The Secret to Interactive Blogging – Expertise blended with Invitation

Rob Hof over at Business Week has stumbled upon one of the secrets of growing interactivity on a blog – it’s about not knowing all the answers. He notices that the posts with most comments on his blog are where he asks for help.

‘The tough thing for journalists, I think, is that we’re supposed to provide answers, not just pose questions. So what makes a really good story–insight into an issue or person or company, wrapped up in a tidy, complete package–is precisely what doesn’t work on a blog. People are more interested in responding to questions. Provide just answers, and, well, there’s nothing more to say….’

This is so true yet I’d not write off posts that provide answers altogether.

What I’ve discovered over the last couple of years is that people want a mixture of expertise but also room to speak from their own experience. I’ve tried in the past few months to create this type of space in the way I blog here at Problogger – blending posts that are are quite ‘How To’ in nature (with lots of tips and answers) with plenty of opportunities for readers to share their own expertise.

In a sense this was my motivation behind the 31 Day Project and my invitation for readers to submit their blog tip posts. The result is quite spectacular with around 160 reader submissions already in addition to my own 45 or so ‘expert’ pieces.

Blogging Strategy – Be a Maven

Paul Chaney has a good post on ‘Mavens’ – a term used in Malcolm Gladwell’s book – Get the Latest Price on the The Tipping Point (an absolute must read):

‘The Maven is a person who knows everything about something. Ask them a question about that topic and they’ll give you more information that you care to know. They are, according to Gladwell, information brokers who have the knowledge and social skills to start epidemics.’

Paul points out a few Maven bloggers and how being one (or becoming one) is a great blogging strategy and an excellent way to build blogging traffic. He’s spot on the money with this observation.

The great thing is that because blogging is so global you don’t necessarily have to be a maven of some mega popular topic in order to be successful. Recently I’ve had contact with a number of bloggers that have come to dominate (in a nice way) the tiny niches that they write in and in doing so have become quite prominent.

A number of them are readers of this blog so I thought it might be interesting to open up the comments in this post for people to talk about either:

1. Blogging Mavens that we know of (ie people who are becoming or who have become experts in a niche through their blogging on it)

2. The Niches that we are trying to become mavens in – tell us about your journey to become an expert in your field. How are you doing it, how’s it going, what has worked and what hasn’t? What have been the benefits of this approach? Don’t be shy or modest – feel free to just share it like it is….

Overnight Blogging Success

Here is a quote from Paul Allen that I should be tattooed to the foreheads of all bloggers hoping to make it rich via their blogging efforts:

‘My brother Curt, founder of Folio Corp, former CEO of, and current CEO of Agilix, a venture-backed company, is fond of saying telling how his company was going to be an overnight success…after 10 years of hard work.

I believe that the single most important key to success in an online venture is doing the little things day after day for years and years until you magically reach the tipping point and everyone seems to have heard of you. In other words, persistence is required for most successful ventures.’

Last night I had just finished posting on 15 new digital cameras and printers that had been announced by Canon – it was 2am – and I was just about to close my laptop when my instant messenger beeped – signaling someone wanted a chat. 2am is not my favorite time of the day to start IM conversations but my curiosity got the better of me and I opened the window to find out who it was. It turned out to be a journalist from a pretty major online publication wanting an interview (glad I checked).

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When is it time to ‘Go Pro’ as a Blogger?

Instant Messaging Conversation with Reader (used with permission – name changed to protect the innocent)

Rex – ‘Darren Darren Darren….I’ve decided to become a Professional Blogger!!!!’
Darren – ‘Wow that’s exciting Rex!’
Rex – ‘yeah I’m writing my letter of resignation as we speak….’
Rex – ‘I can’t wait to see my boss’s face when he sees it! :-)’
Darren – ‘that’s great…. but before you resign can I ask you a couple of questions?’
Rex – ‘sure’
Darren – ‘how long have you been blogging?’
Rex – ‘3 months’
Darren – ‘how many blogs do you have?’
Rex – ‘just one’
Darren – ‘and if you don’t mind me asking how much does it earn each day?’
Rex – ‘…around $1.50’
Darren – ‘do you have any savings to live off for the next year?’
Rex – ‘………..’

This is a real conversation and one that I seem to have about once per month – bloggers who are excited by the potential that blogging has to pay them an income – who are so eager to ‘Go Pro’ that all sensibility goes out the window.

Most people would make sure they have another job to go to before resigning from a current one (or at least they’d make sure they had a way to survive in the short term) – why wouldn’t they do the same with blogging?

I’ve written about this before at Monkey Bar Blogging (a public service announcement that I wrote for bloggers a few months back) – it’s a post that I’d highly recommend anyone considering ‘Going Pro’ has a read. What I write below is similar I guess and my latest thinking on the topic.

So when should a blogger ‘Go Pro’?

Let me start answering this question by saying there is no one way to enter into blogging on a professional level. I know quite a few bloggers who have gone full time into blogging and with virtually every one there is a different variation on the story of how they did it.

Below is some of the advice I give to bloggers with aspirations to full time blogging:

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Email Newsletters Tips for Bloggers

Yesterday I talked about Why Email Newsletters might be a good companion tool for a blog – today I want to get a bit more practical and talk about how to use them. As I’ve researched the topic I’ve realized that this could be quite a long series of posts in itself but have decided to pull all the tips together here. I will follow this post up tomorrow with one last one with suggestions of tools that you might want to use in putting an email newsletter together.

So in putting together an email newsletter you probably want to consider some of the following:

Define the Purpose of your Newsletter – As with any tool it is important to know what you wish to achieve with it before setting out to use it. I mentioned yesterday that newsletters can have many benefits, some of which you’ll be aiming towards, others of which won’t suit your overall blogging strategy. So sit down and work out what you want to get our of your newsletter. For example you may wish it to:

  • Drive Traffic to your Blog
  • Generate your own Sales or Consulting Leads
  • Generate advertising revenue
  • Be a direct income maker through affiliate programs
  • Generate a subscription revenue (ie charge for the newsletter)
  • Create community among your readers
  • Make announcements about you and your blog
  • Build your personal profile
  • Upsell Readers

Or maybe there is some other objective or a combination of the above. Whatever it is it’s important to define what success means for your email newsletter (nb: your email newsletter strategy should probably emerge from your overall strategy for your blogging).

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Why Email Newsletters Can Improve your Blog

One way that I’ve experimented with to build community and loyalty among readers on my blogs is to offer readers a free regular newsletter.

I’ve found that since started using newsletters that it’s added a new dimension of community to my blogs. Newsletter days have higher traffic for starters and there seems to be a growing relationship between many subscribers and myself. The newsletter isn’t the only reason for this but it’s had an impact.

Interestingly the rise of blogging has actually been the death of some newsletter publishers who have moved to blogging as a medium to communicating with readers and making an income – whilst my preferred medium is definitely blogging I see a number of benefits of combining email newsletters and blogs together as part of a wider web strategy. Let me share a few.

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Using Comments on your Blog

Human beings are relational. We like to be acknowledged. We like too participate and contribute. We like to feel that what we have to say is valuable.

Most of your blog’s readers are human beings (well most of mine are). So acknowledge and interact with them.

The most common way for interaction on blogs is through comments. An an old study I once read found that 43% of blogs use comments – I suspect the figure would be much higher today with most blogging platforms now integrating them (remember the days when you had to use a third party comments system!?).

Not everyone likes comments. Some bigger bloggers don’t use them because they get overwhelmed by too much interaction and some smaller blogs don’t use them because they don’t get any comments at all and are embarrassed with the ‘comments (0)’ at the end of each post. Still others gave up on comments because of comment spam.
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Does personal info belong on a business (or entrepreneurial) blog?

Tris has an interesting post asking should bloggers get personal on their business blogs? We could extend the question to commercial/entrepreneurial blogs also.

‘The problem is, I think, that blogs started off as very personal efforts. We knew about peoples’ struggles. We knew about their lives. Then as business blogging grew people started setting up rules for themselves, and others. Is that limiting? Are there rules. What about when something great happens in your life? Or bad? ‘

My opinion is that it’s important to define boundaries for your blog up front. Work out what you will and won’t blog about and stick to it. If you decide up front to inject personal posts, humor, personality etc into your blog because it fits with the overall goals of your blogging then I’m fine with that. On the other hand if you want a more professional, information oriented blog with little of yourself in it then that is cool also (as is anything in between).

Across my blogs I have a variety of approaches. If I want to announce something personal I have spaces to do that. Perhaps this is the beauty of multiple blogs.

Here at ProBlogger I try to inject a little personality into my blogging – but don’t reveal too much of what is happening in my personal life unless it impacts my topic at hand.

I think when bloggers get into trouble is when they start out one way and build a readership around a particular style and then they leave that style.

What do you think about getting personal in your business or entrepreneurial blog? Head over to Tris’s post to let him know.

Declaring War on Blogger Apathy

It’s time to talk about something that has the potential to KILL your blog….


A blogger can have the best strategic plan in the world but if they have no motivation, passion or drive for their blogging it will almost always amount to nothing at all. One of the keys to the success I’ve managed to have as a ProBlogger is that I’ve taken a long term approach to my blogging which calls for constant work over 2.5 years (so far).

Whilst there have been times where my spirit has been low and the drudgery of researching, writing, networking and dreaming has threatened to put a stop to what I do – I’ve continually pushed myself to find new and creative ways to beat down the blog killer of Apathy. I’ve seen other bloggers not been able to break through this and as a result their blogs today either don’t exist or have become something like the ghost towns of the Western Movie with breezes blowing around the tumbleweed of comment spam and out of date content.

So I’ve decided it’s time to declare war on Blog Apathy and want to share a number of the things that have helped me keep my motivation up in blogging. Feel free to add your own experience and tips in comments.

• Start a Series – it gets hard to constantly come up with new topics to blog about each day so why not pick a larger topic to break down over a week or so. I find that once I’ve got a topic to work on I often get the creative juices flowing – a series can fast track the process. The past few days have definitely lifted my own interest in ProBlogger (not that it was too low) – simply because I’ve been in ‘series mode’.

• Invite questions from your readers – get your readers involved in your blog by setting the agenda for you to write about over the next few weeks of your blogging. Once again this is about stimulating ideas for topics.

• Revisit old Posts – if your archives are anything like mine they are full of posts and articles that you’ve put hours of work into. Keep in mind that many of your newer readers would not have read your old posts and so from time to time it might be worth either reposting old posts, updating old posts or simply bouncing off old posts and continuing old streams of thought.

• Redesign – I always find a fresh coat of paint can really lift a room, a haircut can improve a mood and a blog redesign can get the creative juices flowing again. Tweak it, adapt it or completely redesign it – either way you might just inject a little more energy into something that’s grown tired and find that you’ve got more energy for your blogging.

• Write Posts Ahead of Time – this won’t help you now if you’re in apathy mode – but if you’re not and currently have some energy consider writing a few extra posts that are non time specific to keep for a rainy/apathetic day. When you’re inspired write more so that when you’re not you don’t have to.

• Keep an Idea Journal – this is similar to the previous point but just involves keeping a list of possible post ideas you could write on at a later uninspired point in time. It might include just titles of posts or even a few points that you could write about. I’m constantly jotting down ideas for posts or series and even new blogs all day everyday. Take your journal with you everywhere you go so that if inspiration strikes you can capture it.

• Develop a Posting Schedule – it’s amazing what you can produce if you give yourself a deadline. Whilst for some people the idea of schedules and plans might have the opposite effect – for many of us they help keep us going. My posting goal is 25-35 posts per day – knowing what I’m aiming for helps keep me on track. Whether you’ve got a goal of 2 daily posts, or 500 monthly posts some goals can help get your blogging into gear.

• Get a Guest Blogger – put a little new blood into your blog by inviting someone else to join you in posting either while you take a short break to rejuvenate or to blog alongside you. I’ve recently added a few bloggers to a handful of my blogs and have really enjoyed both the pressure that it’s taken off me but also the energy and fresh ideas that they’ve brought.

• Read other’s blogs – sometimes its easy to become so focused upon blogging that we forget to interact with other bloggers. I remember a few months ago realizing that I rarely really read other blogs any more (apart from those I scanned each day for useful information to blog about). Get back to basics and actually read other blogs – you might just find that in doing so you rediscover the reason you started your own blog in the first place. In addition to that you’ll probably find yourself stimulated to bounce off their blogs with your own.

• Interact with other bloggers – connected to the last point I also find it very useful to not only read the work of others but to converse with them. I regularly chat via instant messaging or phone with other bloggers – in doing so we encourage and inspire each other to break through the dry times. So leave a comment somewhere, start an IM conversation, send an email – talk to someone. Don’t let blogging become an insular lonely thing – rather take advantage of the relational aspects of blogging.

• Meme it Up – another way to get yourself a little more interested in and energised by your blog is to start some sort of Meme. Run a competition, start a blogging project, add a quiz or survey – do something fun, creative and interactive to get other bloggers involved in what you’re doing. To be honest this is why I started the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog project – seeing the wonderful response from readers has definitely lifted my blogging spirits this week.

• Subscribe to a new Source of Information – sometimes it’s easy to get into a rut when you feel like you’re just seeing the same sorts of information on your blogs topic over and over again. So subscribe to some new keywords on Google News Alerts or Topix RSS feeds or find some new blogs to follow. If you put fresh content and ideas into your head hopefully some fresh content will come out.

• Short Posts – if you don’t have much to say – don’t say much. Keep your posts short and to the point. Even if they don’t feel profound to you, just the act of posting something might loosen the blogging creativity within you. Short posts can actually be incredibly effective communication tools also so it might just add something special to your blog.

• New Stimuli – one of the best ways to get your creativity levels up is to expose yourself to new stuff. Buy a book, watch a movie, meet someone new, go for a walk, spend time with your family, listen to some music – get out of your normal daily rhythm and expose yourself to some new sights, sounds, tastes, touches and smells. Remember that what you put into your life has a direct baring on what comes out.

• Just Write – it’s amazing what comes when you just start writing sometimes. Some of my bests posts emerged out of really dry patches when I forced myself to sit and write. The first few paragraphs might end up being scrapped – but if you keep writing you’ll eventually hit gold. [Read more…]