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Blogosphere Trends + Unicorns

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

Okay, okay, so we’re not actually talking about unicorns…but even though it’s a vital part of your blog’s tone and voice, I didn’t think you’d click on anything that sounded as deceptively unsexy and unexciting as what we’re actually discussing this week, which is grammatical person. Wait! Before you zone out, stick with me for a sec: It’s not as bad as it sounds. Grammatical person is simply means that you’re either referring to yourself (first person), your reader (second person), or a third party (third person). And, um, like a unicorn, it often goes unnoticed and can be exceptionally helpful. (I’m trying, you guys.)

Every time you sit down to write a post, you make choices. Some, such as your topic and headline, are likely to be very deliberate. Others, such as grammatical person, probably happen without much scrutiny—but even if you aren’t pausing to consider person (we’ll drop the “grammatical” now ’cause I know it freaks some people out), it impacts the strength of every post you write. That’s why I’ve chosen some posts about the ten most blogged-about stories of the last week (provided, as always, by Regator) to illustrate the importance of choosing the right person. Let’s take a look:

  1. Oil Spill – Writing in the third person (using pronouns such as ‘he,’ ‘she,’ and ‘they’) isn’t just for newspapers, academic papers, and formal writing. Although we have talked about the importance of using your personality and opinions to strengthen your blog, there may be times when you simply want to convey the facts. Unsurprisingly, the blog of news organization Reuters is written in third person in “Dalian oil spill is all cleaned up” and most of its other posts. Be aware though that a “just the facts” approach can, when not used with care, leave you with a post that seems dull or stiff.
  2. Shirley Sherrod – The writer of “After Breitbart and Shirley Sherrod, We Need a Slow-News Movement” from Politics Daily chose to add first person (using pronouns such as ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘we’) in combination with third to clearly convey his opinion along with a bit of his personality.
  3. Comic-ConFirstShowing.net’s “Comic-Con 2010: Quick Review of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim” is an example of a very first-person focused post, with pronouns such as ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘my’ accounting for more than five percent of the word count. A post with this much focus on the blogger is risky because unless he or she has established a relationship with readers so that they care a great deal about personal viewpoints, the post runs the risk of being less useful to readers.
  4. Mad MenJezebel’s “Contest: Win A Complete Set Of Mad Men Barbie Dolls!” primarily uses second person (pronouns such as ‘you’ and ‘your’) to give instructions directly to readers. There are plenty of times when you might want to speak directly to your readers, giving them directions for a contest is just one.
  5. Angelina JolieVulture’s “Six Lessons From Salt About the Differences Between Male and Female Action Heroes” is an example of a third-person piece that—unlike the newsy style of the Reuters blog above—infuses some personality, humor, and informality into the post.
  6. Kindle – “Don’t Really Care About Touch Screens or Color” from Conversational Reading uses a combination of first and second person. That choice, along with phrases such as “I wonder how many readers out there are like me…” establishes a conversational tone.
  7. Magic Trackpad – Telegraph.co.uk’s technology blog asks, “Would you switch your mouse for a trackpad?” Second person is the best choice when you’re trying to encourage interaction and, although the rest of this post is written in first and third person, most of the comments directly answer the second-person question from the headline.
  8. Tony Hayward – “3 Big Reasons Why Tony Hayward Failed As CEO” from The Business Insider is a third-person piece that uses first and second person in the subheaders to provide the voice of the public. Choosing a different grammatical person in subheads can make them stand out even more.
  9. Chelsea ClintonEcorazzi’s “Chelsea Clinton’s Very Vegan Rehearsal Dinner” uses first person (along with the ubiquitous third person and a dash of second) to help build the voice of the blog and connect with readers with statements such as “I’m just as confused … as some of you may be.”
  10. Oliver Stone – When a story has a direct impact on you for some reason, as “Put Down Your Pitchforks; Oliver Stone Apologizes” from Cinematical did for its author, the first person is likely to be your best choice. Many people find that first person is also the most natural option for storytelling, since that is how we are accustomed to telling stories on a day-to-day basis.

Even though the grammatical person was almost certainly not the first thing on these bloggers’ minds, each of the above posts would have been vastly different had the bloggers chosen a different option. What person do you use on your blog? Is it a conscious choice? Please share your thoughts and unicorn stories in the comments.

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

Blogosphere Trends + Being Opinionated

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

Man alive, I hate bringing you a list of blogosphere trends that includes both Lindsay Lohan and Jersey Shore—not to mention Sarah Palin. But I report the list, I don’t decide what’s on it (neither does Regator—it just calculates what’s being blogged about most this week). Then again, you might love Lohan and eagerly await the next episode of Jersey Shore. You may have voted for Sarah Palin. My distaste for those things is merely my opinion and, in giving it, I have given you a better sense of who I am. As a blogger, I am all for that. And you should be too.

If you look at the web’s top bloggers, you’ll find they have a couple of things in common: a unique voice, which we talked about recently, and opinions to share. As Darren pointed out, “Expressing opinions on your blog is like adding seasoning to food. Without it, your blog could end up being quite bland and blend into the crowd.” Reporting the facts is useful but adding commentary helps your blog stand out from the dozens—or hundreds—of blogs covering the same story. If you all have the same facts, it’s your viewpoint that will help remove you from the echo chamber. You are providing your translation of the story and encouraging your readers to see it in a new way.

Let’s look at examples of posts about this week’s top stories to see how sharing your opinions can enhance your blog and engage readers:

  1. Shirley Sherrod – Michelle Cottle of The New Republic pulls no punches in “The End of Andrew Breitbart.” She rails on “conservative pseudo-journalism” and refers to Breitbart as a “toxic tantrum.” Be warned though: This technique is not for the timid. Cottle has a long history of writing highly opinionated pieces that have, no doubt, helped her build a tough skin when it comes to antagonistic comments. The most frightening thing about going from a blogger who reports news to a blogger who reports news with a viewpoint is that you will offend someone—particularly if you phrase your opinions in such a confrontational way. But you will also build a stronger relationship with the rest of your audience, particularly those whose stance is similar to yours (and those who enjoy a healthy dose of debate).
  2. FacebookEpicenter’s “Five Things That Could Topple Facebook’s Empire” is a far more subtle approach. Since no one knows what will (or could) harm the social networking behemoth, Ryan Singel’s list comprises his own ideas about the challenges Facebook faces. This sort of opinion-sharing/hypothesizing is far less likely to ruffle feathers than the first example. While searching for a post that shared original thoughts on Facebook, I had to rifle through literally hundreds that were simply repeating that Facebook has reached 500 million users and Facebook was being taken to court and Zuckerberg was interviewed on television. They all had the same facts with nothing to differentiate one from another. That is what you want to avoid.
  3. Lindsay Lohan ­– Crushable’s “Poll: Should Celebrities Always Do The Right Thing?” shares the opinion that, due to her background, jail-bound Lohan should be allowed to make mistakes. The post follows up with “But maybe we are wrong!” and an invitation for readers to take a poll. One advantage of sharing your viewpoints is that it opens the door to the opinions of your readers and provides a venue for productive conversations. Your enthusiasm for a topic is contagious and much more likely to elicit a response than a straightforward repetition of the facts.
  4. Comic-Con ­– While other nerd blogs were rejoicing in the glory that is Comic-Con, Techland’s Lev Grossman was busy writing “The Guy Who Hates Comic-Con Goes to Comic-Con, Part 1.” It stands out among the posts on the event and the humor of it is a fantastic cloak for what might otherwise have been construed as a bit of a whiny perspective. It is fun to read and, most importantly, it is the author’s brutally honest assessment of the convention.
  5. Inception – Jim Emerson’s “Inception: Has Christopher Nolan forgotten how to dream?” post from Scanners does contain spoilers, so beware of that. But it also contains a unique perspective on the movie that I found compelling enough to share on my social networking pages. Emerson’s post shows the importance of providing supportive evidence to validate your opinion. Even those who do not agree with your assessment of a situation before reading your post may find themselves saying, “That blogger really has a point” if you provide enough reasons for your ideas.
  6. Mel Gibson – Rufus F.’s “In Defense of Casting Stones at Mel Gibson” from The League of Extra Ordinary Gentlemen is a direct response to E.D. Kain’s “In Defense of Mel Gibson” from the same blog. That is the beauty of opinions; they are likely (particularly among dissenters) to provoke discussions in the comments and, if they are divisive enough, to prompt entire posts providing an alternate position. For the record, I’m not encouraging flame wars or knock-down, drag-out arguments; I’m advocating respectful two-way conversations between adults with different viewpoints. Keeping your tone positive and staying open to contradictory viewpoints will help maintain a healthy community and positive vibe. I learn a great deal from listening to those who disagree with me, and you will too.
  7. Oil spill – “Gulf of Mexico,” which has been on trending for several weeks, has been replaced by “Oil spill” thanks to news that China is dealing with a spill of its own. How depressing. But I digress… Treehugger’s “In Defense of the Offshore Drilling Moratorium” takes the safest path to stating an opinion by defending the drilling moratorium. Sharing opinions is one thing, but sharing opinions that will alienate most of your readers (for example, a post titled “10 Best Steak Restaurants” on a vegetarian blog) is simply unwise. You don’t need me to tell you that.
  8. Steve JobsFlip the Media’s “On Media and AntennaGate” cites the author’s own history as support of an opinion, making ample use of phrases such as “I don’t think so,” “I agree with him,” and “I doubt it” to make it clear that the blogger is providing her personal opinion. There’s no need to go overboard, but be sure that you aren’t phrasing your opinions in a way that could be misconstrued as fact.
  9. Sarah Palin – From the moment you read the headline “I’m Telling You, Palin Has No Chance,” it is clear that Daniel Larison’s Eunomia post is providing a personal opinion. He acknowledges that “it’s risky to make absolute statements about anything…” but goes on to provide several reasons based on his findings. Again, this is a post that is a rebuttal to a post from another blog.
  10. Jersey ShorePortfolio’s “Here’s the Situation: Fire the ‘Jersey Shore’ Cast” provides its reasoning in the form of bulletpoints in what amounts to an open letter to the makers of the reality TV show. Open letters can be a fun and creative way to share your thoughts.

Are you opinionated on your blog or afraid of offending people? Let’s chat about it in comments.

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

Blogosphere Trends + Handling High Word Counts

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

I’m often asked about the “ideal length” for a blog post. I’ve heard answers ranging from 200 to 800 words, but my answer is always the same: Enough to tell the story and not one word more. Writing short is actually considerably more difficult than writing long because every word has to truly pull its weight. There is no room for filler.

Challenge yourself: Try writing a post, going for a little walk to let it breathe, then coming back and cutting your word count by at least 10 (preferably closer to 15) percent. Impossible? Not at all. Start by ditching unnecessary adjectives and adverbs (why say “really big” when “huge” conveys the same?). Find places where you can replace an adverb and a verb with a stronger verb (e.g., “devoured” or “gobbled” rather than “ate quickly”). These steps alone will strengthen your post by making your writing more concise and your word choice more precise. Once you’ve done that, replace passive constructions with active ones wherever possible (“a pirate rode the unicorn” rather than “the unicorn was ridden by a pirate”) and get rid of wordy phrases (e.g., “can” instead of “is able to,” “before” instead of “prior to,” “about” instead of “with regard to,” etc.). You’ve probably cut quite a few words by this point. Continue looking for places to tighten (e.g., change “the opinion of the blogger” to “the blogger’s opinion”). Wordy constructions are sneaky; there are more of them than you think. I think the best thing about Twitter is that it encourages people to be more concise in their communications…that’s not to say you should start using “b4” and “urself” on your blog.

Let’s say you’ve chopped as much as you can from your post and it’s still long. You have three options: (a) Publish it as is and risk having distractible readers (that’s almost all of them) get click happy and leave your blog (b) Break it up into a series (c) use some of the methods below to make the post more scannable and digestible. We’re going to focus on option (c). Here are the top ten most-blogged-about stories of the week, as provided by Regator, and some examples of well-formatted but lengthy posts about each:

  1. LeBron James ­– “Did LeBron James Really Hurt His Brand?” is 778 words long, but thanks to careful formatting, it reads quickly and is not intimidating to readers. In addition to subheadings and bolded text, which we’ll discuss, SportsBiz uses a large pull quote to break up the text and generate interest. Pull quotes are less common online than they are in the print world, but a good pull quote can pique reader curiosity and serve to break up large blocks of text.
  2. World Cup – Weighing in at 1,241 words, Bleacher Report’s “2010 FIFA World Cup Final: How Spain Won It” would likely send readers running if it weren’t for its effective use of subheads. The title clearly conveys the post’s purpose and the subheads deliver to that end by providing an easy-to-scan list. Subheadings are important for longer posts because they provide the reader with multiple entry points. Not interested in Spain’s passing play? Perhaps the section on Cesc Fabregas will interest you. Subheads give readers that option.
  3. George Steinbrenner ­– Both LAist’s “Dodgers Reaction to Steinbrenner’s Death” and Gothamist’s “Players, Politicians Remember George Steinbrenner” use quotations to break up longer posts but comparing the two shows the importance of formatting. While neither seems overwhelming, The LAist post’s consistent use of bold to introduce the quotes’ sources enhances its readability significantly.
  4. Mel GibsonWorld of Psychology’s 719-word “Mel Gibson, Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol” is broken up into five distinct, numbered points. We’ve talked in the past about the scan-ability of list posts, and this is no exception. The bolded subheads are complete sentences that give a clear indication of what that section will address.
  5. Gulf of MexicoThe First Post’s BP oil spill: the conspiracy theories” was broken into two separate pages to disguise its nearly 1,300-word length. Tricky but effective. This is an example of a post that could have been broken into multiple posts with teasers for future parts and links to previous parts in each post.
  6. Bristol Palin ­– While not excessively long to begin with, at only 500 words, TV Squad’s “Bristol Palin’s Reality Show: If It Happens, Here Are 5 Things We Want to See” seems like an even quicker, easier read thanks to its combination of bolded subheads, a medium-sized photo, and short paragraphs. Keeping each paragraph short helps you avoid large blocks of text that the attention-span-challenged may find off-putting.
  7. Harvey Pekar ­– Comics Alliance’s 937-word “Harvey Pekar: A Timeline of a Comic Book Icon” could have tried to recap Pekar’s life in plain text, but it’s unlikely anyone but the most die-hard fans would’ve made it past his first issue of American Splendor. Instead, the blogger broke the story up using an engaging timeline format. It, along with the images and short paragraphs, makes this long post more palatable.
  8. Roman PolanskiJezebel’s “Roman Polanski Runs Free Once Again” isn’t long enough to require subheads, but does make use (like many of this blog’s posts) of prominent red links that, when scanned, provide a useful glimpse of the story (“not to extradite Roman Polanski,” “where he’s been since December,” etc.) as well as multiple entry points.
  9. Consumer Reports – At 909 words, Mashable’s “What Apple Must Do to Stop the Bleeding” uses many of the aforementioned techniques, including colored links, photos, and short paragraphs but also adds video within the post and oversized subheads with light grey lines around them to further divide the text.
  10. Old Spice – In addition to using video, photos, bold subheads, quotes, and colored links, ReadWriteWeb’s “How the Old Spice Videos Are Being Made” is an excellent example of tight, concise writing that uses all of its 1,065 words to maximum effect.

How do you handle long posts? Please share your techniques in the comments.

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

Blogosphere Trends + Your Blog’s Tone

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

After a brutal summer flu took me down and prevented me from writing last week’s weekly trends post, I’m especially happy to be back to bring you a fresh list of the most blogged-about stories of the last seven days. This week, along with the trends provided by Regator, we’ll be discussing your blog’s tone/voice. We’re talking about something more than first person versus third person or opinion versus hard news.

Think of your favorite blog. What keeps you coming back for more? The subject matter is certainly important, but it’s likely that the blogger’s voice and tone also play an important role in your appreciation for the content. Bloggers whose personalities shine through their writing are often more appealing, engaging, readable, and influential than those who hide their true voices. Read your three most recent posts. Do they “sound” like you? As in, would people who know you well in real life recognize your voice in your posts? Don’t beat yourself up if the answer is no. Maybe purposely adopting a voice that differs from your everyday voice, or maybe you haven’t been blogging long enough to find your writing voice. Give it time and, most importantly, have faith that your personal tone and voice will come with time and practice.

When I was a writing tutor in college, one of my peers who could verbally tell the most hilarious, charming stories you’d ever want to hear told me that he “couldn’t write.” I asked him to put down his pencil and tell me the story he’d told me a few days prior. I started a recorder and let him tell it. He conveyed it in his usual witty way and, when he was through, I stopped the recorder and we transcribed it, word for word. It was utter brilliance. He just needed to stop worrying about sounding “writerly” and start letting his natural tone come through. Let’s take a look at some posts about this week’s top stories that demonstrate the author’s voice:

  1. Independence DayThe Frisky’s “6 Ways To Celebrate Being Single And Independent This Independence Day!” is an example of that blog’s positive, encouraging, reassuring tone. The post’s suggestions to raise a glass and celebrate by making a new friend or indulging in a craving are cheerful and bubbly.
  2. LeBron JamesFanhouse’s posts, such as “ESPN Defends LeBron James Special,” are professional, straightforward, and unbiased. While this tone brings less personality than some others, it’s a valid choice for those who want to stay closer to the path of traditional journalism.
  3. World Cup – Like all of Slate’s blogs, Sports Nut’s tone is conversational but also slightly high-brow. It doesn’t come close to being snooty, but the language (“idée fixe,” “guru of aesthetic purity,” “quixotic displays of good taste”) in “Why all soccer fans should root for Holland to lose to Spain” certainly caters to an educated audience.
  4. Lindsay Lohan – The tone of ParentDish’s “Opinion: What Went Wrong With Lindsay Lohan” is sympathetic, earnest, and personal—traits that work well on a parenting blog.
  5. Gulf of MexicoThe Consumerist often adopts a slightly cynical, snarky tone, but “BP Spill Now Spoiling All Gulf States As Tar Balls Hit Texas” takes it to the next level with bonus sarcasm and bitterness…but given the subject matter, they can hardly be blamed for that.
  6. The Twilight Saga – As evidenced by the not one but two exclamation points in the headline itself, the tone of “Twilighters Own The Box Office! Eclipse Takes In $261.2M Worldwide!” is the same over-excited, enthusiastic, melodramatic style for which Perez Hilton has become famous. Love him or hate him, the man has a distinct voice.
  7. Michael Steele – When it comes to being controversial, angry, opinionated, and divisive, political bloggers have every other niche beat, hands down. “Michael Ames–Lying Liberal Scumbag” from The Tygrrrr Express fits the mold, complete with “If Michael Ames thought I was fiery in Idaho, he is going to get the Bachmann Turner Overdrive treatment.” Bringing BTO into it is hardcore, am I right?
  8. Mel Gibson – Unlike the aforementioned angry political bloggers, Feministing is not always full of rage but it is always exceptionally straightforward and to-the-point, as indicated in “Mel Gibson: Bonafide Abusive A$$hole.”
  9. Emmy NominationsBuddyTV’s tone is conversational but more importantly, the voice indicates that you are reading the words of  a highly authoritative expert, as indicated in “The 10 Biggest Emmy Snubs: Where’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’?
  10. The Social Network – Like its sister sites in the Gawker blog network, Defamer’s tone is colloquial, informal, and often tinged with humor. “The Facebook Movie Teaser Trailer 2: Too Fast, Too Serious” is a perfect example of how well this tone can work.

Are you careful to keep a consistent tone on your blog? Share your thoughts in the comments. See you next week!

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

Blogosphere Trends + Thoroughness in Blogging

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

Thanks, as always, for stopping in for our weekly list of the ten most blogged-about stories, provided by Regator. This week, we’ll use posts about these hot topics to discuss thoroughness in blogging. “Thoroughness” can be a vague term, so I’ll define a thorough post as a post that tells the reader what they would want to know about a given topic and does not leave them with unanswered questions. Let’s take a look at some great examples:

  1. World CupFlavorwire’s “First Person: Scenes from England’s World Cup Fever” uses thirteen photos and accompanying text to paint a vivid and complete portrait of England’s World Cup fever.
  2. iPhone 4 ­– In “Word on TheStreet is that you shouldn’t buy an iPhone 4,” TUAW does a point-by-point rebuttal of a post from TheStreet.com. Posts or articles you disagree with can be a rich source of inspiration, just be sure to adequately address the points made in the original during the course of your rebuttal post.
  3. Stanley McChrystal – In “What Gen. McChrystal should have known about Rolling Stone’s reporter going in,” Slate’s Press Box blog spends more than 1,000 words elaborating on why McChrystal should not have agreed to take part in the Rolling Stone profile then adds a level of completeness by providing a dissenting opinion and asks readers to discuss the issue.
  4. Father’s Day – You need not be reporting on news to provide a thorough post. Miche G. Hill’s “My Dad: A Father’s Day Story” uses personal anecdotes and experiences to build a connection between her readers and her late father.
  5. Gulf of Mexico – Many blogs were quick to put up posts indicating that a federal judge had blocked Obama’s proposed drilling moratorium, but “Judge Strikes Down Obama’s Offshore Drilling Ban” from Treehugger went a step further by providing quotes from the judicial opinion and the White House press secretary, speculation on why the judgment was made, and a link to supporting documents. Providing these extra elements requires research, but the time spent is likely to strengthen your post and increase your credibility.
  6. Toy Story 3 – While many other posts on Toy Story 3 mentioned the tear-inducing nature of the film as part of a broader review, Cinematical’s “Why Does Pixar Make Growing Up Feel So Bad?” focuses in on that particular aspect of the blockbuster. If a topic seems too large to cover in a thorough manner, consider honing in on one particular aspect and covering that aspect well.
  7. Supreme Court – Like number 5 above, SLOG’s “R-71 Case: Supreme Court Rules Petitions Can Be Released” demonstrates that it is built upon solid research and was not just dashed off in haste.
  8. Miley CyrusSpeakeasy’s “Miley Cyrus’ ‘Can’t Be Tamed’: Review Revue” combines reviews from various sources to create a one-stop post for those interested in how this pop star’s latest album is being received. Pulling together information from various sources can be helpful to your readers—so long as you also provide them with ample original content.
  9. WimbledonThe Guardian’s “Wimbledon 2010 Live Blog: 23 June” may be one of the best examples of thoroughness ever to grace the Blogosphere. When Xan Brooks was assigned to the seemingly enjoyable task of live blogging Wimbledon, he almost certainly never expected the longest match in the history of tennis. Although he was, by the end of the 11+ hour match, rambling about zombie players and hearses, the champion never gave up.
  10. Kevin Rudd – Rather than simply linking to Kevin Rudd’s farewell speech video, Jack Marx’s “Kevin – too human, too late” analysed it, commenting on everything from the former Prime Minister’s eye contact and body language to the reaction of his son during the video.

Do you think about the thoroughness of the posts you write? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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

Blogosphere Trends + Writing Great ‘How To’ Posts

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

Hello and thanks for stopping in again for a list of this week’s ten most blogged-about stories! As always, Regator has provided the list, and we’ll use posts about these hot topics to illustrate this week’s tips. In the past, we’ve discussed some formats you can use to add interest and variety to your blog and, more recently, we looked specifically at list posts. Carrying on with that theme, we’ll focus this week on how-to posts. Because they solve a problem and guarantee a benefit, how-to posts tend to be popular with readers. And they can be used for virtually any niche (if the examples below aren’t enough to prove that point, check out “The Biggest List of ‘How To’ Blog Posts Ever Assembled” from one of the older ProBlogger Group Writing Projects). Let’s take a look at how bloggers used how-to posts to address this week’s hot stories:

  1. Gulf of Mexico – Sometimes, a how-to post is not a tutorial that readers will follow themselves but rather an explanation of how a larger problem can or will be solved. Cosmic Log’s “How to suck up all that oil” is an example of this sort of post.
  2. World Cup – If there is a particular problem or issue that your niche’s readers are concerned about, a how-to post is the ideal way to handle it. World Cup viewers, for example, seem universally irritated by the ubiquitous vuvuzela horns at the games, prompting a large number of sports and tech bloggers to offer solutions in the form of how-to posts. Asylum’s “How to Filter Out Those Annoying Vuvuzelas” is just one of many.
  3. Tony AwardsJaunted’s post on “How To Get Tickets To The Tony Awards” is a classic how-to. It clearly states the benefit of reading the post in its title then delivers on its promise in a succinct and straightforward way. It’s not always necessary to be extremely clever with how-to posts. Giving your readership the information they need is enough.
  4. Bob Etheridge – Representative Bob Etheridge, who lost the plot and had a physical confrontation with a student on film this week, must not have read Marshall Goldsmith’s “How to Keep Your Temper at Work (And Everywhere Else).” This post not only gives solid advice, it also establishes authority on the subject matter in a way that is subtle yet effective (the author discusses processes he has used to deal with negative emotions “for more than 20 years”). There’s a good chance you’ve established this authority and trust simply by blogging on your subject matter, but it’s worth taking a moment, as you write that how-to, to ask yourself how new readers know that your advice is worth heeding. It’s possible, through a short bio or brief comment such as the “20 years” line above, to strengthen your authority without tooting your own horn to an obnoxious degree.
  5. True Blood – Though Gawker.tv’s  “How to Date a Vampire” is clearly tongue-in-cheek, it has characteristics common to many good tutorials: It lists the materials that will be needed, it presents the process in clear numbered steps, and it keeps the readers’ interest through humor and interesting related tips. Consider these factors when writing your own posts.
  6. Helen ThomasDumb Little Man’s “How to Recover From a (Big) Mistake at Work” is an example of a how-to idea that was generated by the blogger’s own personal mistakes. Sharing the lessons you’ve learned from your mistakes is valuable and may prevent your readers from making the same errors or, in the worst case scenario, may help them deal with the aftermath of a similar faux pas.
  7. Nintendo 3DSOpposable Thumbs“What Nintendo must do to make the 3DS a must-have” uses the how-to format (directed at giving advice to Nintendo rather than readers) to provide commentary and opinion then ends with a solid call to action for readers to share their own opinions.
  8. Michael Jackson – When it was announced that the new Michael Jackson video game will teach players how to move like the King of Pop, Gawker.tv gave their readers a head start with “How to Moonwalk,” a video tutorial. There may be tasks, such as moonwalking or knitting, that are better explained via video. Consider whether video, audio, or photos would make your how-to post more effective and easier to understand.
  9. Al Gore – Al Gore’s divorce and subsequent rumors of infidelity may have him wishing for a post such as Divine Caroline’s “How to Rebuild Your Life After a Divorce,” which uses subtitles and short well-written paragraphs to clearly outline the post’s advice. Subheadings such as these can help readers skim for the information they’ll find most beneficial.
  10. Apple“How to Pre-Order an iPhone 4 With Minimal Hassle and Headache” from Switched provides continued usefulness to its readers by updating the post as information changes. If you’ve written a how-to that will change with time, the added effort required to go back and update the post will be appreciated by readers.

Do how-to posts work well on your blog? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

One more thing: I’ve received emails from some of you indicating that you’d like to have your blog reviewed for possible inclusion on Regator, but nominations were closed while we finished our relaunch. I’m happy to announce here that nominations are now open and ProBlogger readers are the first to find out. Feel free to submit your blog.

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

Using the Blogosphere’s Trends for Your Niche

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

Hello, fellow bloggers! Hope you’re having a fabulous week. Since I started this weekly column on April 7, we’ve discussed strong headlines and opening lines, use of video and images, list posts, effective quotes, and more—all through the lens of the week’s most-blogged-about topics. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversations we’ve had together in the comments and the knowledge you’ve all shared with each other and with me.

In the spirit of those open conversations, I wanted to answer the most common question I’ve received: How can I use these general trends if I don’t blog about current affairs? Well, you can find trends on your specific niche on Regator, but the true answer is that no matter what your niche, there is often a way—with enough creativity and research into the details of the story—to make it work for your readers. And tying posts to the week’s hottest topics can be a great way to get new readers and attract attention. This week, along with trends from Regator, we’ll take a look at how these topics were covered by bloggers in unexpected niches…

  1. Gulf of Mexico – You’d expect the disaster in the Gulf to be covered by blogs on environmentalism, marine biology, perhaps even business and politics, but PopEater managed to find a way to bring this ecological story into the realm of pop culture in “An Interview With the Guy Skewering BP on Twitter.”
  2. World Cup ­– The Next Web’s “World Cup fever? Here are 5 apps to keep you on top of things” took what would traditionally be a sports story and moved it into the technology space by focusing on related apps rather than the event itself.
  3. Steve Jobs – Jobs’s highly anticipated World Wide Developers Conference talk unveiled the iPhone 4 and was covered widely by technology blogs but Star Trek blog TrekMovie.com was able to make the event relevant to their readers by focusing on the Star Trek references in the talk and technology from the show and movie in “Steve Jobs Invokes Star Trek (Again) While Unveiling 4th Gen iPhone.”
  4. Helen Thomas – While political bloggers obsessed over Thomas’s offensive comments, women’s blog Jezebel covered the story by discussing what Thomas’s undignified fall meant for a woman who had been an icon and inspiration to women everywhere in its post “Helen Thomas: When An Icon Disappoints [Iconography].”
  5. MTV Movie Awards – Rather than approaching this star-studded event from the usual entertainment blogger’s perspective, gay blog AutoStraddle’s “MTV Movie Awards 2010 Celebrate Lesbian Innuendo, Swearing, Twilight” made the awards more relevant to their readers by honing in on the “10 most homosexual moments of the MTV Movie Awards 2010.”
  6. Rue McClanahan – While many television and entertainment bloggers focused on McClanahan’s television and theater legacy, Ecorazzi’s “RIP: Actress And Longtime Animal-Advocate Rue McClanahan Dies At 76” brought the story to their ecologically conscious demographic by focusing on the actor’s animal rights work.
  7. Lady Gaga – On a week when Lady Gaga’s latest music video was on everyone’s lips, Social Psychology Eye’s post “Facing illness, belief helps” skillfully worked the pop icon into the blog by discussing the psychological implications of Gaga’s recent revelation that she had been tested for lupus, undoubtedly earning them quite a few more readers than they would’ve gotten on a straightforward academic post on illness perception.
  8. Rush Limbaugh – Rather than obsessing about the details of Limbaugh’s wedding, as many entertainment bloggers did, The Daily Beast’s “Celebrity Wedding Singers” took Elton John’s unexpected role as Limbaugh’s wedding singer and created a list post that broadened the appeal of the story.
  9. Israel – Music bloggers aren’t the most expected source of news from Israel, but several, including Drowned in Sound with its post “Bands cancel shows following Israel’s flotilla raid” covered what is essentially a political and international affairs story in a way that created value for their music-obsessed readers.
  10. Harry Potter – While film bloggers were busy dissecting the latest Harry Potter trailer, travel blog Gadling put its own spin on the popular character with “London mayor rails against Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Florida location.”

One thing all of these posts have in common is that the bloggers took the time to learn enough details about these stories to find a way to make them work for their blogs’ niches. Have you managed to work a popular story into your blog’s niche by using a creative angle? Tell us about it in the comments!

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

Blogosphere Trends + Effectively Using Quotes

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

Each week, we use Regator’s trends algorithm to bring you a list of the ten most blogged-about stories. This week’s list is, admittedly, a bit of a bummer, with the Gulf of Mexico’s oil spill spending its sixth straight week in the top ten, accompanied by a number of celebrity deaths and the unstable situation in Israel.

But instead of getting down about the state of the world, let’s focus on how a few bloggers used quotes to add to the coverage of these important stories. Careful use of quotations is something many bloggers overlook, but well-chosen quotes can support your argument, increase your credibility, provide an alternate viewpoint, create emotional impact, provide a voice of expertise, add humor, and increase the quality of your post. As you select quotes for your posts, remember that a good quote is not filler and will always make your post more intriguing or useful to your reader. Quotes are one of Darren’s “13 Ways to Add New Dimensions to Your Next Post.” Let’s look at some examples along with this week’s top trends:

  1. Gulf of Mexico ­– A particularly impactful (and short) quote can make a great headline. The Daily Dish employed this technique by using Obama’s “Plug The Damn Hole” as the title for a recent post. The quote is an efficient way of providing a voice of authority and conveying the president’s frustration with the situation.
  2. Dennis Hopper – Roger Ebert’s “Dennis Hopper: In memory” uses quotes from the recently deceased actor to add depth to the post. Hopper’s own words, such as, “There’s always this fear of not being able to make the films, not being able to do the work…” personified the icon in a way that few descriptions could.
  3. Gary ColemanThe Inquisitr’s “911 call before Gary Coleman’s death, wife says ‘blood everywhere’” features multiple quotes designed to take readers inside a very personal experience.
  4. Memorial DayArmy of Dude uses a quote to set a scene and add detail in “Metal Memorials,” a touching, well-written post on the bracelet this veteran wears to commemorate his fallen friend. The quote, “Hey man, just so you know, I’m going to set this thing off” is real and conversational and puts the reader into the security line at the airport with the author, who has to repeatedly explain why he does not remove his memorial bracelet at the metal detector.
  5. Israel – Quotes can add intrigue and spur curiosity, particularly if they are featured in the headline as “Says One Israeli General: ‘Everybody Thinks We’re Bananas’” from Jeffery Goldberg’s blog on The Atlantic.
  6. World Cup – In “2010 FIFA World Cup’s Biggest Quote: ‘God Willing, I’m Ready,’ Says TorresThe Bleacher Report begins by stating, “This could be the single most important pre-World Cup statement made so far,” proving that the right quote can be a jumping off point and/or inspiration for an entire post. As you read, keep an eye out for quotes that may inspire you to explore a topic further.
  7. Rue McClanahan – Sometimes, a quote is the most succinct way to answer a question. When it was revealed that Golden Girl Rue McClanahan had passed away, many wondered how the one remaining Golden Girl was coping with the loss. Zap2It’s “Betty White: Rue McClanahan ‘was a close and dear friend’ provided the answer in Betty White’s own words: “… It hurts more than I ever thought it would, if that’s possible.”
  8. DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) – Quotes may be in the form of videos, as in Queerty’s “Is Dan Choi’s Hunger Strike Coach Planning On His Death?” The advantage of video is that the speaker’s emotional state and body language add to the quote’s impact.
  9. Tipper GoreThe Kicker (Columbia Journalism Review’s daily blog) gathered quotes from a number of sources to illustrate a trend and support a point in “Fineman on Gores: ‘Finally.’
  10. AT&T – Quotes need not be in textual format to provide value. The Consumerist’s “Listen to AT&T Ask Customer to Stop Sending Them E-mails” lends credibility to a rather unbelievable story by providing audio proof: “I want to first thank you for the feedback and going forward need to warn you that if you continue to send emails to Randall Stephenson, a cease and desist letter may be sent to you.”

How often and why do you use quotes on your blog? Please share your experiences in the comments. Have a great weekend and see you next week!

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

Top 10 Blogosphere Trends + 10 Great List Posts

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

Each week, Regator brings you a list of the ten stories bloggers have been writing about most during the previous seven days (click any trend to see a list of posts about it). And while blogging about the week’s hottest topics may help you snag some new readers, it also puts you squarely in the center of a massive crowd, all talking about the same subject. That’s why, along with the top ten lists, I always give examples of posts that covered the week’s top stories in interesting ways.

We’ve already looked at interesting formats that can inspire you and add variety to your blog. Today, we’ll look in more detail at one of those formats: list posts. Writing a list post is the assignment for Day 2 of the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook because (among other reasons) list posts are scannable, succinct, visually attractive, persuasive, and have a higher than average chance of going viral. If you’re new to this type of post, get some valuable tips by checking out “10 Steps to the Perfect List Post.” Let’s see how some bloggers used lists to cover this week’s top stories:

  1. Gulf of Mexico – By offering five solutions, Inhabitat’s Top 5 Green Ways to Clean Up Oil Spills ensures that readers know exactly what they are being promised.
  2. Rand PaulThe Atlantic Wire’s 6 Ways Rand Paul Is Like Sarah Palin uses a bullet-pointed list to break up what might otherwise have been an unwieldy block of text providing comparisons between the two politicians.
  3. Google TV ­– 7 Ways to Watch Web Video Without Google TV gives readers value through tips on products, along with the pros and cons of each. Using a non-round number such as seven can have the effect of encouraging readers to add to the list in the comments, which has happened on this Gadget Lab post.
  4. French Open ­– The Bleacher Report’s 10 French Open Observations, provides tennis enthusiasts with ten scenes from this important event. As one commenter noted, the post keeps things “brief and moving along.”
  5. North Korea – As demonstrated by PajamasMedia’s North vs. South Korea: How Bad Could a War Get? list posts don’t always have to be numbered. Breaking this story down into “The Good News,” “The Bad News,” “The Worse News,” and “The Downright Scary News,” dissects and simplifies a complex situation.
  6. World CupAbduzeedo’s The 10 Stadiums of the 2010 World Cup is appropriately image-heavy and text-light for this design-focused blog and uses the round number 10, which (like 25, 50, or 100) lends the post a certain amount of authority.
  7. Mark Zuckerberg ­– Agree to Disagree’s 5 Ways to Deal with Facebook’s Privacy Policy shows that the list itself might be only part of your post. Create the list then spend the rest of your post playing devil’s advocate or debating the pros and cons of each item.
  8. Craig VenterJacks of Science used a bold, attention-grabbing, humorous headline to sell 5 Reasons Craig Venter Might Kill You. It’s not a brand-new post relating to Venter’s recent creation of the first synthetic life, but it does provide interesting trivia in a fun-to-digest format.
  9. Series Finale ­– BuzzSugar’s The Top 10 Highlights From the American Idol Season Finale! uses the word “top” to create interest. Words like “top” and “best” lead your readers to believe that they’re seriously missing out if they don’t read your post and therefore tend to do very well in the titles of list posts. Techland’s 10 Ways LOST Shouldn’t End takes the opposite approach and looks at the worst ways the show could end rather than the best. Lists of the “worst,” “most awful,” “most disastrous” also tend to do well. Call it schadenfreude.
  10. Shrek Forever AfterReelz Channel’s Top 10 “Wow, You’ve Really Let Yourself Go” Movies uses one timely story to illustrate a trend, presenting each list item with a clear subheadline in larger text and bolded phrase that hopes to intrigue readers into reading the smaller text.

How often do you use list posts? Under what circumstances to you think they work best? Let us know in the comments.

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