting me and naming my blog one of the top 100 blogs for women. It’s been an amazing blogging journey.

I want to share how a major illness has shifted and improved my blog. It has been a journey that has bruised my ego, but it has also lifted me to new heights.

Blogging is not easy, every blogger will tell you that, especially when also dealing with personal issues. There are so many factors that can derail your progress if you don’t stay focused.

Put the important stuff first

You know that you need to put the important stuff first, but how do you figure out what’s important and what’s not?

You have to see where your present wins are coming from and figure out how to expand on them. I teach people to leverage their superpowers and bloggers are no different. You have your strengths, passions, and the work that puts you in the zone. All of these actions need to be pushed to the front.

Too many people say to focus on your strengths and you’ll be successful. That’s not true. You may be a great writer, but if you write about the wrong subject you are never going to thrive. You must take a holistic approach to your work. If you are crazy about music, but can’t seem to string your notes together then you won’t thrive either. It’s all about creating synergy between your passions, strengths, and focus. All three must be present for your action to be a superpower.

When you do work that gets you excited every day, it’s easier to keep your energy level high and stay productive. You have to have a system. Everybody’s system is different. Leo loves to write in the morning. Darren loves to do work in batches. The most important thing is that they put their passions at the top of the list and so should you.

Don’t be afraid to reach out

Blogs are dependent upon people not just following your posts, but also sharing your blog with others. That means you have to find the people who are willing to share your stuff with their friends. This is hard and I struggled with this concept in the first couple of years.

Since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve been more willing to put myself out there to be found by someone like you. I don’t care if I get rejected. The fear is just a little less intense.

Because the fear is less intense, I’m more willing to market my coaching or my brand.

You have to realize that you only have a finite number of days on this earth. If you want your blog to get to the next level you have to find people who will tell their friends about it. You have to connect with people in your niche and find a way to encourage other people’s audience to visit your blog on a regular basis. I know you know this, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. You have to test out a lot of different blogs until you find one that connects with your style.

Stop letting your frustration dictate your choices

I could have given up on my blog a long time ago. I have a full-time job, a wife, a kid, and not much time. My cancer would have been a perfect excuse to give up. Believe me, there have been times when I really wanted to do just that.

I didn’t give up because I know that I’m on a mission to help people leverage their superpowers. I want to help people change the world. It’s why I love working with bloggers. They are the type of people that are creative and passionate. They aren’t always sure how to get to point b, but they really do want to get there.

Your frustrations can take over if you let them, and they’ll wreck your happiness and relationships. You constantly have to be working with your emotions and using them to fuel your actions. Don’t not let them hold you back.

You can deal with your frustrations by taking time to process your emotions. I like to do a ten-minute meditation every morning and every night. It helps me set up my day and process my feelings each night. This mental exfoliating process is what keeps me balanced.

You may not like meditation, but you need to take time to process your emotions every single day. When you create this habit, you’ll improve your productivity and creativity. I promise.

Use a day each week to rest

As a blogger you have access to your work wherever you go. You can write a blog in any country, check your Facebook and Twitter account in any coffee shop, and build more connections at every comment on your friends’ blogs.

I’ve seen too many bloggers burn out because they go non-stop for too long and don’t enjoy the process. Blogging is a skill that takes time to develop, especially in this overcrowded age.

You have to take time to relax.

After discovering I had cancer and having it removed, I took a short time off from blogging. After a few days I quickly got back to it, but realized that I can’t go seven days a week any longer. I should never have been going seven days a week. I needed more time to relax and enjoy my family and life.

I’ve been blogging, networking and planning six days a week and I feel so much better. Sundays are no longer for blogging; whatever I don’t get done Monday through Saturday can wait until the following Monday. The best part about this new routine is that I get just as much done. I’m a little more focused, and I make sure that I get everything done by Saturday night.

You have to find time to relax that brain of yours. There is nothing wrong with posting seven times a week, but if you are constantly checking your stats, email, and whatever else you do all the time then you are missing out on life. You have to be willing to relax and let your mind recharge.

No pity

I’m not writing this post to gain your pity. I’m here to tell you that we have a short amount of time on this earth no matter how you look at it.

Bloggers are one of the luckiest groups of people on the internet. They have the superpower of communication. You can write, podcast, or video cast coherently. That’s a beautiful talent that you must optimize. You are changing people’s lives for the better. It’s up to you to find a way to take your setbacks and make you smarter, stronger and more widely read.

Have you ever been sick or had a family member become sick and had to adjust your blogging work load? What did you do and how did it change your blog?

Karl Staib is a career coach who helps people leverage their superpowers! If you enjoyed this article, you may want to check him out on or join his free 10 Part eCourse to a Happier and More Successful You.